Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: What To Do With the Seed?
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 was also headed to a life of complete self-gratification. He was a young man who loved every sort of pleasure. 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 rundown old chapel just outside of the city, the chapel of San Damiano. As he was praying before the 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 within the city. The message that St. Francis heard is as pertinent now as it ever was, “Rebuild my Church.” The message is addressed to us.
Can we do this? Can we build the Kingdom of God on earth? We have available to us that which we need. 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 we were in 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. And he prophesied that the Word of God would be returned to Him.
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
We want it. We want the Word of God. 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. Everyone 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, “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.
But sometimes we construct roadblocks to our embrace of the Word. 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 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. There is a war being waged for the Kingdom of God. We need to prepare for battle. We need to pray every day in our homes as well as unite together in the Eucharist at least every week.
The parable says that sometimes the seed falls on rocky ground. It does not 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. St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote that she felt completely dry and abandoned by Christ throughout her life, but she never stopped proclaiming Him with her life. It is not the feelings that matter. What matters are the actions we take when we are exposed to the Word of God. If we do not change our lives after our continual encounters with Christ, then our spiritual experiences are merely feelings, moments of fleeting joy.
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. Often, we forget that our primary responsibility is to Jesus Christ. We have been given the Word. We cannot allow the concerns around us choke off his Presence within us. We cannot allow ourselves to become deaf to His Call to rebuild His Church.
Sometimes the thickets and thorns are the vices of immoral society. Drugs, alcohol, porn, other areas of immorality are all thorns that choke our grasp of the Word of God. When we fight immorality, we are not just avoiding sin, we are allowing God’s Word to grow in the world.
But there are times, many times, that God’s seed falls on good soil. There are many people who care for the Presence of the Lord, who are more concerned with His Kingdom than their own emotional feelings of His Presence. There are many people who refuse to let anything the world throws at them destroy 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 are dedicated to the Kingdom of God. We can rebuild His Church.
We need to be good soil. We have to cultivate the Presence of the Lord in our lives, and serve God 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 tries to destroy our determination to live in union with Jesus Christ. We can be the good soil that returns to the Lord more fruit than we could ever imagine.