Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014
With the invitation of the late Bishop Joe Grech, the then Bishop of Sandhurst, I came to Australia in 2007 with two other seminarians-now priests in the other part of the diocese of Sandhurst. The reason of Bishop Joe (may he rest in peace), to have us finished our studies in Australia is so that we can gradually immerse ourselves into the Australian culture, establish friendships and familiarize the diocese where we would be working later on. And I would say that was a very wise move. Part of the immersion was to work during the school holidays. At the end of that year, I and one other seminarian got a job in the orchard in Tatura. We did pruning, changing trellis, weeding and fruit picking. The fee was good, but because it was my first summer in Australia and my first experience of 40 or more degree heat, after a month, I said to Bishop Joe: ‘I quit!’ I said to the Bishop it’s too hot for me. So I quit and found another job in the tomato shed in Murchison. Again, the fee wasn’t that bad but because it was in the shed and because I was with many Filipinos working there too, I didn’t mind. I worked there for over a month, before I had to go back to the seminary. At the end of the financial year I received a letter about my income tax return, and I was happy to see I had a good return. I said to myself: ‘Wow! Good return doesn’t really come that easy. I really have to work hard for it.’
Friends, brothers and sisters, I’m sharing this with you because getting a good return is one point that Jesus is telling us in our gospel today. In telling us the parable of the sower he is inviting us to check our hearts whether we are receptive to his word or resistant to it. But he also tells us this parable, and even explains its meaning because he wishes that our hearts are fertile for his word to grow and nourished and thus assuring us of a good return- a return that guarantees us of eternal life and eternal happiness with him.
How can we be assured of a good return? What can we do to get a good return that keeps us for eternal life?
Through the Word of God, the basis, the foundation of our Christian life. The Good News for us, Christian Catholics for that matter is that this Word of God is revealed to us in two ways: Scripture and Tradition.
Some Christian denominations only claim the Scripture as the rule of faith (i.e. ‘sola Scriptura’ a phrase which is not found in the Bible itself), but we Catholics believe that Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are two sides of one coin. If we deny Tradition, we create an unbridgeable gap, a missing link which would lead us away from the essence and the very beginning of our Christian faith. And no matter how much we deny it even, no matter we like it or not, we just can’t help because we are (if we look at it deeply) benefitting and enjoying its life-giving value and significance in our Christian life. We just have to open our eyes, humble ourselves and listen to those staunch Protestant intellectuals and those from other faiths, who after trying very hard to disprove the Catholic Tradition, ended becoming Catholics themselves.
We need to know this facet of our faith as a springboard for us to understand more fully the Word of God.
So with the Word of God revealed unto us and sowed in our hearts, how can we make a good return?
First,Listening to the Word, listening to the Word of God by heart and with humility of heart. It is a tough call for many of us in this day and age to listen to the Word of God because of it entails silence, ‘be still and know there is God.’ (Psalm 46:10). It really is a hard call because we are in the time when the name of the game is ‘the more noise there are, the busier we are, the better we are than others’ the more alive we think or believe we are. But God couldn’t be found in the busyness of life. God couldn’t be heard when there is too much noise. And living a life fully is not just about living it as I want it to be, but living it according to what God called to be and to do. Listening to the Word also means listening to the Church (through her teaching office- the Magisterium) Listening requires humility and openness of heart.
Second, Learning from the Word. We’ve got copies of the Bible I supposed. It is one thing we need to have in order for us to learn the Word of God. And we are privileged in our day when we can just sit down in the comfort of our homes, browse the internet and we can find the resources, the seemingly unlimited materials to help us in our study and understanding of the Word of God. Another way to learn from the Word of God is through the practice of Lectio Divina. It is a way of reading a certain Scriptural passage slowly, prayerfully and meditatively, reading the text line by line and listening to the voice of God speaking to us through a word or a phrase or a sentence that struck us in the course of our reading.
Third, loving the Word. This means not only loving the Word of God in the Scriptures, but loving the Word-Made-Flesh, in the Eucharist. Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. We are privileged to receive him in our human hands and have him as our food and drink. Wow! The bread and wine we are sharing in at Mass are not symbols. They are really the body and blood of our Lord. Jesus himself would assure us of this. Remember when Jesus taught: “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53), and the Jews and many of his disciples couldn’t accept this teaching, they ‘turned back and no longer went about with him’ (Jn 6:66). If Jesus spoke of his ‘flesh and blood’ as mere symbols, he would have stopped those people who turned away and console them saying: ‘Come on! It’s not meant to be taken literally, you know. It’s only symbolic.’ But no. Jesus didn’t stop them. Jesus couldn’t deny the truth even if people wouldn’t believe in it, or couldn’t accept it. The truth is truth, regardless of anything. Thanks be to Peter and to the closest disciples of Jesus who declared their belief in him and in his words by staying with him, listening to him and continuing the mission that Jesus commissioned them to do at the last supper ‘do this (the Eucharist) in memory of me.’ (cf 1 Cor 11_23-25). If all of us, would only understand the immeasurable value and realize the amazing beauty of our God in the Eucharist, we would rather choose to die than not receiving Jesus.
There’s a saying that goes: ‘We are what we eat’, so if we are partaking in the banquet of the Lord each time we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist , then we must be at least becoming like Jesus. We need to pray for this everyday that we learn to ‘love like Jesus, feel like Jesus, understands like Jesus, thinks like Jesus, and behaves like Jesus’ as the late Bishop Joe would pray.
Fourth, living in the Word. This means applying the Word of God in our day to day endeavours and life. Thank God for the many examples, in the past as well as in our present time who would encourage us that living the Word of God is indeed possible, doable and all of us are capable to do it. One example is St Paul. The Word of God is so real and personal in him, that he could just say: ‘It is no longer I who lives, but Christ, who lives in me.’ (Gal 2:20). Another example is Pope Francis now. I could see in him, the loving, the compassionate, the forgiving, the Jesus Christ who is a friend to all, in his ways and dealings with people. He really is living in the Word of God. And we are not just to admire him, we need to learn living in the Word of God too. And we can do this by taking on Pope Francis’ challenge to all of us in the Church: that we recognize and meet our needs to have the ‘ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; the need to proximity, nearness, to be the Church as a field hospital after battle,’ in other words, right where the action is, right where the warmth of our personal touch and care is badly needed.
Today let us thank the Lord for nourishing us with his Word. But let us also do our part by striving to get a good return, by listening, by learning, by loving and by living in the Word of God. In this way we can go out and sow the seeds of the gospel ourselves, and assured of giving God a return of a thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundred-fold, and more residents of the Kingdom of God. Amen.