The Lectionary today is a commentary on God's mercy and forgiveness. The Book of Wisdom describes how God could apply his justice in a strict manner in order to show us his might. Yet, the Book of Wisdom notes, God actually applies his might by judging with clemency and governing us with leniency. And so he teaches us that the just must also be kind. Therefore, God has given us hope that he will grant us the grace of repentance for our sins. Likewise, the Psalmist tells us that The Lord is good and forgiving. Other versions describe the same as The Lord being sweet and pleasant, mild and gentle, especially with respect to pentitents. The Psalmist says, "You, O Lord, are a God of compassion and steadfast love, patient, abundant in mercy and true." Our Lord expresses the same reality in his three parables of the Wheat, the Mustard Seed, and the Yeast.
The Holy Fathers of the Church understand in the parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast, signs of Jesus Christ put to death and risen in glory. Jesus is the mustard seed, which having been thought little of, after being buried, rises into a tree so large that all the birds of the air, that is souls, rest in his branches (Sts. Gregory the Great and Hilary). The Cross which was the instrument of his death becomes a glorious tree of life which gives rest to the whole world. Jesus is the yeast, who being put to death, was hidden in the tomb of the earth. But, afterwards, by his resurrection, brings to fulfillment everthing in the holy scriptures. St. Augustine compares Jesus to the yeast in this way: He is the love which, being hidden in the measure of the human heart, causes the whole person to flourish and come to perfection.
In the parable of the Wheat, it is clear that Jesus is the sower of good seed. The enemy, the Devil, sows bad seed. St. Jerome says that when a field is first sprouting, it is difficult to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat. Not until they are maturing and begin to bring forth fruit can they be identified. What at first appears as weeds may by repentance and spiritual progress become wheat. God shows his mercy, patience and gentleness so that none of the wheat might accidentally perish. But in the end, whether it is the end of the world or the end of our lives only, there will no longer be room for repentance. We have this life only to accept the good seed of The Lord into our hearts.
All three parables explain what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus plants himself in our hearts by grace. His love, which he proved upon the Cross, the same which he shares with us in this Holy Mass, is capable of turning weeds into wheat. He takes our imperfections and weaknesses, and, yes, even sins, and turns them into perfect love.
The enemy, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning, sows the seed of death by convincing us to take for ourselves the fruit of the tree. But we were not created to grasp life for ourselves by the violence of our own wills. We were created to be receivers and givers not takers and hoarders. And after the enemay has convinced us to sin, he continues to lie. Not only do we not ger what his lies promised to us, but afterwards he turns this lie against us. He tells us that we are his, that there is no mercy for us, no forgiveness for us, no love for us. He tells us that we are weeds and that we are his children. But that, too, is a lie.
Jesus plants the Cross of Truth, the Tree of Life, right in the midst of human history. The Truth of the Cross is this: He loved us even while we were sinners. The most horrific crime, the greatest evil ever accomplished in the history of mankind was the crucifixion of the only Son of God. And, yet, God is able to take the horror and replace it with Beauty, the evil and exchange it for the most perfect act of love the world has ever known. Jesus did this so that he could send to us his Spirit of Truth in order that he might convince the world of his love.
In a few moments we will prepare the altar and I will pray the Prayer over the Offerings. Listen closely and you will hear this line: "O God, who in the one perfect sacrifice brought to completion varied offerings of the law..." You see the truth of the Sacrifice of the Cross reaches back into history and brings to perfection all the imperfections of former sacrifices offered to God. A little later in the Eucharistic prayer I will extend my hands over the gifts and call upon them the power of the Holy Spirit. And God will once again make present the one perfect sacrifice which has overcome and torn asunder all the lies of the enemy. Here, in this moment, we will join all of our sorrows, joys, anxieties, hopes, our love to this one perfect sacrifice of Jesus. And Jesus will make them perfect. He has the power to reach into the darkest depths of our hearts, where we keep hidden the secrets that we wish no one else to discover, which we ourselves may not dare to look at, and he exchanges our imperfections and sinfulness with the perfection of his own love.
