16Jul July 16. 15th Sunday in O. T.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

1st Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11

God’s word is like rain which fertilises the earth

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

2nd Reading: Romans 8:18-23

All creation eagerly waits for God to reveal his glory in us

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23

The Sower and the seed. The good soil of the receptive heart

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn-and I would heal them.’

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


Choices to be made

(Adapted from: Faith and the seeds of change,
by Gordon Linney, The Irish Times, 15 July 2017)

In a radio interview marking his 75th birthday, Prof Stephen Hawking contemplated the future of the human race with some concern. He suggested that humankind had an instinctive leaning towards greed and oppression; that any hope of conflict lessening was misplaced and that technology could in fact make it worse. He suggested that the only hope for human survival would be in independent colonies living in space. Not for the first time this brilliant and courageous man encourages us to think. His recognition of flawed humanity echoes the old Christian doctrine of original sin but his suggestion of a promised land in outer space overlooks one simple fact. If human nature is flawed, as Prof Hawking suggests and Christians believe, then our imperfections remain wherever we are, on planet Earth or in space. We cannot run away from self.

Jesus Christ had no illusions about the frailty of humankind; he was challenged by it all through his ministry but he also recognised potential in many ordinary people that he met. While he acknowledged the reality of the human greed and aggression that troubles Prof Hawking, he also pointed to our God- given capacity to love and proved its transforming power by his actions many times. Christians believe that God is love and wherever love is experienced God is present and active. This enables us to speak of hope not only in the here and now but also into the future.

There are choices to be made and the parable of the sower explains some of the choices people make. Some are simply not interested; some engage for a while but give up; some are preoccupied with what is going on in their lives: …the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (that) enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Different kinds of sowing

{José Antonio Pagola}

At the end of his parable of the sower, Jesus puts out this invitation: «Anyone who has ears should listen». He asks us to pay attention to the parable. But what are we supposed to reflect on? The sower? The seed? The different terrains? Traditionally we Christian have focused almost exclusively on the terrain where the seed falls, in order to look at what is our attitude as we listen to the Gospel. However it is also important to note the sower and his way of sowing.

The first statement in the story is: «A sower went out to sow». He does so with a surprising confidence and sows abundantly. The seed falls all over the place, including where it seems impossible for it to germinate. That’s how the farmers of Galilee did it: they sowed even on the sides of the paths and in rocky places. It’s not hard to identify who the sower is. That’s how Jesus sowed his message. They saw him go out every morning to announce the Good News of God. He sowed his Word among the simple people who welcomed it, and also among the Scribes and Pharisees who rejected it. He never got tired. His sowing won’t be fruitless.

Overcome by a strong religious crisis, we can think that Jesus’ Gospel has lost its original force and that his message no longer has power to attract the attention of men and women today. Certainly this is not a time to harvest resounding successes, but it is the moment to learn to sow without getting discouraged, with more humility and truth. It’s not the Gospel that has lost its humanizing power, but ourselves who are announcing it with a weak and wavering faith. It’s not Jesus that has lost his power to attract. We are the ones who have distorted him with our senselessness and contradictions.

Pope Francis has said that when a Christian doesn’t live close to Jesus, «he quickly loses enthusiasm and stops being sure of what he is transmitting, he lacks power and passion. And a person who isn’t convinced, enthusiastic, sure, in love, doesn’t convince anyone». Evangelizing isn’t propagating a doctrine, but making the humanizing and saving power of Jesus present in the midst of society and in people’s hearts. What’s most decisive isn’t the number of preachers or teachers of religion, but the evangelical quality that Christians radiate. What are we spreading? Indifference or convinced faith? Mediocrity or a passion for a fuller, more human life?

The power of the Word

As a former teacher, I’m often surprised at what some of my past students remember of our time together. It would be less embarrassing on occasions if they conveniently forgot. “I remember you saying one time. ..” and then, if not word for word, they give at least in its general thrust of what was said. Even merely spoken words can have an extraordinary life-span. Sometimes we remember things our parents said, long after they are gone. Their words and outlook are not dead so long as we are alive and recall them.

What’s true of our everyday words is even more true of God’s word. That’s what’s stressed in today’s readings and stated memorably by Isaiah: “So it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled, or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.” The only defence against God’s word is deafness, whether inadvertent or deliberate. And refusing to listen is something today’s Gospel does not recommend. It urges us to let the Word fall into good soil, so that it can yield a rich harvest in our lives.

Even though we’re meant to have our ears cocked in church, and even though there’s no substitute for hearing God’s word as a worshipping community, the richest soil in any parish has to be in the home. The home, more than any place else, is a good place for growth. If space is made for God in the home, if parents pray with their children from an early age, if parents treat one another well, if the relationships within the home are basically sound, if Mass, as Christ’s memorial, is seen to matter to the older people, then there is a good chance that in the hearts and minds of the children, the seed will take root and grow. In a sense, education is what remains when you have forgotten the texts themselves. We forget so easily what was said in church or school. We never forget what happens in the home.

It’s the ordinary things that make the impact on most of us, the daily effort, the daily drudgery, the repeated efforts a father or mother make separately or together to think of us and to remind us of God. It’s only when somebody dies and people start looking back that the ordinary daily sacrifices take on a heroic hue, and people begin to say, “Indeed, she was a great woman” or “he was a great man.” If we receive God’s word every day into our lives and try to live by it, we will be scattering the seed for generations yet to come.

Let’s not imagine that it’s only parents or older people who are expected to receive God’s word and live it! I think God’s call comes to us at its most personal and urgent when we are young. That’s when most of us felt called to our particular vocations. God’s word has fresh soil and a great future when it falls in a young heart. So if you are young, be generous with God. Be truthful and just and caring and good-living. Be faithful to your Sunday Eucharist and give it continued life throughout the week in the great commandment of love, and God’s harvest will be rich in you.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

This title honours the Blessed Virgin Mary as patron of the Carmelite Order. During the 12th and 13th century the Carmelites were hermits living on Mount Carmel in Galilee. They built a chapel between their hermitages which they dedicated to the mother of Jesus. The order sees  Mary as the perfect icon of the interior life of prayer and contemplation to which all Carmelites aspire, a model of virtue and the one who was closest in life to Jesus Christ.