15th Sunday: We long for it. He gives it.
But are we willing to do something with it?
In the early part of the Thirteenth Century, Giovanni Franceso Bernardone was headed to a prosperous life as a cloth merchant in the Province of Umbria, Italy. He loved every sort of pleasure and was known to engage in various street brawls. But, Francis, as he preferred to be called, didn’t become a merchant. After spending a year as a military captive in nearby Perugia, Francis decided to change the course of his life, radically change the course of his life. He wanted to focus on serving God and only serving God. He saw his status as part of the rising merchant class as blocking his ability to experience Jesus Christ. He gave up his possessions and his future as a merchant, and embraced poverty. He begged for food in his native Assisi, and spent his days in prayer.
Francis attracted a few like minded companions who joined him in courting what he called Lady Poverty. One day Francis went to pray at a run down old chapel just outside of the city, the chapel of San Damiano. As he was praying before the ancient icon of the crucified Jesus, he heard a voice calling to him three times: “Francis, rebuild my Church. Francis, rebuild my Church. Francis, rebuild my Church.” Initially, Francis thought that he and his friends should rebuild the chapel of San Damiano, but as time went on, he realized that he was being called to rebuild Christ’s Church on earth.
The Chapel of San Damiano still stands outside the walls of Assisi. The cross of San Damiano was relocated to the Basilica of Santa Clara. The message that St. Francis heard is as pertinent now as it ever was, “Rebuild my Church.” The message is addressed to us.
But can we do it, can we rebuild the Kingdom of God on earth? We have everything we need. We long for it. He gives it. But are we willing to do something with it? It is there. It is there for us. There is a lot of it, or to use the biblical terminology, it is abundant. It is the Word of God. God pours His Word upon us; He drenches us with His Word as though it were a rainstorm. The Prophet Isaiah says in the first reading that this is what we need to do God’s work. He predicts that we will embrace the Everlasting Word. He prophesied that the Word of God would be embraced by people and returned to Him.
And we want it. We want the ability to do God’s will. Every fiber of our body longs to be part of his plan. St. Paul says in the second reading from the Letter to the Romans, that we groan within ourselves with the desire to have God in our lives, and with the desire to make God real in the lives of others. Anyone who is serious about her or his Christianity longs to give birth to the Kingdom. Paul uses the image of labor pains. A woman in labor experiences her whole being concentrated on giving birth. Our whole being focuses on giving birth, birth to the Kingdom. And so, we groan from our inner depths. We want to make God’s Kingdom a reality in the world.
He gives us all that we need, the Word. We long to make His Kingdom a reality, we groan in labor pains, but longing is not enough. It is not enough to come off a religious experience and say, “I want to be an integral part of Jesus Christ’s solution to the world.” It is not enough to say that, “I want to be united with Christ.” It is not enough to say, “I want others to be united to Christ.” We have to use the spiritual gift of the Word.
It is our own fault if we let other things get in the way of the Word of God. The parable in the Gospel says that sometimes the Divine Sower’s seed falls on the pathways through the fields. There is no union with the Word, it is simply there, and it is lost to the birds of the sky. Sometimes we refuse to make God’s Word the guide of our lives. We refuse to delve into what God is calling us to. We know we can learn about the Lord by studying the Bible, by praying over the scripture, by keeping a union with God, but we are just too lazy to pray. Sad, but that is what it is, sometimes we are just too lazy to pray, we don’t make time for Him, the Love of our lives, and then we become shocked that His Presence has been stolen from us by the birds of the air.
The parable then says that sometimes the see falls on rocky ground. It doesn’t develop roots. This part of the parable really cuts us to the core, because it says that the enthusiasm for the Word, the enthusiasm for the Lord, is not good enough. All those good feelings will die out with time, unless it is far more than feelings we search for. Blessed Mother Theresa wrote that she felt completely dry and abandoned by Christ throughout her life, but she never stopped proclaiming Him with her life. If nothing changes in our lives after our continual encounters with Christ, then we will reduce these spiritual experience to mere feeling.
Sometimes the seed falls among the thickets and thorns. God’s word takes root, but other things take priority in our lives. All of us have many activities and obligations. What we seem to forget is that our primary responsibility is to Jesus Christ. We have been give the Word. We cannot allow the other concerns around us choke off his Presence within us. We cannot allow ourselves to become deaf to His Call to rebuild His Church.
But there are times that through the seed falls on good soil. These are the people who care for the Presence of the Lord, who are more concerned with His Kingdom than their own emotional feelings of His Presence, these are the people who refuse to let anything the world throws at them choke off the mission they have been entrusted with by the Divine Sower.
We can be these people, you and I. We can be the people who throughout our lives are dedicated to the Kingdom of God. We can rebuild His Church.
But we need to be good soil. We have got to cultivate the presence of the Lord in our lives, and serve Him no matter whether we feel His Presence today as we did last week, last month, last year, or whenever we were given the gift of a spiritual high. We can fight off anything that will choke off His Presence. We can be this good soil that returns to the Lord fruit beyond our imagination, but not beyond His imagination.