Sunday, July 10, 2011

“Dear Jesus, Give Me More of Number Four!”

(Fifteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 10, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 13: 1-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifteenth Sunday 2011]

Here’s an interesting footnote to the parable of the sower that we just heard: You could own a piece of property that has on it ALL FOUR TYPES OF SOIL that Jesus mentions in this story.

And you do! You do own a piece of property like that, and so do I.

It’s called our soul.

Jesus in this text talks about four different responses to God’s word in terms of four different kinds of soil—each type dwelling in the heart of a different individual. But, in reality, these four types of soil are all present (or at least potentially all present) in EVERY human heart that’s been wounded by original sin.

And, of course, both you and I fit into that category.

Take the first: The packed-down soil of the footpath, which does not allow the seed to grow at all. Protestant Scripture scholar William Barclay has an interesting take on this: he says that this type of soil represents the hearer with the shut mind.

That’s a great description! Now we can all fall into this category at times, if we hear a truth contained in the word of God that condemns something we’re currently doing or contradicts the way we happen to be living—and we tune it out.

How many Catholic couples, for example, have responded like “packed-down soil” in the last 50 years with respect to the Church’s teaching against artificial contraception? An awful lot, if you believe the news polls. They’ve made up their minds that the practice is morally acceptable, and nothing can possibly make them reconsider their behavior. Telling them about the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act and how these are found in the Bible right in the Book of Genesis makes no impression. Nothing does.

Some of us might respond like “packed-down soil” when God’s word challenges us to forgive other people totally and unconditionally, and we’re in the midst of a conflict with someone we don’t want to forgive!

The Catholic politicians in this state who voted for civil unions last week for gay couples—after having been reminded of the truth of God’s word many times by Bishop Tobin and others—are certainly in this category as well. Actually, in my opinion they’re even beyond “packed-down soil”.

They’re more like hardened cement!

The second type of soil Jesus mentions in this parable is the “rocky ground,” which, unlike the packed-down soil of the footpath, does allow the seed to grow for a short period of time. But, because of the shallow root system, the plant that comes from the seed doesn’t last. It gets scorched and destroyed in the summer heat. Professor Barclay compares this soil to people who fail to think things out and think them through.

Another marvelous description! The example of this phenomenon in the modern world that comes to mind almost immediately concerns the position some Christians take on innocent pre-born human life.

The science of genetics has proven—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that human life begins at conception. Geneticists tell us that from the moment a human egg is fertilized in a woman’s fallopian tube, the newly created “zygote” has its own distinct genetic code—which means that from the moment of fertilization we’re dealing with a distinct human individual. Now, if a Christian begins his reflection with that one, indisputable scientific truth in mind, and then “thinks things out and thinks things through” logically with the help of God’s word, he can only reach one conclusion. His conclusion has to be that this new, innocent human life must always be respected! His conclusion has to be that the 5th commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”) applies to this new, living being in the womb!

But, as Professor Barclay reminds us, not all Christians “think things out and think things through” with respect to this issue and many others. And so we have Catholics and other professed believers who call themselves “pro-choice”, although they’d be much more honest (and accurate) if they simply referred to themselves as “rocky-grounders”—since there’s obviously a lot of rocky ground in their souls at the present time.

Of course, even if we’re staunchly pro-life (as I hope we all are), we can become a “rocky-grounder” too on some other matter, if we’re not careful.

The third type of soil Jesus mentions in this parable is the soil that’s engulfed in thorns, which Barclay describes as the hearer of God’s word who has so many interests in life that often the most important things get crowded out.

Now that puts a very practical spin on the matter, does it not?

For example, God’s word tells us that we are to love the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength. But it’s extremely easy—given the fact that we live such busy lives—to put God in the “back seat,” so to speak, of our day-to-day existence.

For instance, many Catholics go on summer vacation and they forget to go to Sunday Mass. Some Catholics never remember to go to Mass on holy days. Many Catholics and other Christians pray only sporadically—or when they’re in trouble and really need something! Every CCD director will tell you how frustrating it is to deal with certain parents, who attach a greater importance to their children’s involvement in sports and dance and other extra-curricular activities than they do to their children’s religious education and formation in the Faith.

When all is said and done, my brothers and sisters, this third type of soil reminds us that we need to work constantly at setting the right priorities in life.

It’s not something we can do “once and for all”; it’s something we must do all the time—simply because our lives are constantly changing.

Finally, the fourth type of soil—the fertile kind—is the one where the seed takes root and actually bears fruit. This soil is present in us whenever we receive God’s truth with an open mind, say “Amen” to it, and then incorporate it to our daily life by thinking it through, making it a priority, and carrying it out.

The challenge we all face—the challenge every Catholic and Christian faces—is the challenge to make THIS soil the dominant one in our heart. Mathematically speaking, it’s a question of percentages. In fact, the only difference between a great saint like Pius X and a mediocre Catholic is the percentage of soil number four in their respective hearts. That’s it. As I said at the beginning of my homily, spiritually speaking, we all have these four types of soil in our souls. The great saints just had a great deal of the fourth kind, and very little of the first three.

So here’s a simple prayer that I invite you to say after you receive Communion this morning and after you hear this gospel parable again the future:

“Dear Jesus, give me more of number four!”

That’s the whole prayer: “Dear Jesus, please give me more of number four! Amen.”