Sunday, June 17, 2018

The ‘Sowing’ Father

(Eleventh Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on June 17, 2018 at St. Clare’s Church, Misquamicut, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ezekiel 17: 22-24; Psalm 92; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10; Mark 4: 26-34.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eleventh Sunday 2018]

What’s grown depends on what’s sown.

That’s a truth that all farmers and gardeners understand based on their experiences of farming and gardening.  When a farmer plants a field of corn, for example, he doesn’t expect to reap a harvest of tomatoes (at least not in that particular field).  When a gardener plants some geranium seeds in the flowerbed in front of her house, she doesn’t expect petunias to grow there.

“Fr. Ray, this is common sense.”

Yes, it is—at least when it comes to corn and tomatoes and geraniums and petunias and other plants that are grown from seeds.  But the thing is, this principle (What’s grown depends on what’s sown) applies to other areas of life besides farming and gardening. 

And in many of those other areas of life, sad to say, the truth is not so obvious to a lot of people.  Either they’re unable—or unwilling—to see the connection between certain ideas that are “sown” into the minds of modern men and women, and the actions that result from (or you might say “grow from”) those ideas.  Jesus understood the connection better than anyone, which is why he used the analogy of seeds in this gospel text we just heard from Mark 4.

This connection between the ideas that are sown in a person’s mind and the actions that flow from those ideas was made in a powerful way back in the 1980s, in an anti-drug public service ad that appeared on television.  I’m sure some of you remember it: 

The ad begins with the shot of a teenage boy in his bedroom.  The boy is reclining on his bed, with headphones on, happily listening to his stereo.  His father then barges into the room, obviously angry, with a box in his hand—a box that has various types of drug paraphernalia in it.  Dad turns off the stereo and says to the boy, “This yours?”  He replies, “No.”  His dad says, “Your mother said she found it in your closet.”  The boy suddenly gets really nervous, and starts to stumble over his words as he desperately tries to maintain his innocence.  Dad, of course, isn’t buying any of it.  Finally the father says, angrily, “Answer me!  Who taught you to do this stuff?”  His son shouts out, “YOU, ALRIGHT?  I LEARNED IT FROM WATCHING YOU!”

The ad ends with the announcer saying, “Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.”

That’s a perfect example of a father who sowed “bad seed” into the heart and mind of his son.  He did it not so much by his words, but by his actions.  And then he acted surprised when he encountered bad fruit in his son’s life.

He should not have been surprised.  That’s exactly what he should have expected.

And speaking of fathers, I think it’s providential that we have this gospel reading about seeds and their growth on Father’s Day weekend.  I say it’s providential because we’ve got a real cultural problem right now, and fathers (along with mothers) have an indispensable role to play in helping to solve it.

Think of some of the ideas that have been “sown” into the minds of young people during the last half century or so.  Ideas such as:

  • ·         It’s your body and you should be able to do whatever you want with it.
  • ·         Self-indulgence and having lots of stuff leads to happiness.
  • ·         You should be able to decide for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong.
  • ·         When it comes to sex, almost anything goes.
  • ·         Freedom means doing what you want to do, not what you ought to do. 
  • ·         Feelings matter more than facts.  So do what you feel like doing.
  • ·         There are no moral absolutes; everything is relative.

Do those ideas sound familiar?  They should.  Those are some of the seeds—the really BAD seeds—the seeds of destruction—that have been “planted” in the minds of Americans (young and old) on a daily basis for at least the last 50 years—especially in our schools, in our universities, in the arts, and in the mainstream media.

And now we’re reaping the tragic harvest.  The gun violence we’ve seen in schools in recent years is just one example of the bad fruit that’s come from all this.

There’s an old saying: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

The destiny (the eternal destiny) of our young people ultimately will be rooted in the way they think. And the way they think will, to a great extent, be determined by the seeds (the ideas) that get planted in them—especially by their parents. 

That’s one reason why the Church teaches that parents are to be the primary religious educators of their children.  And today moms and dads really need to take that job seriously, because if they don’t—if they don’t sow good seeds into the minds of their children—the world will be more than happy to sow the bad seeds I mentioned a few moments ago.  And lots of others as well.

On this Father’s Day I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Lord for the good seeds my dad sowed into my mind—especially during the final year of his life.  He died of cancer back in 1971 when I was fourteen years old.  His last year was difficult; he suffered a lot.  But as tough as that last year was, it was also a time of great blessing.  During his final months, my dad and I did what we had rarely done before: we had some great father-son talks—about all kinds of issues.  I remember one of the things he often spoke about was the importance of getting a good education—which I did. 

That little mustard seed of advice that I took to heart has borne a lot of good fruit in my life.  And he taught me by his actions.  During most of his final year he wasn’t able to work, so he began to go to daily Mass.  And he continued for as long as he was physically able to do so.  That planted another good seed in my mind.  His going to daily Mass taught me that when you experience a suffering like cancer in your life you shouldn’t turn away from God, you should turn toward him.

That little lesson has come in handy many times over the years—and especially since December 23, 2010 (the day I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease).

As I said at the beginning of my homily: What’s grown depends on what’s sown.

With that truth in mind, I want to end this morning by offering a special prayer for all the fathers here present.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, you have called all fathers to be sowers in this life: sowers of truth, sowers of goodness, sowers of love.  On this Father’s Day we ask you to give these fathers the grace they need to be the best of sowers.  By their words—and even more importantly by their deeds—may they help their children to get on (and to stay on) the road that will bring them someday into your eternal and glorious kingdom.  This we ask through the same Christ, our Lord.  Amen.