The enemy whispers his lies to us in the darkness, because they are not true. Jesus proclaims the truth in the light of the resurrection: You are loved. You are forgiven. You are becoming whear. You are his.
Jul 15, 2014
One of my favorite images from the Gospels is when Jesus teaches the people from the sea shore. In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly getting into a boat and going back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. This time, the crowds were so large, he gets into a boat and preaches to them from the boat. Teaching this way allows the crowd to see him as well as allowing his voice to carry across the waters, something like a natural microphone. But there is also scriptural imagery at work here if we know our scriptures. Principally, I'm thinking about the imagery of water. The particular reference I have in mind here is Psalm 29:3, 10: "3 The voice of The Lord is upon the waters, the God of Majesty has thundered, The Lord is upon many waters...10 The Lord makes the flood to dwell, and The Lord shall sit [there] as King forever." And here in the Gospel is The Lord, the King, sitting upon the waters of Galilee and teaching his people. His voice carrries across the waters and plants the word of truth into the hearts of those who will listen. He is in some sense recreating them from within.
The imagery of water is often connected to the creative activity of God. It appears in the very first two verses: Genesis 1:1-2. "1 In the beginning God created heaven and earth. 2 And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters." In the days of Noah, God caused a great flood. It was a re-creating of sorts, a renewing and purificiation of the world by water. And in the Gospel, God is speaking again across the waters and re-creating hearts anew.
What is it that makes the spritual life possible? Foremost, it is the Sower of the seed - Jesus. He plants the word of life in our hearts. But it is also necessary that we be disposed to receive his word. If our spiritual life has become hardened by sin, his word will not take root in our souls and will be snatched away by the evil one. If we do not allow the word to be nurtured by prayer, meditation, assisting at Holy Mass, the full practice of our Catholic faith, its growth will be superficial. It may look to the whole world like a healthy plant but it is already doomed. But what if the seed is truly planted in good soil? It still needs attention and care. If a garden is left untended, the precious plants die and only weeds will remain. A garden is generally tended in much the same way that the soil was prepared. Prayer, study of scripture, the full practice of the faith, the Holy Mass, Sacramental Confession, etc.
God is like a Cosmological Gardener. The very first garden was the Garden of Eden. Human beings were created to tend the garden including one another. That is one way to understand being made in the image and likeness of God. If he is The Gardener, we are also meant to be gardeners. This likeness to him is obscured by the sin of Adam and Eve, which cause them to be expelled from the garden. And it has effects not just on the would-be gardeners but also on all of creation which human beings were meant to tend. So St. Paul says that "creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God ... in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God." All of creation, St. Paul says, is groaning as if in labor pains until the day of our glorification. And we, too, groan as we wait for adoption. God does not will merely to restore humanity to a former state but even to lift us up to something far greater: participation in the sonship of his Only Son by adoption. This adoption is not a legal fiction. It is not merely like something only declared on paper, but it is in fact and reality. It reaches down into the very core of what it means to be human. It takes root in our souls and grows and blossoms and bears eternal fruit.
"The seed is the word of God, but the sower is Christ; everyone who finds him, will remain forever (Semen est verbum Dei, sator autem Christus; omnis qui invenit eum, manebit in aeternum)." The fruit is to become a son in the Only Son of God. God, if we let him, will actually put us in the place of his Son, to reign in his kingdom forever. Just as he put his Son in our place upon the Cross. And even there, there was water - flowing from his pierced side: cleansing, purifying, and re-creating the world anew.
Water from the side of Christ, wash us!
After a long time of silence while I was studying in seminary, I've decided to start posting here and there again. I will return to some of my musings on the liturgy as well as posting some of my reflections and homilies. I was ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, June 28th, 2014. I thought about doing these sorts of things through my Facebook account but I think the venue is a little better here. So here we go!