15th S. 2020: Good Soil

grassToday’s reflection is for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Our family has recently moved into a nice house in Denair, but while the house is great, the soil is horrible! We didn’t want to put in sod, so we used grass seed instead…that may have been a mistake! Growing grass from seed is incredibly difficult—especially in bad soil! No wonder Jesus uses it as a way to help us understand faith and God’s word, and Christian discipleship.

Jesus mentions four places where the seed, which is a synonym for faith in Jesus, the Word of God, fell: on the path, on rocky soil, among thorns, and finally on good soil. Our work today, is to reflect quite honestly about the soil of our heart and of our home. In what way are we the target of Jesus’ message for us today?

As we heard, the “path” are those who hear God’s word, but it has no effect. It does not penetrate the heart, and the evil one steals it away. Tragically, many times the environment in which a person hears God’s word is twisted and unloving. One of my best friends is an Atheist today, after his Christian-missionary father quoted Scripture while abusing him as a child. Clerical abuse as well has created dry, arid soil, that is opposed to faith. It is very difficult indeed to receive God’s word when the heart remains closed; when the soil was ruined by neglect or abuse. Seed without love or seed amid abuse fails to penetrate the heart. We should mourn and pray for the sinful world that makes the ascent of faith such a difficult hill to climb.

Other seed, Jesus tells us, is sown on the rocky path, and it does begin to grow, but it’s delicate. Without roots it cannot weather the sun. When I planted my lawn, I had to water every day, a few times a day. The water quickly went through the soil and the roots of the baby grass were too small to reach it. So it is when we practice the faith in a minimalistic, obligatory sort of way. When we do only what we must to do: Mass on Sunday, Catechism on Sacramental years, and reconciliation only once a year. The Word is there, but it lacks frequency, depth, and produces no passion. It’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t get us through the real trials that life brings—death of loved ones, disease, accidents, and the like. A bunch of water all at once is no good. Water only occasionally is no good, but a light watering, often, does wonders for nurturing new faith. Parents must remember this when catechizing their children. When faith is new, we must not stay on the normal watering cycle. A little bit, often, in a loving, prayerful environment is the key.

Some seed, we hear, fell among thorns, and as St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1COR 15:33) We usually think about this with regard to kids and faith, but this is equally true of adults and faith. Who we hang around will either help our faith grow, cause our faith to flounder, or destroy our faith. If we are hanging around people whose values are not those of Christ and the Church, whose political views are not aligned to the love of God and others, whose language, drinking or drug habits, or anger issues are inconsistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ, then our faith and that of those we love is being choked out. We are disciples 24/7/365. Is our company faith-fertilizing, or full of thorns?

Finally, it was in the rich soil that fruit was produced in abundance. As we have come to understand, rich soil doesn’t just happen. It is intentional. I brought twelve yards of topsoil into my backyard, and soil requires water and nutrients. We must feed our soil if our desire to have a beautiful yard, and we must feed our faith if it is to be beautiful, strong, and lasting so that Satan will not steal it away, that suffering will not wither it, and that bad company will not corrupt.

Hear me, each of us for our own faith and soul’s sake must commit ourselves to doing those things that nourish and enrich our faith. Sunday Mass for sure, but maybe daily Mass once in a while too, reconciliation often, intentional prayer at least twice a day, Scripture and Catechism study, reading about the Saints, or watching movies about faith and the people of God, study groups, retreats, Teams of Our Lady, and similar groups. These are the practices that enrich the soil of our soul making it a place where the love of Jesus and His Church can grow.

If we are parents, and are not practicing this life with our children, while their academics and sports may be spot on, the seed of their faith, which is ours to nurture, is on the path, on rocky ground, or among thorns. St. John Chrysostom said, “Isn’t it absurd to send children out to jobs and to school, and to do all you can to prepare them for these, and yet not to ‘bring them upon in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’ (EPH 6:4)?” He says, “Discipline is needed not eloquence; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These gain a man the kingdom.” Amen?

