What is Sown as Seed Grows

Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
July 23, 2017
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:               What is sown as seed grows.
Function:         Sow good seed.


sowing seedSow an act, and you reap a habit.
Sow a habit, and you reap a character.
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
-Charles Reade

We reap what we sow.
What is sown as a seed grows.

Last week we heard about the sower who went out to sow. The sower is God, and the seeds are his Word. Our hearts are the fields to receive his Word. We were asked to reflect on the state of our hearts. We were challenged to cultivate our hearts so that they become the rich soil where the seed of God’s word can flourish.

Today, we are reminded that, while it is true that God sows his seed, it is equally true that he is not the only sower. The Evil One also sows his seed.

What is sown as seed grows.

Acts of sin grow into habits of sin.
Habits of sin grow into vices.
Vices, if unchecked and without conversion, can transform the fields of our hearts into fields of weeds which will not yield a bountiful harvest, but can only be bundled up and burned. Vices enslave us in our sins. They prevent us from loving well.

But acts of goodness grow into habits of goodness.
Habits of goodness grow into virtues.
Virtues, if planted and watered and tended, can transform the fields of our hearts into fields of wheat which yield a bountiful harvest, and are gathered into the Lord’s barn at the time of the harvest. Virtues give us the freedom to become saints. They give us the freedom to give fully of ourselves, to love freely.

What is sown as seed grows.
God will reap what we allow to be sown in our hearts.

I think we can look at this parable of the weeds and the wheat in two ways. The Gospel presents the weeds as the children of the Evil One and the wheat as the children of the Kingdom. The field is the world. Each person is a weed or a stalk of wheat. God lets them grow together until the Harvest.

I think we can also look at this parable in another way. We can see each person’s heart as a field that contains both weeds and wheat. The wheat is to be tended and nurtured and we are to stunt the growth of the weeds where we can. The seeds continue to be sown throughout our lives. We want to open ourselves to the seeds that come from God and close ourselves to the seeds that come from the Evil One. The field is each person’s heart. Each person’s heart is a field of wheat and weeds. God allows the person to grow and to cultivate his field until harvest time.

St. Thomas Aquinas once said,
Take away all evil, and much good would go with it.
God’s care is to bring good out of the evils that happen, not to abolish them.

God wants a bountiful harvest. He is willing to tolerate a few weeds for now in order to allow the wheat to grow. But, brothers and sisters, the weeds will be separated later. And that should motivate us to use the time we have now to tend the fields of our hearts.

We must do our part. We must cultivate our fields.

The Book of Sirach urges us:
Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day. (Sirach 5:8)

What is sown as seed grows.
The Harvest is coming.
God will reap what we allow to be sown and grown in our hearts.

Last week and the week before, I attended the JPII Camp for the middle schoolers of the diocese. I spent hours hearing confessions. I was inspired to see the campers make life changing confessions. They recognized where they had allowed the Evil One to sow the seeds of sin in the fields of their hearts, they saw the weeds springing up, and they experienced conversion. They tended their gardens. They took a huge first step in making a resolution to rid themselves of the actions that sow the seeds of weeds in their hearts and resolved instead to sow the seeds of virtue.

Their hearts are young. It is early in their growing season.

Some of us are not so young. It is later in our growing season.

Yet one thing is certain. The first reading, in speaking of God, tells us that “You gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

God is patient. God will wait. He does not rush into the field of the world and uproot those of us who are weedy. He waits. He allows us to tend the fields of our own hearts – to change – to open ourselves to receive the seeds of His Word.

During this growing season of your life, do not stand idly by. Tend your field. Open your heart to the seeds of God and close yourselves to the seeds of the Evil One.

What are you allowing to be sown in your heart?

What are you allowing to be sown in your children’s hearts?

Are you planting so as to reap a harvest worthy of Heaven?

Our Hearts are the Fields to Receive God’s Word

Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
July 15-16, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 5:30 PM
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:              Our hearts are the fields to receive God’s Word.
Function:        Cultivate the field of your heart.


gardening

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I have to admit that I’ve never been much of a gardener. Don’t get me wrong, growing up on a farm, I’ve always enjoyed fieldwork. I enjoyed the hours spent driving the tractor as I cultivated the field. I loved the feel of the sun on my back and the wind in my face as I picked up the hay bales with the stackwagon. I reveled in the smell of freshly chopped silage as I rushed out to the field and back to pick up the next load.

But gardening…gardening is much different. Gardening is work. Several weeks back I helped my mom and dad plant their garden. I measured the distance between the rows. Then I hoed the dry and crusty ground, digging the rows by hand as my niece and nephew dropped in the seeds. It was easier for them to keep up with me than it was for me to keep up with them. Finally, I covered the seeds with the dry dirt and used my foot to pack the dirt over the seed.

