FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A)
July 12, 2020

First Reading (Isaiah 55: 10-11)

Thus says the LORD: 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, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, 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.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 65: 10-14)

Refrain: The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

1) You have visited the land and watered it; greatly have you enriched it.


God's watercourses are filled; you have prepared the grain. (Refrain)

2) Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,


Softening it with showers, blessing its yield. (Refrain)

3) You have crowned the year with your bounty and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;


The untilled meadows overflow with it, and rejoicing clothes the hills. (Refrain)

4) The fields are garmented with flocks and the valleys blanketed with grain.


They shout and sing for joy. (Refrain)

Second Reading (Romans 8: 18-23)

Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Gospel (Matthew 13: 1-23)

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear."

The disciples approached him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"

He said to them in reply, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.

"But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

"Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."

(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)

Homily

The Seed, the Sower and the Soil

In reflecting on this first of several parables recounted in Matthew's gospel, I was struck by the three elements that it contains: the seed, the sower and the soil. This led me to further reflect on the necessary qualities of each one. First of all, there is the seed. Without question, the seed is representative of the Word of God. But what are the qualities of a seed and what do these qualities have to tell us about the Word of God?

We know from the parable of the mustard seed that "seeds are disproportionately small compared with what they eventually produce. In the case of herbs -- in which, for some reason, Jesus took special delight - they are in fact almost ridiculously small. Anyone who has planted thyme or savory knows the strange sensation of practically losing sight of the seed after it has been dropped into the furrow: you might as well have sown nothing, for all you can observe.

"And what does that say about the Word of God that the Sower sows?...It says that the true coming of the Word of God, even if you see it, doesn't look like very much- and that when it does finally get around to doing its real work, it is so mysterious that it can't even be found at all. [And] that is the second thing about seeds: they disappear. In the obvious sense, they do so because of their need to be covered over with earth in order to function....As far as their own being is concerned, they simply die and disappear." (1)

The second player in the parable is the sower. Again there are certain qualities that the sower must possess or he would, either literally or figuratively, "go crazy". The first quality he must have is theability to face disappointment. The sower must be able to deal with the fact that not every seed is going to "bear fruit", as it were. In fact, as you just heard, three of the four scenarios played out in the parable do not have a positive ending. The second necessary quality is patience. Obviously, once planted, the seed needs time to grow. If the sower wanted immediate results, he would once again "drive himself crazy" because it's just not going to happen.

The third and final element in the parable is the soil. Here the options are described in the parable, but a little more background might clarify things even further. "In Palestine, the fields were sown in long, narrow strips and the ground between the strips was a right of way. It was used as a common path and therefore was beaten as hard as pavement by the constant foot traffic it received. This is what our Lord meant by the seed 'falling by the wayside'. Secondly, the stony ground was not ground which was filled with stones, but rather a thin skin of earth on top of an underlying shelf of limestone rock, which was very common in Palestine. The earth might be only a few inches deep before the rock was reached. On such ground the seed would certainly germinate; and it would germinate quickly, because the ground grew speedily warm with the heat of the sun. But there was no depth of earth and when it sent down its roots in search of nourishment and moisture, it would meet only the rock, and would be starved to death, and quite unable to withstand the heat of the day." (2)

The third option, the thorny ground, could well have been ground in which there were many weeds, and we will look at this more in depth next week. The final ground is the good, fertile ground in which the seed not only germinates but grows strong and bears fruit.

So much for background. What does the parable of the sower and the seed mean to us today? As we discussed before, the seed is the Word of God. But as John emphasizes in his gospel, the Word of God is none other than Christ himself. So the seed is representative of Christ. The sower now becomes anyone who spreads the seed, or the Word of God who is Christ. For example, all preachers are sowers, and just like the sower in the parable, we have no way of knowing how the seed is being received by its hearers. We will certainly face disappointment along the way and will need patience to let the seed grow and mature in our listeners.

