28 July 2006

Stop blaming the dirt!

16th Week OT (Fri): Jer 3.14-17; Matthew 13.18-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Brothers and sisters, it’s time we stopped blaming the dirt! It’s time we stopped shaming the soil! For too long we have shunned the sandy soil, the thorny thickets, and the rocky rolling hills. It has become too easy, too simple to explain away our failures as the Lord’s Farmers by saying, “It’s not me, Lord, it’s the dirt!” It’s easy to blame the dirt. Easy to point a finger at the soil and say, “Too rocky!” Or, “Not rich enough!” Or, “Too many thorns!” The dirt just is. It’s just there waiting to do whatever it is by it’s nature capable of doing—being rocky, being sandy, being thorny. So, let’s hear no more whining about Bad Ground, or Poor Soil.

Who’s to blame when the seed doesn’t sprout or doesn’t hold root or fails to blossom? Read the Gospel! The Evil One steals the tender sprout from the row. It is the Devil who robs the first budding of faith from one who receives the seed—from one who hears the Word—but doesn’t understand it. Tribulations yank the joyful, sprouted plant from its rocky ground. It is the Big Test, the Trial of living the Word in a hostile world that weeds this rootless hearer, this believer without a firm foundation. Anxiety and the temptations of Mammon choke the tiny leaves of the seed planted among the thorns. It is the failure to trust God and serve Him first and only that saps vital nutrients from the believer, kills his blossom, and withers his spiritual fruit.

But, again, it is not the fault of the dirt. Soil can be rocky, sandy, thorny. The hearer of the Word may be ignorant, shallow, skeptical. Soil can be dry, acidic, hard packed. The hearer of the Word may be despairing, hard-hearted, stubborn. Where the seed falls is where the seed falls. Where the Word is heard is where the Word is heard. He is heard. Planted. He is seen. Planted. But it is not enough to broadcast seed and make wishes on stars for a good harvest. It is not enough to broadcast the Word and cross our fingers for jam-packed churches.

The point of this parable is that it is our job, our mission and ministry to make sure that we ourselves are properly tilled, properly weeded, properly watered and mulched so that when we walk into the fields of the Lord to do what he told us to do—to go make disciples—we are the richest soil we can be, we are producing the finest fruit we can produce, we are yielding a hundredfold and working hard on a thousandfold!

To be blunt: the ignorant, the shallow, the skeptical, the despairing, the hard-hearted, and the stubborn out there will not receive the seed, will not hear the Word if they look at us and see ignorance, shallowness, skepticism, despair, hard-heartedness, and stubbornness. Nor can they receive the seed, hear the Word if they see us coming at them with disobedience, infidelity, dishonesty, dissent, anger, and quarreling. And why should they? Who in their right mind wants to hear whining dissent or wounded bawling from those who are supposed to be flourishing in rich soil!?

I’ll end with this question: assuming that you (that we) are broadcasting the seed, spreading God’s Word, are we also preparing the soil to receive it—are we ourselves noticeably thriving in the rich soil of the Father’s will, producing good fruit for others, and tending His fields with fidelity?

26 July 2006

What will we leave behind?

Saints Joachim and Ann: Sirach 44.1, 10-15; Matthew 13.16-17
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

How does God prosper the Church? This is not a question about mere survival. It is a question about how the Church merits, receives, and uses God’s blessings for her inevitable perfection. So, how does God ensure that the Church will not only prevail but flourish, not only “win out in the end” but increase, thrive, boom?

First, we have to look at what the Church is not in order to understand the Church’s mechanism of survival and growth. Jesus did not leave us an institution grounded in prophecy and miracles. We honor God’s prophets and we accept the reality of miracles but we are not governed in our daily lives by the constraints of prophecy nor do we thrive together as Christians waiting breathlessly for the next miracle and the next miracle and the next miracle to confirm and reconfirm our faith.

Jesus did not leave us an institution grounded in scientific investigation or academic disciplines or psychological theories or private revelations. We are happy to learn from science, happy to take our places in the universities, happy to delve the human mind and human behavior and even happy to hold that individuals can receive special insights from God. But we do not flourish as Christians based on lab results or votes from college faculties or productive therapy sessions or instructions from apparitions.

Jesus gave us a Church grounded in faith, rooted in trust—a faith grounded in him, rooted in him as the Son of God, sent by God to be our Lord and Savior. That’s where we begin and end as a Church. We are his people, his body, his nation, his priesthood. And we thrive, we prosper when we remember, when we bring into this day a living faith, the trust of those who before us struggled, who won, who failed, who surrendered, who persevered, and who were graced, gifted by God to endure in His ways, live and die in His peace, and, finally, to join Him and become witnesses from eternity for us.

Sirach says that the godly are not forgotten. Their wealth, their heritage remains in their families. In God’s promises their progeny glory forever; the names of the godly live on and on. And perhaps most importantly for us as a Church: “At gatherings their wisdom is retold…” God prospers His Church by giving us the living witness of tradition, the canon of a breathing trust from our families—our Jewish family, our Greek family, our Roman family, all the families of the faithful whose memories, whose wealth of struggle and defeat and victory have added the historical treasury, the riches of our present trust, the legacy of wisdom and love that we know to be our unassailable Covenant with the Father.

Jesus tells his disciples that the prophets and the righteous do not see and hear what they see and hear. They hear a living Word and see a living Word. In the memory of his sacrifice for us—this eucharistic sacrifice—we hear and see a living Word and in our trust we pile onto the heaping horde of faithful riches our own gems, our own masterpieces of victory and defeat, ensuring that the families who follow us will flourish in the art of surrendering to God, prospering in His ways.

We cannot leave less than we’ve been given.