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.
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