Which brings us to the soil. We have to realize that all of us without exception are, at one time or another, soil for the Word of God. In reflecting on each week's readings, I let the Word grow and mature in my mind. Of course, I depend on the Spirit to add the correct amount of moisture to let the Word grow in the manner he desires. Then, in delivering the fruit of my efforts, I am transformed from soil to sower. You then become the new soil in which these seeds are sown. What you do with those seeds is up to you. But if the seed falls on receptive soil and grows and matures in you until it bears fruit, fruit that will last, then you have also been transformed from soil to sower and the results of that transformation, evident in the good works that we do, can sometimes be astounding. Consider the following story. The author writes:

I have found preaching to be a challenging and daunting task, one that is full of disappointments (usually when I haven't given the seed enough time to grow and mature) as well as rewards. But we are all faced with that same challenge in daily life: to take the Word of God, make it our own and then do something positive with it. And just as a preacher will not know where the seed will fall on fertile soil and grow into good works, so none of us can ever really know the impact that what we do can have on those around us. Surely this father had no idea how his act of kindness would affect that young man's life!

This is our challenge: to take the Word, make it our own and let the seed grow into good works. Like George Bailey in that holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life, we have no idea of how our lives can touch so many others. By all means, we must be ready for disappointment and have patience. But by all means, we can't give up trying!

References

1. from The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon, pp.77-78. Copyright 1985 by the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, MI. Used with permission.

2. from The Gospel of Matthew copyright 1975 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.

3. Batter Up, Dad. From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark & Chrissy Donnelly and Tommy Lasorda.

(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net )

Alternate Illustration:

Farmer Fleming had no idea that day at the bog what the impact of his actions would have on the his own life, his son's life and ultimately, the history of the world.

3. Submitted by Andy Cottle. Comments may be sent to him at WACottle@aol.com .

Homily #2

The Parable of Environments

(A Homily for Baptism)

As you know, later in our liturgy I will be baptizing our first grandchild. Once the plans had been finalized several weeks ago and I knew that I would be preaching on this gospel text, I realized that I could hardly have picked a more relevant passage to link to baptism. You see, this parable is often called the parable of the sower and the seed but, if you ask me, the most important element in the parable, and the most variable in its results, is the soil. Now this is not to demean the roles of the sower and the seed, which I have discussed at length in another homily on this text, but there would be no growth without the soil.

Now before I jump to that discussion, I should say very briefly that the sower is God himself who sows the seed "broadcast style", which is to say with utter disregard for how much seed is used and where it lands. In other words, the seed is not sown in measured amounts in carefully furrowed channels in the soil but rather "flung to the winds" to land where it may. And the seed is representative of the word of God, as Christ himself notes in his explanation to the disciples. But as John emphasizes in his gospel, the word of God is actually the "Word of God", with a capital "W", and is none other than Christ himself. So the seed is representative of Christ.

So now let us look at the soil. Consider that three of the four conditions mentioned by our Lord in the parable have to do with the soil in which the seed lands: the hard soil, the rocky soil and the fertile soil. The only plants that are not dependent solely on the soil in which they are sown are those that grow among the thorns or weeds, and we will be looking at that scenario more next week.

But, in essence, this parable might well be called the Parable of Environments. If we consult the dictionary, we will see that one of the definitions of "environment" is "the complex of physical, chemical and biotic factors (such as climate, soil and living things) that act upon an organism.... and ultimately determine its form and survival". Well, that is exactly what we are discussing here. And we all know this is true. For example, although I am only a wine "common sewer" (you know, someone who will drink anything!), wine connoisseurs know that, let's say, a particular Chardonnay wine will vary not only among the various wineries but also from year to year from the same winery depending on climactic and soil changes. That's why you might hear that the wine from, say, 2001 was particularly good because there was just the right amount of heat, sun and rain to produce the best grapes.

Now we all know that environments are important in nature. For example, if you take a fish out of water, it will die because its natural environment is in the water and cannot live without it. Conversely, if one of us gets thrown into a large body of water, we better have a reliable source of air or we will surely die because we need air to survive and cannot live for an extended period in water.

So environments are essential for all living things. Let us return to the dictionary where it also states that an environment is "the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual...". And environments for human beings are no more important than they are for children where the early environment in which a child grows will influence them for a lifetime. For example, studies have found that children of alcoholics are more inclined to become alcoholics themselves. Children of abusive parents may well become abusive or abused parents themselves. Children who grow up in households where the parents smoke will have an increased incidence of lung cancer.

So environments are critically important for children. Which brings us to today's celebration of baptism for these children. If I were to ask you to sum up in one word why these children are here today, what would that word be? Let me give you a clue. If you were listening carefully, our opening prayer gave you the answer. It said: "Parents, you have asked to have your children baptized. In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of..." what?? The answer, of course, is faith. The word "faith" is sprinkled (get it, "sprinkled", like water) throughout our liturgy. But what do we mean by "faith"?

