Dominica in Sexagesima [Sexagesima Sunday]: February 24, 2019
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade, O.F.A.
Beloved Disciple Catholic Church, Toronto
© 2019 Roger LaRade
2 Corinthians 11: 19 - 12: 9, Luke 8: 4-15
Discipleship: Being in love with Jesus
Today is Sexagesima Sunday, that is, the sixtieth day before Easter.
Last Sunday, the Gospel reading invited us to work in the Lord’s vineyard, that is, in the Church, in the world. Next Sunday, we will be called to recognize that deeper enlightenment and the promise of eternal life come only through sacrifice. Today, we are urged to be fertile ground for God’s word – God’s grace – sowed in our hearts.
So, we have the following sequence in these three Sundays: God’s invitation to make Divinity present in our world; God’s gift of grace as sustenance for us to carry out this invitation; and, God’s own sacrifice as the model for realizing the great illumination of Divinity and coming into eternal life with God.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus clearly explains the meaning of the parable of the Sower to us: the seed is the word of God, the field is the world, the birds are demons, and the thorns, riches. Our aim then is not so much to explain the parable but rather to draw meaning from it for us as disciples of Jesus. To do so, we once again turn to St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Confessor [540-603], one of the four great western Doctors of the Church.
St. Gregory writes that the “words of God which you receive by your ear, hold fast in your heart”.[i] This is the essential meaning for us of the words of Jesus. It is the essential meaning also of our reception of Jesus; what we hear, our experience of Jesus, must go from an encounter (hearing, experiencing) to a relationship of love (holding in our hearts). It is insufficient for us to simply read the Scriptures, or a book on spirituality or theology, in order for us to come to a deepening of faith. Our reading may be a beginning, it may be seed for our on-going journey, but it is not sufficient in and of itself, for our following of Jesus. What is required for our discipleship in faith to take hold, and to deepen, in us, is a relationship of love with Jesus. The words which we read, the story which we learn must transform within our hearts into love of Jesus.
St. Gregory, following the parable, indicates that there are many factors which mitigate this process of transformation, this process of our coming to faith and growing in our love of Jesus. He writes:
Strive then that the words you hear, may remain in the ear of your soul. Strive that the seed fall not by the way side; lest an evil spirit should come and steal the word out of your memory. Take care that the seed fall not on stony ground sending forth fruit of good works, but without the roots of perseverance. For what they hear in instructions is indeed pleasing to many people, and they set about the beginning of good works; but soon being wearied by the afflictions that come to them, they abandon the good they have begun.[ii]
I found these words of St. Gregory to be very striking. I think that they are particularly applicable to the context of our small, self-governing church jurisdictions. The zeal which is to be found in many who have a desire for ministry and start ministry often meets up with many practical difficulties. The rewards are often not very immediate, and when they are immediate they often do not last. There are many ups and downs. The needed support and encouragement, as well as the financial resources, available to ministers of the larger denominations are not ours to be had. The required training – both academic and spiritual – along with the crucial slow, patient growth in a personal relationship with Jesus is lacking, sometimes non-existent. And so, when the expected ‘success indicators’ don’t come about, the initial zeal is replaced by discouragement; a discouragement which sometimes leads to giving up of ministry or to a search for greener pastures. This is seed falling on stony ground. We must become aware of this potential in ourselves as well as in others.
Only the honest self-examination proposed by St. Gregory in his homily for Septuagesima Sunday, which we reflected upon last Sunday, can help guard us against this tendency. This self-examination, along with efforts to provide for ourselves the necessary foundations of prayer and study, as well as spiritual guidance and support, are the watering of the stony ground. We must see to it that we develop in ourselves the proper dispositions for ministry, developing in our souls the virtues of humility and patience, which will foster in us a deepening trust in Divine Providence. We must see to it that we develop in ourselves the proper foundation for ministry, a relationship of love with Jesus. We must always attend to providing the stony ground with sufficient moisture to provide a welcoming and growthful medium for the seed of God’s word in our souls.
