15th Sun [A] 2011
Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
We are at that time of the year when the farmers have planted their seeds, when folks with gardens have made their plantings, and when teachers have completed their efforts to plant the seeds of knowledge in the minds of their students. How appropriate, then, are today’s readings with their messages about God’s planting of His gifts deep within our hearts and souls.
Much of today’s Gospel is about how many of us for various reasons do not receive what He wants to plant within us and then bring to fruition. To me, its important message is His promise that if we respond to and receive His gifts, His plantings, they will achieve their purpose and return yields in fantastic results.
In today’s first reading we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim that God’s Word shall go forth from His mouth shall not return to Him void, but shall do His will, achieving the end for which He sent it. Given the state of our country and in our world, we might question whether or not that is true. Why is the world in which we live in such a mess?
Let me begin today with the observation that how we see things is governed by our expectations. Our happiness so often depends upon our expectations. When we married, what did we expect our spouse would like? If our expectations were met, we’re happy, if not we’re frustrated and unhappy. What did we expect our children would be like? What did we expect our work would be? At a more fundamental level, how much do we expect will be done for us?
I want to suggest to you that our fundamental question should be: How much do we expect will be accomplished with us. Take, for instance, our attitudes about our government and political system. What do we want our president and our congress to do for us, and what do we want them to do with us? If our government is supposed to do everything for us then we will be frustrated and unhappy. If, on the other hand, we expect our government to work with us to accomplish our goals, then whether or not we will be happy largely depends upon what we do or what we don’t do.
How often have you heard people tell you that they don’t come to Mass because they don’t get anything out of it? How often have you heard those words come from teenagers? We need to help them realize that their attitude is built on the notion that they are looking to be passive recipients rather than active participants, maybe even on the idea that they will only attend gatherings where they are entertained.
To return now to the statement that God’s Word will achieve the end for which He sent it, let’s check our attitudes. Do we expect God to do things for us, or with us? Are we unhappy because He has not done what we wanted Him to do? We might ask ourselves: What did we expect God to do, and what did we do to work with Him?
Another aspect of what I am suggesting is the truth that our expectations can be controlling. If people, or God, meet our expectations then they are okay. If they don’t meet our expectations, they are to be rejected. On the other hand, if we receive the gifts others, and God, offer us and work with them, then happiness and contentment can be ours. Stated another way, God cannot be grasped, we can only receive Him. His gifts cannot be demanded, we can only accept them.
Let me move now to a passage from sacred scripture that will perhaps shed some more light on our questions. The passage tells us about the fruits of the Spirit, the gifts from the Holy Spirit that if received will allow us to experience of being happy in God’s love for us.
The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. They are gifts that come to us from the heart of God. We cannot grasp them or buy them; we can only receive them by allowing our own spirits to be infused with God’s Holy Spirit. Do we get them by ourselves, or do we humbly receive what God wants to share with us? Again, what matters is what we do with God working with us, not what we do by ourselves separate and apart from God.
Love is self-denying, self-sacrificing, Christ-like, something far beyond pleasure and what we grasp for ourselves. Love is always a gift we receive. Love is always a gift we give.
Joy is a deep, long-lasting, inner rejoicing in the knowledge that God is near to us, even abiding within us. It comes from the God who does not love us from afar, but loves us dwelling deep within our hearts. We really live in our hearts, not in our heads.
Peace is another gift from God. Like joy it results from the experience of the closeness of God even in the midst of our tribulations and sufferings. It’s an inner tranquility even in the midst of severe trials. Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is found in the presence of God
Patience means that we accept the fact that God operates on His own timetable, not ours. Furthermore we suffer from the decisions of others. Their choices hurt us. God, however, loves us. It’s never His decision to hurt us. Some blame Him for everything that’s hurtful and wrong but the truth is that God did not create us to suffer and live in pain. Those things come to us from the choices others have made. Patience is internal within us.
Kindness builds up and maintains relationships by acts of caring for others, thinking of others in their times of loss and need. Kindness is found in words and deeds that build up rather than tear down. When others are mean-spirited and treat us badly¸ kindness nevertheless seeks their well-being, seeks the good for them.
Goodness is the sibling of decency. It seeks the higher rather than the lower. It upholds honor and respect. It points to whatever is true. It shuns all that is base and indecent. It respects the dignity of all human beings, even when they are not worthy of respect.
Faithfulness maintains commitments. In our day, half of marriages end up in divorce, divorces in many instances resulting from spouses who have given up too easily and too quickly. Friendships are lost for similar failures in effort. A person gifted with faithfulness is steadfast particularly in times of difficulty and trial. Dependability, loyalty, and stability are the result of God’s graces that are well received within us.
Gentleness is built upon self-control, a self-control that is particularly manifested in the way we treat others, particularly others who may be obnoxious. Many times people are obnoxious because they have been beat up and hurt. Gentleness is a healing touch that is Christ-like and powerfully redemptive. Gentleness is even-tempered, tranquil, and balanced.
Self-control frees us from the imprisonment of being ruled by our feelings. Too often we make decisions based on our feelings, decisions that we later regret. Feelings are good, but we ought not to be governed by them. Rather, in self-control we should base our decisions on our convictions.
You and I, like all good farmers who continually face floods and disasters of every sort, need to seriously engage ourselves in the enterprise of faith and hope, planting what we have, planting the best of what we have, and then letting God’s sun, wind, and gentle rains do the rest. God’s only-begotten Son, along with the gentle breath of His Holy Spirit, provide waters of grace to nourish and sustain what He has planted in the lives of those we love. The best years of our lives, and the best that we have given to others in those years, or are giving right now, or will give in the future, will not be fruitless.
If we cooperate with God, and work with Him, then the promise of Jesus will come true in our lives. “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 thirtyfold.” Faith and hope will then be in our hearts, not defeat and despair.
About Charles Irvin
Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”