I believe that faith means living a life according to Christian values. One of those values is to go to church on a regular basis. Now if you were like I was growing up in the rebellious 60's, as soon as someone tells me what to do, that's exactly what I didn't do. Of course, during that time of rebellion, I was involved in music ministry, so I went to church every week whether I wanted to or not. But no matter what your own faith journey has been, and here I am speaking to the parents of these children, now it is no longer just about you, or even about you and your spouse, but about your children. What example, what environment, are you giving them?

Now there are some very important reasons for attending church on a regular basis. First of all, we go to Mass to hear the word of God, the seed which is planted in our souls where, hopefully, it is nourished and grown, as we heard in our gospel. Then the word is explained to us by the clergy and made relevant to our daily lives. Then, through our intercessions, we ask God to hear our prayers and needs and respond to them.

Then we participate with millions of other Catholics and Christians in celebrating the Eucharist where we gather around the table of the Lord. This can be very important to some people.

And finally, we go to church on a regular basis to become part of a community. Being part of a community can be very important to us at certain times of our lives.

I thought that this was a poignant example of the support that a community can give to us. So going to church on a regular basis should be part of the "environment" that we provide to our children. But obviously, there is more.

Our Christian values, our faith, should include other things which are against our very nature. For example, there is love. Now that is a much-used and abused word, but if you think about it, the world does not know about love. Rather, it encourages us to "take care of number 1". In other words, "it's all about me". There is nothing in our society that leads us to love others as ourselves, as Christ has taught us. That only comes with faith.

And when we speak of love, there can be no love without sacrifice. As spouses, we sometimes sacrifice what we would like to do in order to do what our spouse would like to do. As parents, we sacrifice some luxuries of living in order to provide for our children's upbringing. And when we speak of sacrifice, how can we not remember the sacrifice made by God's only Son in laying down his life for us so that we might inherit eternal life. And through their baptism, these children become children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

One of the other values that plays a prominent role in the life of every Christian is forgiveness. Again, there is nothing in our nature that leads us to forgive others. Rather, our nature wants us to bear grudges, seek revenge, get even, "an eye for an eye", etc. But Christ showed us about forgiveness from the cross: "Father, forgive them". Consider what Christ suffered for us, which I go into in far more detail at the stations of the cross during Lent, and realize that in the depths of his passion, he only thought of us whose sins were nailing him to the cross. (I usually insert the story of Marietta Jaeger here, but will omit it in the interest of time.)

So, the question we need to ask ourselves today as we celebrate the baptism of these children is: what environment are we providing for our children? Is it one full of faith and love and forgiveness? Or is it full of other things? Only we can answer that question although these children will live out that answer for the rest of their lives.

Reference

1. The Presence, by Bruce Larson , p. 98 (New York: Harper, San Francisco, 1988). (Quoted in Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922.)

(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net )

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A)

July 12, 2020

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you are the Word of God become flesh. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you are the seed, the Word of God, which is planted in our hearts. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you call us to be fertile soil, in which your Word can grow and bear a fruit that will last. Lord, have mercy.

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A)

July 12, 2020

Prayers of the Faithful

Celebrant: Christ has called us to yield a harvest of love, peace and justice through our good works. While acknowledging our past failures, we confidently ask his help in bringing our needs to the Father.

Deacon/Lector: Our response is: "Lord, hear our prayer".

That the leaders of the Church will preach the Word tirelessly in word and deed, we pray to the Lord.

That the nations of the world which have an abundance of food will come to share their bounty with those that do not, we pray to the Lord.

That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all that they can to put an end to discrimination in all of its many forms, we pray to the Lord.

That the sick, the elderly and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one will open their hearts to receive the message of God's Word which is peace, we pray to the Lord.

That we will not let the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the seed of God's word in our hearts, we pray to the Lord.

That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.

That the Lord will welcome into their eternal home all of our family and friends who have nourished his Word in their hearts, we pray to the Lord.

For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.

Celebrant: Gracious Father, your Son has called us to be fertile soil in which your Word may be sown. Grant us the grace of your Spirit so that his Word may be nourished and bear fruit in our good works. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.