“Let anyone with ears listen” (Matthew 13:9)

In the Eastern Rites, before the Gospel is proclaimed, the announcement is made to the assembly: “Wisdom: Let us be attentive.” This seems to be a good summary of what Jesus is asking us to understand as He tells the Parable of the Seed and the Sower in this Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew.  His message is that God’s Word has been sent for us to hear, we are responsible for whether our hearts are open to receive it.

A few years ago, I was flying down to visit my parents. As I sat on the plane, I was reading a copy of the Youth Catechism (YouCat). Although the lady seated next to me had a large book of her own, she was clearly more interested in the book that I was reading. I noticed that she kept gazing over at my book and trying to make eye contact. After a while I looked up and smiled at her. As soon as our eyes connected, she asked me if I was a Catholic. The second that I replied that I was a Catholic priest, she could not wait to tell me that she used to be a Catholic but was now a member of the Church of Scientology. With great joy and excitement, she showed me a huge book written by L. Ron Hubbard and told me that she had read almost all of his books.

After she told me about how much Hubbard’s books had changed her life and had caused her to leave the Catholic Church, I decided that I would ask her if she had ever read even a part of the Bible or perhaps some of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When I had asked her this, she looked puzzled and confused. This idea seemed totally foreign to her. She said that no, she had never read the Bible and in fact had never even heard of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This, I will confess, is something that surprises me very often. So many “former” Catholics—and present Catholics—will go to so much trouble to read self-help material or books from other spiritual traditions, yet they may never read the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church which beautifully summarizes the teachings of our faith. Many who feel dissatisfied with Catholicism have never even opened a book or the Bible to discover what Catholicism is. I have had very good Catholics tell me how excited they have been to learn that the Buddha teaches kindness to other human beings. When I mention to them that Jesus taught “love your neighbour as yourself” and laid down His life to show us what that meant, they act as though they had never heard that message which is at the heart of the Gospels.

The present challenges of our times—the uncertainty over the COVID 19 virus and racial tensions—are raising questions about life and its meaning in the hearts of many. People with deep and meaningful questions are searching the internet and YouTube videos for answers. Some of the answers that one will find are the internet are good; others are motivated by evil and harmful groups. It is important that we all be aware of what we are looking at. As Christians, if we are really seeking life, the answers that we are seeking need to be rooted in Christ. Ultimately, each one of us is responsible for the information that we place our confidence in and the power that we allow it to have over our lives. In the reading this Sunday, Jesus us is challenging us to allow His Word to be that which is rooted in our hearts and bears fruit in our lives.

In this Sunday’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we are told how generous God is with His Word. It is widely dispersed, just like the rain and the snow on the rich and the poor alike. Jesus also proclaims this generosity, as He recounts the parable of the seed and the sower. In this parable, the seed is God’s Word, and the sower is Christ who has brought the Word for all to hear. The Word is distributed broadly and generously. Like seed that is thrown everywhere, on good and bad soil, God gives His Word so that all may hear. It is up to those who hear the Word to determine how it will take root and whether it will grow or die. In this parable the soil is the human heart and the quality of the soil is how well that heart is prepared to receive the Word of God and nurture it.

The Parable of the Seed and the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) raises an issue that I find Catholics in particular are not very comfortable with and that is personal responsibility in the faith life. We are not very good at taking responsibility for our own personal faith formation. It is not uncommon for us to blame our parents, schools, priests or some authority for any absences in our faith formation. Let me give you a few examples for why I say this.

Whenever our parish has a Bible study that is open to different denominations, it amazes me that it is always the Catholics who come without a Bible and think that the parish will give them one. These Catholics seem to think they are owed a free Bible from the Church. Those who attend from Protestant denominations always come with their own Bibles and never think that it is something that someone else should provide them.  This sometimes too happens when people want a Bible. People who know how to buy every other book in the world at a book store or online, seem to think that the only way to acquire a Bible is to come to the parish and demand that it be given to them for free. It always leaves me wandering why they can buy every other book that they might need, but insist that someone else needs to give them this one book that will save their souls—the Bible.

In the Parable of the Seed and the Sower, Jesus is inviting us to examine our hearts to ask whether we have done all that we can do to nurture the ground to receive His Word and allow it to take root in our hearts and give us the life that we seek. This Gospel asks us whether we have actually listened to God’s Word as His inspired message, or do we just hear it as any other ordinary word among the many others that we hear? Once we have heard it, do we meditate on it and allow it to sink in? Do we water it and give it the attention that it deserves? How we care for the inspiring Word that God has given us in the gift of His revelation of His self, is extremely important if it is to take root in our hearts and bear fruit. 

With the extra time that some of us have due to the pandemic, or perhaps over our summer holiday, this is a privileged time to act on Christ’s invitation to examine how we are nurturing God’s Word. For that reason, I would like to suggest a few activities that might just help anyone who is interested to deepen in their faith and nurture their hearts to receive God’s word in a manner that might allow it to bear more fruit. Some of these suggestions are quite ambitious, some less so. Either way, here are a few things you might consider doing:

  • Considering reading a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) from beginning to end.
  • Attend a Bible study or watch one online.
  • If you are really ambitious, considering reading the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church (or the shorter Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church or YouCat.)
  • Read the Bible over the course of the year; there are editions of the Bible that have been broken down into daily readings for a year.
  • Watch Bishop Robert Barron’s series Catholicism.
  • Watch some of Cardinal Collins’ Lectio Divina series that have been recorded and are available on the Archdiocesan website at: www.archtoronto.ca 

If none of these suggestions appeal to you, ask your parish priest for more ideas that might suit you better. 

In the second reading for this Sunday from the Letter to the Romans, Paul says that “the sufferings of this present world are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” In order that we might know that, and have our hearts prepared for the glory that God is revealing to us each day, we must be awake and attentive to God’s Word in our midst. The call of this Sunday’s readings is to take personal responsibility for opening and preparing our hearts to allow God’s word to penetrate and take roots in our hearts. God, through His Son, has richly sent the seed of His Word out into our world. It is up to each of us to open our hearts so that Word may take root in us and produce the hundred or sixty or thirty-fold harvest for which it was sent. 

We are living in difficult times in which many voices are attempting to lead us in different and strange directions. Let us pray for the wisdom to listen attentively to the life-giving Word of God, which has been sent to take root in every heart that will receive it.

Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Church—Toronto

The reflection based on the readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-23; and Matthew 13: 1-23