In the days that followed, we watered and weeded, and we watched and waited. The next time that I was home, I was able to see the growth springing up. The dry, cracked earth had begun to be transformed by the seeds that were planted there. The barren landscape of that garden was transformed by some water and some work. It was made ready to receive the seed that would be planted. Soon, I expect that we will be enjoying the fruits of our labor – tomatoes, corn, onions, and potatoes. 

Our scriptures today remind us that “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest” (Ps. 65). God’s Word is the seed that is sent forth like the rain from heaven, and it shall not return to him void, but shall do his will, achieving the end for which He sent it.

The seed of God’s Word is sown in the field of our hearts. Our hearts are the fields to receive the seed of his Word.

And like any field, our hearts need to be prepared to receive this seed if the seed is to spring up and bear fruit.

The soil of our hearts must be cultivated with silence so that we can hear the Word of God when it falls during the busyness of our days.

Our hearts must be weeded by the Master Gardener in the confessional; they must be watered with the tears of repentance for our sins so that the seed can grow without being choked off. The roots of vice must be plucked out to make room for the seeds of virtue.

Our hearts must be watered by the rains of prayer which soften them to receive the Word of God so that the seed can break open and bring forth conversion, transformation, new life.

Our hearts must be fertilized with gratitude for the many blessings with which the Lord enriches our lives.

The seed of God’s Word is sown in the field of our hearts. Our hearts are the fields to receive the seed of his Word.

A dry, weary land without water will not bring forth a fruitful harvest, and neither will a hardened heart, closed off to the Word of God, bear the fruit of the Gospel.

Brothers and sisters, you can come to Mass every Sunday and hear the Word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures but
if your heart is not open to receive it,
if you do not meditate on it and reflect on it,
if you do not think about it, pray about it, or put it into practice,
if you do not allow the Word to take root in your heart,
it will not bear fruit.
You will have eyes but you will not see. You will have ears but you will not hear.

But a softened heart,
a heart that has been prepared,
a heart that has been cultivated, watered, and fertilized,
a heart that is receptive to the Word of God proclaimed here every Sunday,
will bear abundant fruit.

The heart that is prepared, ready and waiting to receive the living Word of God, will receive it when it comes.

The seed of God’s Word will take root in that heart,
where it will be cracked open and the life it contains will burst forth,
transforming the landscape of that heart from a dry land into a fruitful field,
bearing 30, or 60, or 100 fold.

What is the state of your heart?

What work needs to be done in your heart so that it can better receive the seed of God’s Word?

One thing is certain. God’s word is poured out. The seed of God’s word will be sown.

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…
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.

God’s Word will not return to him empty. It will bear fruit. The question is, will it bear fruit in your heart? Will your heart be the rich soil on which it falls, or will it be dirt of the path, the rocky ground, or the thorny ground?

This is not an easy task. Gardening is hard work. It requires humility. It takes patience, it takes persistence, and it takes perseverance.

It is easy to be open to the Word that we agree with. It is much more difficult to be open to the Word that challenges us. But the fruit is worth the effort. The sufferings of the present are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). If we prepare our hearts to be worthy fields of the seed of God’s Word that is entrusted to us, then we will glory in the harvest of our lives when we stand before God on judgement day.

Soon, the seed of the living Word of God Himself will appear on this altar.

The sower is about to cast his seed from this altar.
This is the seed that gives life to all who believe.
The Eucharist is the seed that has the power to transform your heart because it is none other than the living Word of God, Jesus Christ himself, the Word made Flesh who dwells among us in the gift of his Body and Blood.

Our hearts are the fields upon which this Seed is sown.

May they be hearts of rich soil so as to yield a harvest worthy of Heaven.

 

Meekness is not Weakness; It is Gentle Strength

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
July 8-9, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 5:30 PM
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:                Meekness is not weakness; it is gentle strength.
Function:         Place yourself under the yoke of Christ.


IMG_1781

There is a beautiful image near the entrance of one of the chapels at Saint Meinrad, where I attended seminary. You have to go out of your way to find it; it’s not in a conspicuous place. It’s in the basement, near the door to the oratory – a chapel that rarely gets used.

The image depicts the Holy Family on a journey. The Holy Family had fled to Egypt when Joseph learned in a dream that King Herod was searching for the child to kill him. They remained there until Herod’s death, and then came to Nazareth. The image depicts the holy family returning from Egypt to Nazareth.