We must not enter ministry, or continue in ministry – that to which God called us in last Sunday’s Gospel – out of a desire for rewarding experiences, for adulation, for comfort; out of a desire for what Jesus calls ‘riches’. These riches, as St. Gregory observes, choke the word “because by their burthensome preoccupations they as it were strangle the throat of the soul; for as long as they do not allow entry to any good desires, they cut off the entry of the life-giving air”.[iii]
As we prepare for our Lenten pilgrimage with Jesus, let us carefully examine our motivations for ministry; let us bring to mind through prayer the continuing foundation and reward of our ministry, of our discipleship of Jesus: a relationship of love with Jesus. Let us ask ourselves the following questions. What in us is stony ground? How can we bring moisture to whatever is stony ground within us, and around us? What is strangling our deepening relationship to Jesus? How can we allow life-giving air to enter our discipleship of Jesus?
[i] PL 74, 1131 in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers; Volume One: From the First Sunday of Advent to Quinquagesima. Translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D.(Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1964), pp. 399 - 403.
[ii] Ibid., p. 400.
[iii] Ibid., p. 401.
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [St. Scholastica, V]: February 10, 2019
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade
Beloved Disciple Eucharistic Catholic Church, Toronto
© 2019 Roger LaRade
Colossians 3, 12 – 17; Matthew 13, 24 – 30
Good seed and bad
Recently a Jewish friend of mine bluntly stated to me that Jesus could not be the Messiah because the world was still rife with evil and suffering. This took me aback. It caused me to ponder whether he had a point. It’s definitely an argument that is often presented in questioning our belief in Jesus as the Christ; an argument against religious belief in general. Certainly, from the perspective of the expectation of a heaven on earth, of a promised land flowing with milk and honey, I can understand this perspective. But is this what our faith is about?
During these Sundays after Epiphany, the readings of the Mass present us with an exposition of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of which Jesus said that it is not of this world.
The Epistle and the Gospel readings for this Fifth Sunday after Epiphany form an interesting duo in this respect.
In the passage from the Letter to the Colossians we have an early baptismal instruction outlining the principles for a life in Christ. We are getting direction about how to live our lives as Christians, as citizens of the kingdom of God, as members of Christ’s Church. We are to be united by the love of Christ. It is our unity in our common love of Christ which reminds us to act in the way described. It’s important to notice that there is no denial in this passage of the potential for and the existence of conflict, of disagreement, and of division. Yet, within this reality, St. Paul does present us with the ideal which we should strive to realize, through our humble prayer and through our intentioned actions. Indeed, our common love of Christ calls us to charity, rooted as it is in God’s love for us shown in Jesus Christ, to which we are called by our Christian commitment, our Baptism in Christ; this Baptismal commitment which we renew at every Mass, and, in fact, in every instance of decision-making in our lives.
Sometimes, in our desire to be “good Christians” we will want to deny the hard reality that we act contrary to our stated commitments. The parable of the weeds which we have in today’s Gospel passage deals with this.
The parable of today’s Gospel passage comes as part of what is known as Christ’s “Seaside Sermon”. Jesus is staying at Peter’s house in Caphernaum and he is preaching a series of parables to the crowd from Peter’s boat on the Sea of Galilee. The parables are about the kingdom of God. Later, after the preaching to the crowds, he will explain the parables to the apostles.
Today we hear the second of the parables of the kingdom, and it focussing on the continuing reality of evil. The interpretation of this parable - which indeed is given in verses 36 - 43 of this same chapter 13 - sees the weeds and wheat as unfaithful and faithful followers of Christ, all members of the same community. But it is not only that there are two separate camps, but also that each one of us is both faithful and unfaithful.
What is presented in the parable as two different agencies of separate beings - the farmer sowing good seed and his enemy sowing weeds - can be understood as being two agencies of one and the same being. And each one of us is the farmer. I sow both good seed and weed. In fact, for those of us who garden, we know that it is all but impossible to have only good seed with no weeds in our gardens. No matter the care we take, weeds always seem to push up. And, it takes a lot of continuous attention to those weeds, identifying and controlling them, so that the growth from the good seed doesn’t get overrun and killed.
The incarnation of God in Christ has not removed our freedom of choice; and it has not removed the reality of our being subject to Original Sin. It is in this that lies the answer to my Jewish friend. As long as we continue to exist as human beings on earth, prior to the Second Coming of Christ in glory, we continue to have free choice and this free choice is subject to the influence of Original Sin, of our fallen nature. But, in faith, we also believe that this free choice is always influenced by the love of Christ, the grace of God.
 See The Letter to the Colossians, Joseph A. Grassi; in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm., editors (Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: 1968), p. 339.
 See The Church’s Year of Grace. Pius Parsch. (The Liturgical Press, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota: 1957), Vol. 1: Advent to Candlemas, p. 351ff.
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