God’s word does indeed go forth as Isaiah says, but will it fall on the rich soil that Jesus speaks of today? Is our faith growing or has it become stagnant? Is my child’s faith growing? What can I do to make it better? God’s desire is that the seed of his Word rest in good soil and produce fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold in us, in our family, and in our church. The only question is, “Do we have ears to hear?”

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

14th S. 2020: Be Free!

4thToday’s reflection is for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I hope some of you remember the movie Gladiator, in 2000, starring Russel Crowe. The opening scene shows Roman general, Maximus, defeating Rome’s enemies, finally bringing peace to Rome, and to the heart of it’s great emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is exhausted, having been at war for over two decades. He wants only peace and needed rest from violence and bloodshed.

The truthfulness of that scene made an incredible impact on me when I saw it not long after getting out of the Marines. War is exhausting, violence is exhausting, and peace is a beautiful and delicate flower. As we celebrate Independence Day this year we honor those brave men and women who sacrificed so much, and those who continue to stand guard so that our hard-won freedoms remain secure.

July 4th is not about barbeques and fireworks, but about celebrating the long-awaited peace of independence and liberty from tyranny, oppression, and violence. St. Augustine said, “Peace is the tranquility of order.” We gather today as a family, to be recreated, rejuvenated, and to put things in proper order—God, Family, country, and friends. The Hebrew word for this peace, tranquility, and order is shalom.

The 1st reading from the Prophet Zechariah gives the people of Judah new hope as they return from Exile in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. They look forward to a king. A king that will bring sedekah and shalom—justice and peace. Zechariah says that this great king would banish the instruments of war, the chariot, the horse, and the warrior’s bow, and proclaim shalom to the nations.

The Jews believed that a good king would ensure justice (sedekah) to the most vulnerable in society, namely, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant, and bring peace (shalom) within the nation and between one nation and the other. And shalom/peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict, but rather the fullness of life—within the nation and among nations.

Peace was the only thing that Marcus Aurelius wanted and it’s what we should want too, in our heart, in our family, in our streets, nation, and world. It’s also our only prayer for those who have died, that they Rest In Peace (R.I.P.), and it’s what Jesus promises in the Gospel today. Sadly, too few people find in this life.

Jesus tells a weary, conflicted, exhausted people, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Exhausted war-torn people need peace, and justice, and Jesus…and the resultant joy.

As we celebrate our Independence Day, let us be mindful that although we are free from the tyranny of British Colonization, we are yet still far from free as a people and as a country, and I believe it’s why we still lack peace in our hearts and in our streets.

I hope you love this country as much as I do, and are honest enough to admit that though free in principal, we have much room for growth in practice. While we still live in sin, we are not free. While children starve we are not free. While domestic violence exists, we are not free. While racism, sexism, and elitism exist we are not free. While addictions and poverty and homelessness, intolerance, violence, and ignorance exist we are not free.

I believe with all my heart that we can be free and we will be free, but we’re not quite there yet. We need Jesus. We need to know our dignity and the dignity of others. We need to recommit ourselves daily to prayer and lives of holiness, that serve others, stand in solidarity with others, and speak up for others. This country is amazing, but renewal and recommitment is absolutely essential.

True independence is not about freedom from, but rather freedom for. We do not measure independence based upon what we do not have to do, but rather what we can do. I can be generous during times of scarcity. I can be courageous in the face of danger. I can be loving toward those who do not deserve my love. Why? Because I can…because I’m free. Free to love, free to give, free to serve, free to worship, free to live for God, family, and country.

St. Paul tells the Romans today, “We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” So, join me on this Independence Day to cook some BBQ and to let off some fireworks, to spend time and be recreated with family and friends, and to celebrate our Nation’s independence.

But even more than that, join me in putting an end to conflict, to struggle, injustice, intolerance, and violence. And above all, to putting an end to slavery to sin which leads to death. Join me in clinging to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, saying yes to God, yes to life, and yes to love. Because only then will we truly be free, find joy, and know shalom. Happy 4th of July.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.