15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
12th JuLY 2020
Year A – Psalter week 3
The Parable of the Sower
When I was a parishioner at St. John’s twenty years ago, I remember Fr. Mark preaching on the Parable of the Sower and saying how he had been struck by the reality that the parable was not just about how different people receive the Word of God into their lives, but also a parable about how we ourselves, individually, receive the Word in varying degrees at different times. There may be, then, areas of our lives in which the Word has inspired us and has become very fruitful, whereas there may also be areas in our lives where we have not received the Word effectively and it has not borne much fruit.
While this period of lockdown has at times been challenging, I have also found it a time of blessing and have felt a call to go deeper into prayer as the demands of priestly ministry have not been so intense. A few weeks ago I made a six day individually guided retreat from home with the Jesuits. Clearing the week as best I could, I entered into a period of prayer and silence, and met online, for an hour or so a day, with a prayer guide who suggested scripture readings to reflect upon and who helped me to see what was going on in my prayer as things surfaced. One of the advantages of entering into such times of silence is that you begin to discern the inner movements of the Holy Spirit more clearly. You also meet yourself at a deeper level than usual.
One of the things that I began to discern was what might be described by Jesus as the rocky, or harder places within my heart. It concerned the reception of God’s Word about His unconditional love for me. I have had many words from, and indeed encounters with God over the years, reminding me of His love, but for some reason I still felt that those words and encounters, while undoubtedly bearing fruit, had maybe not penetrated my heart and life as deeply as they should have. I still, somewhere within me, had doubts about God’s love. So where were those doubts coming from?
The Lord put His finger on it when I felt prompted to ponder more deeply a close family member of mine who has suffered from mental illness for decades. For a long time I have had a vague sense that the Lord has a higher purpose for allowing this illness, and yet there remained a doubt as to why He had not answered more clearly the many prayers that have been offered up for this person’s healing. Fundamentally, I saw more clearly that this had been, even subconsciously, a doorway for doubt in my heart as to the extent of God’s love for me and my family. It was an area of hardness, or rocky ground within me, that had not allowed God’s Word of love to penetrate more deeply.
The other thing that the Lord showed me concerning this area of my heart, was that I had already received a prophetic word concerning this family member which I had almost forgotten about. I attended a prophecy school last year, and as a young man who knew nothing about my life, aside from me obviously being a priest, prayed for a word from God for me, he hesitantly shared what he had sensed: “I have a relative who is unwell, someone I’ve known from childhood. Like St. Andrew I must have faith to believe. The Lord is with him.” I remember sharing this accurate word in a homily not long after having received it, but over the months it had somehow faded in my mind. Again, I had allowed this word to fall on rocky ground within me and so it had not borne the fruit it could have within my heart.
During the retreat, the Lord mercifully cleared this rocky ground by convicting me that this family member would be, and I quote, “a VIP in heaven”. I knew that this was a word from God because of the level to which it penetrated my heart, evidenced by my being an emotional wreck and being moved to tears of joy for several days. I will certainly hold the Lord to this word!
While we have much good soil, I’m sure that all of us experience these places of hardness within our hearts. They are areas where doubt or hurt have been sown through the difficult and traumatic events in our lives, going back to childhood and even to the womb. We need the Lord’s help to uncover and to clear them. And yet my retreat experience also taught me that we need to play our part in responding to God’s grace and, imitating Our Lady, to ponder the Word of God in our hearts. We need to treasure God’s Word, and the times where He has spoken deeply and personally to us and moved our hearts, otherwise there is the danger that we lose the graces of those encounters, and they do not bear the fruit that they could in our lives.
I leave you with the following questions to ponder:
- What are the areas of hardness in your heart?
- What are the thorns of attachment and worry in your life that threaten to choke God’s Word and keep it from bearing fruit?
- Where has God’s word found good soil in your heart and life?
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening: you have the message of eternal life. Alleluia!