Sunday, July 10, 2011

Focus

Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10-14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

If you’ve ever been to Sacred Heart Parish here in Baton Rouge you will likely have noticed the beautiful paintings done by Dom Gregory Dewit, a Benedictine monk. One of the things that I love about his works, and most pieces of art, is the detail, the smallest of things that could easily be passed over. That same Dom Gregory also painted the inside of the Abbey Church at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington and there you could see his wit and character come through in the details. On the painting of the Last Supper there are salt and pepper shakers, which certainly would not have been there, just as a little touch of humor in the piece. In the image of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, two altar servers in cassock and surplice and nice black shoes, a touch of the contemporary. The details made you think. But the one that I appreciated the most is in the refectory, where the monks would eat their meals. On the ceiling of their dining hall is a painting of many majestic and beautiful animals going back to the story of creation. The story goes that there was one monk who bothered Dom Gregory while he was working and he would critique his work. And so to get back at the monk he, in friendly fashion, over the seat where the bothersome monk sat every meal throughout his life there at the monastery the artist painted a picture of a donkey as a way of funny way of letting the brother and others know that he thought the guy was an… well, you get the picture. But the beauty is in the details. It’s the details that really bring the story to life.

As we listen to the opening of our gospel today we ought to be struck by the details – Jesus went out in a boat along the shore and sat down. If we’re really reflecting on things, this ought to raise a red flag in our minds. Why are these details important? Of all the things that Matthew could have written about Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, why does he note this? Well, to sit down meant that one was the teacher. In the days of Jesus, it meant that He was an authority that ought to be listened to and His word heeded. But why the boat? Well, think back in scripture. Is there any other boat that we can think of that is important? What about Noah’s ark? The ark was a sign of God’s love for His people and the means by which Noah and his family were saved from death. As we return to Jesus, we realize that the words that Jesus is speaking to us today are about that same thing – the means to being saved from death! But not just any death – eternal death; He’s telling us the way to attain salvation. And so we, like the people of His day, should all gather around and listen closely to His words.

As we hear Him speak we realize that He is telling us that the ‘seed’ is really the grace of God that He freely and abundantly showers down upon all of us and that we are the different types of soil that the seed falls upon. The more we avail ourselves of the grace, the more growth and fruit will be born from us. It’s rather simple actually, but here we also have the great gift of having the Lord actually explain in more depth the spiritual reality that corresponds to the different types of soil; we don’t have to rely on some interpretation but hear it straight from the lips of Our Lord.

First, we have the seed that falls on the path. This seed is lost because they hear the word of God but don’t understand it. Most of the world around us knows the name of Jesus Christ and but they don’t really understand. If you look at numbers, most Catholics don’t really understand. Half of the Catholics in America don’t believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus; they don’t understand. I would be willing to bet that most of us - myself included sometimes – don’t know as much about our faith as we should because we don’t make the time to read and understand it, and so the seed of faith so generously given is stolen from us by some false logic.

Next, we have the seed that falls on the rocky ground. This seed is lost because it doesn’t really take root. It stays at the surface and have anything to cling to. In our lives this is the soil where we lack discipline and perseverance. Often we can ‘experience God’ in some special charismatic time, a time of great trauma, or a time of great peace and we can really enjoy that experience of God. But when things begin to stabilize and normal life returns, does that relationship with God really have any roots to hold us together or do we simply give up all those good things that the Lord began to work in us? This happens frequently with retreat and conversions – there is a great burning fire at first, but then we struggle to keep it going. We must persevere in following the path set before us and not so quickly lose strength and return to our former ways.

Finally, we have the seed that falls on thorny ground and is choked out by the thorns around it. This is the reality that when God’s grace comes upon us, sometimes we have so much else going on within us and around us that we don’t even let it survive. We let the cares of the world – that things to do, place to go, people to see - become our primary focus and we lose sight of God and all that He is doing in our lives. It is not our intent, but the weeds of our world simply take over and the grace of God comes to nothing.

My brothers and sisters, each of us has these types of soil within the ‘field of our soul’ and the challenge is to make that soil the fertile soil that really allows the grace of God to take root and bear fruit in our lives. We must start first at the surface though – ripping up the spiritual thorns that choke out God’s grace by constantly trying to bring our focus upon God and then through Him, to the other things we must do. But we must keep Christ first; we must let Him take over our entire lives.

You’ll notice that I have placed a medium sized gold crucifix on the altar today and will continue to do so as a way of helping us to remember that it is truly Christ that is the center of what we celebrate here. As we gaze upon this meager crucifix, we recall the Lord who suffered and died for us, we remember that the Eucharist we celebrate is a true re-presentation of that sacrifice of Calvary and a gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. He is the reason we are here today glorifying God. And I would suggest that this altar cross can also be a model of how to constantly keep God before our eyes throughout our day. Rather than a large cross, why not remind ourselves with religious imagery that the Lord is present throughout our day? Why not put a prayer card or crucifix in the bathroom to pray with in the morning as we start our day. Or maybe it could be a rosary in your car to help you recall God’s presence in that moment. Or a statue on your desk at work. All of these little things help us to recall God’s presence and help us to stay focused on Him. And if we stay focused on God, then we can begin the work of cleaning up the paths and digging up the rocks in the soil so we can really understand our faith and be deeply rooted in it.

The work will be long and tiring as we work to fix the soil of our soul, but remember that the payoff is incredible. For as St. Paul says, “I consider the sufferings of this present time as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”