Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Parable Of The Sower: YOU Choose Where The Seed Is Sown!

(Fifteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 10, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 13:1-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifteenth Sunday 2005]

It’s happened after the Steubenville Youth Conference every year—when the teens have come back to Westerly.

It’s happened after every parish mission.

It happened after Pope John Paul II visited a foreign country during his pontificate.

It happened after young Jill Gaccione from Westerly died of cancer, just a week after graduating from high school.

It happened after Chad Antoch from our town died in a terrible car accident on East Avenue during the fall of his senior year at Westerly High.

It happened after the events of September 11, 2001.

It’s happened after every Mass in which the truth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed with clarity and conviction.

What is “it” you ask?

“It” concerns the parable we heard a few moments ago from Matthew 13 (the parable of the sower).

You see, after all those events that I just mentioned took place, the parable of the sower was “played out” in the lives of ordinary people like you and me.

That’s the “it” that happened.

In other words, the parable was no longer simply “on paper”: after all those events I just described it was actually lived out because of the choices people made.

Take, for example, the Steubenville East Conference at LaSallette Shrine in Attleboro (which, incidentally, is happening as we speak; more than 60 teens from our area are attending this year). Like the seed that fell on the path, some of the young people who go each year hear the message of the weekend without fully understanding it. But instead of seeking that deeper understanding afterward, they make the choice to forget about it all and go on with their lives—and so Satan “steals away” whatever truth was sown in their minds and hearts during the retreat.

Some others respond very positively during the weekend. They’re like the seed that fell on rocky ground. Something begins to take root in them on the retreat, and because of that they come back to Westerly on an emotional and spiritual high. But when their faith is challenged in some way after they return (perhaps because of a trial they experience), they make the wrong choice and proceed to give up on God.

Here’s an example of what I mean. . . .

On the very first Steubenville trip to Ohio, we had a young man named Jeremy with us. He had a fantastic weekend; he experienced God in a way he never had before; and he began to come to terms with the things in his life that he needed to change. But on the plane flight back to Rhode Island he called his parents at home, and he found out that a classmate of his had just died after a long battle with cancer. Well, sadly, that was the end of Jeremy’s walk with the Lord during his high school years. It lasted only a few hours, because the seed had fallen on rocky ground.

Others come back from the retreat and do very well—until Satan gets their priorities out of order. And that can happen so easily! They stop going to Mass because they “have to work on Sundays”; they stop coming to prayer group because they’re “too busy and have too much homework”; they forget their good Catholic friends and begin to hang around with teens who are heavy into the “party scene”—because they decide they want to be popular. And so they become like the seed sown among thorns: “choked,” as Jesus would say, by worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.

Finally, there are those who come back from the weekend, go to Mass and Confession regularly, and continue to grow spiritually. They’re like the fruitful seed that fell on rich soil. Oh yes, they struggle just like the rest of us. They have days when God seems very close to them, and days when he seems a million miles away. They take two steps forward spiritually; then they sometimes take one step backward. But they never give up!

And because they persevere in this way, God fashions them into good, fruitful servants. Some of these young people have gone on to become priests and religious (many of you know that), but most of those in this final group are currently laypeople living in the world with all of you. Many of them are now married and raising children in the faith. They’re taking the message of Vatican II seriously, and are bringing their Catholic values into the marketplace as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.

This is how the parable of the sower has been “played out” after every Steubenville high school youth conference. But the same thing has happened after all those other events I mentioned earlier: after every parish mission, after every papal visit, after Jill Gaccione’s death and Chad Antoch’s death, after the events of 9/11, after every Mass where God’s word has been preached with power and conviction. Some have heard the message of truth in these situations, and have allowed it to go in one ear and out the other; others have accepted it, but then fallen away when trials have come to them; still others have gotten distracted by worldly concerns and have turned away; and some have said Yes to the word and have persevered in their Yes—bearing lots of fruit for God in the process.

In the world of nature, seeds cannot choose where they’re sown. (We all know that.) If they’re thrown on a path, their fate is sealed. The same is true if they’re thrown on rocky ground, or among thorns, or onto good soil.

But Jesus makes clear in this parable what I’ve tried to make crystal clear in this homily: that in the spiritual dimension we all can—and we all do—choose where the seed is sown in us. Through the exercise of our own free will, we determine what kind of “soil” the seed of God’s word falls upon in our hearts.

Let’s pray at this Mass that the Lord will find only good, rich, fertile, healthy soil inside of us.