5th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Paul Patrick, O.M. I.
Preached: March 21, 2021
At the beginning of our Gospel reading an interesting scene unfolds. A number of Greeks who were at the Jewish festivities came over to the disciples in order to see Jesus. These Greeks were most likely not interested in meeting Jesus purely for religious motives, but likely rather due to the fame and recognition which followed Jesus at this time. These Greeks singled out Phillip among the disciples to inquire about Jesus, probably due to Phillip’s name and his origins. In fact, Phillip was named after the founder of the Greek city Phillipi and was originally from Bethsaida, near the Decapolis which no doubt provided a cultural connection and common ground.
Traditionally during this time period Greeks were generally interested in philosophy and were not followers of Judaism. They had their own gods and worship practices. They were however often interested in philosophy and as such were open to other culture’s ways of thinking and practice especially as they saw it pertaining to gaining wisdom.
This scene then leads to Jesus giving a discourse on his sacrificial love for others and the meaning of life. In particular, Jesus uses an agrarian analogy which although largely lost on our modern society, was a part of every day life for his listeners. This Gospel passage, could be perhaps misunderstood, especially if taken out of context. It is however, a beautiful reflection on the meaning and the beauty of life.
Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies…
Jesus’s analogy of a grain of wheat reminds us of an age-old dilemma: If you have a handful of wheat, is it better to eat the whole thing right away and enjoy it? Or is it better to plant the seeds and wait? In waiting, you will have more wheat than when you started – but – you will have to sacrifice and go without until it’s ready to be harvested. Over time, you can increase your amount of wheat from a handful to hundreds of acres worth by saving seed, but it takes time, discipline, and sacrifice to arrive at that point. It’s very tempting to eat the handful of wheat and not have to sacrifice anything. Yet, in sacrificing and waiting, you can eventually turn a handful of wheat into thousands of bushels.
…it remains a single grain
Jesus uses this analogy to drive home to his agrarian listeners that ‘dying to self’ or making sacrifices for a worthy cause can produce immense reward in our lives. We live this truth out to a certain extent already in our society. For example, we sacrifice a significant part of our adolescent lives in pursuit of education. We die to our self and make sacrifices in order to gain knowledge. We go to the gym and sacrifice our bodies and push sore muscles in order to obtain a stronger body.
For those who love their life will loose it but those who hate their life will save it
This truth holds true not only in the physical sense but in all aspects of our life. If we focus solely on ourselves and sacrifice nothing for others, we will lose out on some of the most beautiful aspects of life, such as relationships. Someone who never dies to themselves and never lives for others will not have a full understanding of what a real relationship is. When we die to ourselves and sacrifice our time and some of ourselves for others, we reap a gain of community, comradery, and true love between others and ourselves. Those who are afraid to sacrifice anything for others, or who are afraid to risk anything and want to ‘play it safe’ are ironically most at risk to missing out on what actually makes life beautiful.
When we look at it this way – this Gospel doesn’t seem so misunderstood. It is therefore not that Jesus is telling us to have a miserable life but instead giving us the most important key to living a rich and full life in all aspects.
15th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: July 12, 2020
“That field needs a lot of work!”
Now Father Mark may think I am referring to the field at 681 Rymal Road East, our new building site, as it is covered in weeds, rocks, lumpy soil and some bushes.
That would be true as we do have work to do when we get our project into the ground, hopefully before the end of the year. However, that is not what the homily refers to, but instead the fields of our souls and our spiritual journey.
Father Mark was right last week, when he said in his homily, that the most difficult part of preaching, is that when you preach, God shows you all the things you don’t want to see…your own sins and failings. You realize you have no right to preach to others what to do, when you are so weak yourself, but God calls you to bring forth His message despite that.
In contemplating this week’s readings, I realized for the first time, that my spirituality is not one kind of soil! Shocking! Previously, I think I had a little bit too much pride, thinking that I have lots of good soil, so not much work to do. But this was totally untrue.
The reality is that none of us, me included, are one type of soil. We are all 4 types of soil, as we all have a mix of hard path, rocks, thorns/weeds and some good soil. We are all 4 types at some point in our lives, and maybe at some part of each day!
The key is not to label ourselves, but instead to aim to increase the % of good soil each day/week/month – by asking God to show us in a mirror what our mix really is and when different types of earth show up in our lives.
For instance, we could look at our own journey and see that the hard path could be during the teenage years when many fall away from the church. Or it could be after a family tragedy and we don’t feel God intervened enough or a miracle wasn’t delivered and so are heart hardens. Or maybe when we have a specific teaching of the church that we don’t want to hear or don’t agree with…all of these are times the seed bounces off.
We can have rocky ground on our journey of faith, when we attend Sunday mass or hear a good homily, but once others critique our Catholic faith or church teachings, we can’t reply as we don’t have the depth of roots we need. We have the basics, but we don’t read, and pray and ask more questions about our faith, and we don’t have the answers not only for ourselves, but also for others.
We have thorns and weeds with the busyness of life and the distractions and temptations of this world. When we have more time for Netflix and less time for volunteering or visiting/calling sick friends or those in need. When we can afford to spend more money on wants/brand names/upgrades and not just on our needs; with the extra resources to help others who are barely getting by.
We have good soil when we are generous, thankful, joyous, patient, forgiving, supportive, humble and loving. This soil not only builds our own selves up, but also 30, 60 and 100 people more!
We need to ask God in prayer to give us a view of the mix in our field is a great way to start!
So the next step is, how do we improve the mix?
If God shows us a large amount of hardened soil, then we get the rototiller out and turn over the dirt to let God open our hearts to hear His message anew. Whether it is to start coming back to church, or maybe to get informed on a key teaching that we have been struggling with.
If the Holy Spirit reveals that our soil is not deep with a few rocks poking out, than adding more soil through scriptural or inspirational reading can be a great way to go deeper – add spiritual topsoil and maybe some fertilizer to your journey. (Father Mark and I would be happy to give suggestions for resources if someone wanted that on a specific topic)
If during prayer you find that the thorns and weeds of temptation and distraction are a problem, then a time of weed and thorn removal may be most appropriate. This can be done by taking more scheduled time in your day and prioritizing it above other things so that this part of your faith can grow. It could also be a time to find a charity that touches your heart to give a donation to.
And when you see the section of good soil, which will be there, in which the fruits of the Holy Spirit are helping others, then keep fertilizing, watering, and pruning that area of your life so that even more people may be blessed by the gifts you bring.
Ask God to help you on this journey, and like we hear in the first reading, He will bless you with watering and help make the seed spring forth and sprout, so that His purpose and plan will be accomplished.
So, this week, when you wake up, say a short prayer to God to show you your field and ask Him for help because we all know in our hearts, “That the field needs a lot of work!”