Feature Image: Vincent the Sower, Vincent Van Gogh (1888)
Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15 July 2017
Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23
Does anyone remember the opening prayer from Mass today? Was anyone listening? Why do we even have that prayer?
Maybe a better question: what is that prayer actually called? I’ll give you a hint…it isn’t “Opening Prayer.”
In the Roman Missal, the big red book the priest uses at Mass,
there are two kinds of writing:
there are red words and there are black words.
Interspersed between the black words,
there are smaller words written in red.
The rule of thumb is always, “Say the black and do the red.”
There are instructions in this book that tell the priest and deacon and even the congregation
what to do during the various parts of the Mass.
Right before the opening prayer, the priest says,
“Let us Pray.”
Then, right after it in tiny red letters it says,
“All pray in silence with the priest for a while.”
Then the priest prays the prayer, and again in little red letters the book says,
“All the people acclaim, ‘Amen.’”
The prayer is called the Collect.
What is the priest collecting?
The priest, by praying the one prayer in the name of all the people,
is collecting all of your prayers that you uttered in the silence of your hearts
during the time when “all pray in silence for a while.”
So that awkward 10-ish seconds that it takes the altar server to get to the priest
is not a moment of liturgical inefficiency that needs to be corrected,
but rather a deliberate act so that you, and me, and the priest
would have time to mention in that silence
our prayers and intentions that we are lifting up to the Father during this Mass.
Then, we all say, “Amen” which means, of course,
“Let it be.” Or “Yes, I agree.” Or “So be it.”
So in the light of that, listen again to the collect from Mass today:
“O God, who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.
Give all who for the faith they profess are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ,
and to strive after all that does it honor.
We are very good at making lists in our head and in the heads of those around us
of the things that we perceive to be “anti-Christian” ideas.
And for the most part, I think our lists are pretty accurate.
It is not a Christian thing to do to blow up a building.
It is not Christian to lash out at our families,
to launder money,
to practice corruption in politics and in corporations.
But there are a lot of things that happen all around us, each day,
that are simply contrary to the name of Christ.
There are a lot of movements and ideologies in the world today
whose premises are completely removed from rationality and truth.
Many people today, even those closest to us and maybe even some of us,
are falling victim to the idea of relativism
– that what’s true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me.
That there is no such thing as a something that is, in all cases, universally true.
They are claiming, ironically, that it is the objective truth that there is no objective truth
but because they do not know how to think,
they do not see that their argument is defeated by, well, their own argument.
If we do not believe that there is such a thing as Truth,
if we get to be the arbiters of what is true and false in our own personal universe,
then is it any surprise that our culture has forgotten Christ,
who himself said he is the “way and TRUTH and life?”
One theologian writes, “The obliteration of Christ today…does not pass primarily through the explicit and frontal contestation of Christ, but through the reduction of the human, of the desires and needs of the human person, through the censure of our thirst…In this way, Christ becomes a pure name (and we have repeated it many times) and Christianity is transformed into…the point of departure for an ethical stance.” (Carron)
The only thing worse than Christianity being reduced to a set of ethics,
divorced from its reality as an encounter with the person of Christ,
is its being reduced to an ethical stance
whose adherents, largely, have no idea what it teaches.
Last year, I went on a mission trip to Kansas with a high school youth group
from another parish in our diocese.
We were staying in a diocesan high school, and all the chaperones had to sleep in the hallway
outside of where their teens were sleeping.
This, of course, meant that I was privy to all of the interesting “pillow talk” of high school boys.
One night I could hear them chatting
and the topic of homosexuality came up and one of the guys said,
“Well, there’s nothing we can do, because our Church hates gay people.”
It is one of the biggest regrets of my short ministerial life
that I did not go in that room and teach them what the Church really says.
Because no where in any document in any book
from any century will you find anywhere an official Church teaching that says,
“we hate gays. They are not welcome here.”
This last week at Totus Tuus, the same question came up because they kids had the same assumption.
Who taught them that?
Who taught my divorced friend that she’s been totally cut off from the mercy of God for her decision? Who made a drug addict I know feel unwelcome in the church?
Who is teaching young people today to believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol?
“A sower went out to sow.”
That’s who taught them. A sower.
A sower with an axe to grind.
A sower who spreads the seed he himself had once been given
by another sower of bad seed.
When Christ is the sower, when Jesus is the one who plants and sustains truth in me,
the fruit is always good.
But the reality is that Christ is not the only sower.
He may have been at one time, but we have allowed God to be usurped,
to be taken over by ideas and stances that are more convenient to me,
more comfortable to me,
more tailored to me.
A great definition of sin is this: “I want, what I want, and I want it now.”
It doesn’t matter how good our soil is, or once was if the seed is bad.
If the seed is bad, if the sower is bad, the fruit will always be bad.
If we go on thinking that we do well on our own,
making up what, for us in this moment, is true,
we will never know the end of our search for happiness and peace. Never.
Our culture has cultivated for us a conception of the human person
that is both passive, weak, helpless
and, ironically, stronger than anyone and anything else,
totally independent, and self-sustaining.
In this kind of culture, Christ and his promise of truth and freedom
become threatening to the world and promises which I have created for myself.
“Christ…would have been a word that is the object of theological expressions,
or, in the best case, a call to ‘pious’ affectivity,
generic and confused,
that only becomes precise in the fear of sins” and in the face of death. (Giusanni, Qui e Ora)
Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary,
is not content with being the subject of our ‘pious affectivity’
and, I think, it saddens him when we reduce him
to a vending machine of forgiveness and grace
at the time of death.
He is a person, and he is real and living,
and he has feelings, and he is tender,
and he wants his people to be close to him.
Trust me, I’m the first one to be tempted to push people away
because their way of life might be different than mine
or the actions they commit might be full of sin and scandal.
But Christ never pushes away;
Jesus is always an invitation.
Not an invitation to mediocrity, to doing it our way, to being independent of him.
He is an invitation to know and to walk in the Truth.
He is an invitation to repentance.
The quality of our soil does indeed make a huge difference as is stipulated in the gospel today
and we must always be conscious of cultivating a healthy environment
where the Truth might take root and grow strong.
But always, brothers and sisters,
always we must be on our guard against bad seed.
Let us pray that the Eucharist today might be the food we need to grow strong
in our resolve to forever reject the things and ideas and statements and ways of life
that are contrary to the name of Christ
and that we might strive only after the things that do it honor.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God for ever and ever. Amen.