Mary is seated on a donkey, holding the child Jesus who is two or three years old. Joseph is leading the donkey. In one hand, he holds his walking staff. In the other, he holds the hand of Jesus. Or, rather, Jesus is holding onto Saint Joseph’s finger as he stares at him in admiration.

The title of the painting reads: “The Hand of the Humble Joseph Guides That of the Almighty.”

Another one of my favorite images at Saint Meinrad is located in the seminary chapel. You don’t have to go so far out of your way to find this one. But it’s still not in a conspicuous place. You must look for it. It’s in the back of the chapel, in a corner, near the confessional.

GoToJoseph

This image depicts a close-up of a young father in his early twenties. He has black eyebrows and a five o’clock shadow. His eyes are closed as he cradles his infant son against his bare chest. His son is sleeping, resting his face and bare chest against that of his father. The image contrasts the strength of the father with the weakness of the child. The child is completely dependent on his father, and the father is committed to protecting his son.

The caption under this image reads: “Go to Joseph”

Framed on the wall next to this image of Saint Joseph holding baby Jesus is a Seminarian’s Prayer to Saint Joseph. It reads:

We honor you, Saint Joseph,
for the tender care and fatherly wisdom
that marked your holy life
as you taught your son Jesus
how to be a man. 

Look on us now, we pray,
as we seek to become men
in the very image of your son.
As you guided him to become fully one like us,
so guide us to become more and more like him,
who is our brother and our Lord,
now and forever. Amen.

These images of Saint Joseph are important because they present an image of true meekness. And we need an image of true meekness because we are often presented with an image of false meekness. Too often, we think of meekness as weakness. We think of cowardice, wimpiness, an unwillingness to rock the boat or take a stand for what matters.

But true meekness is not weakness. It is gentle strength. It is self-possession in the face of trial and adversity. It is knowing who you are and having the ability to stay true to who you are when your patience is tried. It is possessing great strength but it is also possessing the ability to harness, to control, that great strength.

Saint Joseph is a model of true meekness. He never speaks a word in the Scriptures. He doesn’t have to. He is a man of great strength. He is a carpenter. He works with his hands. He provides for the needs of his family. He protects his family. Under his watch, no harm will come to them.

But like the location of his images in the seminary, Saint Joseph is not conspicuous. He doesn’t flaunt his strength for all to see. He doesn’t need to. Anyone who looks at him can see that he is a man of strength. Anyone who looks at him can see a man who knows what his mission is and a man who has the strength to carry it out. St. Joseph’s masculine strength shines ever brighter in the light of his humility and meekness. He is a man in possession of his strength, a man who is not ruled by his strength but rather a man who has mastery over his strength.

Meekness is not weakness; it is gentle strength.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

Brothers and sisters, let us take up the yoke of true meekness by following in the footsteps of our Lord who learned meekness in his humanity from the example of his foster father Saint Joseph.

Place yourself under the yoke of Christ who is meek and humble of heart.

Submission to Christ the Lord does not mean being a wimp, a coward, or a pushover. It means knowing what, or rather who, your life is about. It is knowing who you are, or perhaps who you are not, in relation to Christ who is God. It means knowing that God is God and I am not. Placing yourself under the yoke of Christ means believing that his vision for how to live our lives is what will bring us ultimate happiness, freedom, rest, and joy.

Brothers and sisters, if you are not under the yoke of Christ, whose yoke are you under?

I invite you today to cast off the yoke that has you enslaved and take up the yoke of Christ.

Cast off the yoke of vice and take up the yoke of virtue.

Cast off the yoke of slavery and take up the yoke of true freedom.

Cast off the yoke of self-doubt, of self-loathing, of self-deprecation and take up the yoke of your true identity as a son or daughter who is infinitely loved by the Father.

Cast off the yoke of individualism and caring solely for your own needs and take up the yoke of your true identity as a brother or sister to those around you.

Cast off the yoke of arrogance and pride and take up the yoke of humility and meekness.

Cast off the yoke of the world and take up the yoke of Christ:
Christ, the one who came not to be served but to serve;
Christ, the one who set us free from the yoke of sin and death;
Christ, not the harsh taskmaster but the one who is meek and humble of heart.

Take his yoke upon you and learn from him, and he will give you rest. He will give you peace. He will give you joy.

For his yoke is easy, and his burden light.

 

We Show Hospitality to God When We Show Hospitality to Others

Homily – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
July 1-2, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 5:30 PM, 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM

First Weekend Homily as a Priest.
First Homily at Sacred Heart in East Grand Forks.

Focus:              We show hospitality to God when we show hospitality to others.
Function:        See God in others and show them hospitality.


Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

Last weekend I was in Oklahoma City for the ordination of a classmate. After the ordination, I had the opportunity to meet up with a friend that I had not seen in a long time. My friend wanted to take his mom, his brother, and me on a boat ride through the canal that cuts through Oklahoma City. We stood in line to buy our tickets. I was wearing my collar, and I was chatting with my friend’s mother when I noticed a man in front of us ask my friend if there were four in our group. My friend said, “Yes,” and the man turned back to the ticket window. My friend’s mom hadn’t noticed the interaction, so I said to her, “I think the man in front of us is going to buy our tickets.” Sure enough, I then overheard him tell the man working in the ticket booth, “I’ll buy four additional tickets for the group behind me.” The man tried to slip away without being noticed, but I was able to step up and thank him for his generosity, for his great hospitality.

The word “hospitality” comes from the Greek word philoxenia, which means “love of strangers.” To extend hospitality to someone means to welcome guests or strangers. To extend hospitality is to receive someone who is an outsider and to change them from a stranger into a guest. The man who bought our tickets did not know I was a visitor to the city, but I was certainly a stranger, and he showed great hospitality by his generosity.

All four of us were strangers to him, and yet he saw something. I know that he saw me wearing my collar, and so when he looked at me he saw Christ, and he saw an opportunity to show hospitality to God by showing hospitality to me and to my friends.

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

In his rule of life for his monks, Saint Benedict challenges his brothers to welcome all guests as if they were Christ. He does so because he knows that we show hospitality to God when we show hospitality to others. I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me. (MT 25). Christ is hidden in the brother or sister standing right in front of us. We are all made in the image and likeness of God, and when we are reborn in the waters of baptism, we become sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven, and we become brothers and sisters to each other.

The Letter to the Hebrews urges us with these words: Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2). Indeed, the Old Testament contains several stories of angels appearing to people as guests on a journey. In receiving the strangers in their midst, these characters in the Old Testament received God.

In the first reading, we hear the story of a woman showing hospitality to Elisha the prophet because she knows he is a holy man of God. She does not show hospitality just because it is a nice thing to do. No, she shows hospitality because she recognizes who Elisha is – she recognizes his identity as a prophet. So, she gives of herself to make him feel welcome. In Biblical times, most people slept on the floor. They did not sit in chairs. Yet, this woman not only gives Elisha a room in her home, but she furnishes the room with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. She gives of herself at great cost to make Elisha feel comfortable in her home. She shows him great respect. She makes him feel welcome in her home. She receives someone who is a stranger and turns him into a guest.

She shows hospitality to God by showing hospitality to another. And I say to you that she surely did not lose her reward.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is inviting us today through the Scriptures to remember who we are: sons and daughters of a Father who loves us, children of light who are on the way to our true home in Heaven. And in the light of that great truth, he reminds us to develop a heart that sees this truth.

He reminds us to develop a heart of hospitality.

Hospitality is what makes the difference between a house and a home. And so, I ask you: Is your heart a house or is it a home?

Is your heart a home where others find welcome or is it a haunted house that scares them away?

Is your heart a home where others feel like family or a house where they feel like unwanted intruders merely to be tolerated for a time until they leave and I can finally get back to my life?

Do you see others as your brothers and sisters in Christ, made in the image and likeness of a God who loves them dearly, so dearly that he gave his only Son as the price of their redemption – a God who waits for the day when his children will complete their pilgrimage of life and finally come to his home in Heaven?

Is your heart a heart of repentance? Have you experienced his hospitality in the confessional where he waits to welcome you back so that you can extend him true hospitality when you welcome him into your heart in the Eucharist?

Is your heart furnished with the lamp of love and the bed of silence and prayer so that the Lord can come and rest within you?

Brothers and sisters, behold the truth of who we are. We are adopted children of the Father thru our baptism – children of light journeying to our true home in heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house – a house with many dwelling places.

Can we not prepare a place for him here in our hearts?

The man who bought our tickets saw God in us. That was the reason why he bought the tickets. He showed hospitality to God by showing hospitality to us, and we experienced the hospitality of God through his kindness.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, and that means that we show hospitality to God when we show hospitality to each other. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. We show hospitality to God who dwells in us when we show hospitality to each other.

Let us help each other along the way.  Let us furnish not only our homes with desks, beds, and lamps but also our hearts with love, compassion and generosity.  Let us open the homes of our hearts to each other.  Let us receive one another, and in receiving one another, let us receive Christ. Let us receive him in one another with the same reverence with which we receive him in this Eucharist.

I say to you, if we do this, we will surely not lose our reward.