Responding to God’s Gifts

WeeklyMessageGuest Homilist:
Fr. Charles Irvin

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 10, 2011

We are at that time of the year when the farmers have planted their seeds, when folks with gardens have made their plantings, and when teachers have completed their efforts to plant the seeds of knowledge in the minds of their students. How appropriate, then, are today’s readings with their messages about God’s planting of His gifts deep within our hearts and souls.

Much of today’s Gospel is about how many of us for various reasons do not receive what He wants to plant within us and then bring to fruition. To me, its important message is His promise that if we respond to and receive His gifts, His plantings, they will achieve their purpose and return yields in fantastic results.

In today’s first reading we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim that God’s Word shall go forth from His mouth shall not return to Him void, but shall do His will, achieving the end for which He sent it. Given the state of our country and in our world, we might question whether or not that is true. Why is the world in which we live in such a mess?

Let me begin today with the observation that how we see things is governed by our expectations. Our happiness so often depends upon our expectations. When we married, what did we expect our spouse would like? If our expectations were met, we’re happy, if not we’re frustrated and unhappy. What did we expect our children would be like? What did we expect our work would be? At a more fundamental level, how much do we expect will be done for us?

I want to suggest to you that our fundamental question should be: How much do we expect will be accomplished with us. Take, for instance, our attitudes about our government and political system. What do we want our president and our congress to do for us, and what do we want them to do with us? If our government is supposed to do everything for us then we will be frustrated and unhappy. If, on the other hand, we expect our government to work with us to accomplish our goals, then whether or not we will be happy largely depends upon what we do or what we don’t do.

How often have you heard people tell you that they don’t come to Mass because they don’t get anything out of it? How often have you heard those words come from teenagers? We need to help them realize that their attitude is built on the notion that they are looking to be passive recipients rather than active participants, maybe even on the idea that they will only attend gatherings where they are entertained.

To return now to the statement that God’s Word will achieve the end for which He sent it, let’s check our attitudes. Do we expect God to do things for us, or with us? Are we unhappy because He has not done what we wanted Him to do? We might ask ourselves: What did we expect God to do, and what did we do to work with Him?

Another aspect of what I am suggesting is the truth that our expectations can be controlling. If people, or God, meet our expectations then they are okay. If they don’t meet our expectations, they are to be rejected. On the other hand, if we receive the gifts others, and God, offer us and work with them, then happiness and contentment can be ours. Stated another way, God cannot be grasped, we can only receive Him. His gifts cannot be demanded, we can only accept them.

Let me move now to a passage from sacred scripture that will perhaps shed some more light on our questions. The passage tells us about the fruits of the Spirit, the gifts from the Holy Spirit that if received will allow us to experience of being happy in God’s love for us.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. They are gifts that come to us from the heart of God. We cannot grasp them or buy them; we can only receive them by allowing our own spirits to be infused with God’s Holy Spirit. Do we get them by ourselves, or do we humbly receive what God wants to share with us? Again, what matters is what we do with God working with us, not what we do by ourselves separate and apart from God.

Love is self-denying, self-sacrificing, Christ-like, something far beyond pleasure and what we grasp for ourselves. Love is always a gift we receive. Love is always a gift we give.

Joy is a deep, long-lasting, inner rejoicing in the knowledge that God is near to us, even abiding within us. It comes from the God who does not love us from afar, but loves us dwelling deep within our hearts. We really live in our hearts, not in our heads.

Peace is another gift from God. Like joy it results from the experience of the closeness of God even in the midst of our tribulations and sufferings. It’s an inner tranquility even in the midst of severe trials. Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is found in the presence of God

Patience means that we accept the fact that God operates on His own timetable, not ours. Furthermore we suffer from the decisions of others. Their choices hurt us. God, however, loves us. It’s never His decision to hurt us. Some blame Him for everything that’s hurtful and wrong but the truth is that God did not create us to suffer and live in pain. Those things come to us from the choices others have made. Patience is internal within us.

Kindness builds up and maintains relationships by acts of caring for others, thinking of others in their times of loss and need. Kindness is found in words and deeds that build up rather than tear down. When others are mean-spirited and treat us badly¸ kindness nevertheless seeks their well-being, seeks the good for them.

Goodness is the sibling of decency. It seeks the higher rather than the lower. It upholds honor and respect. It points to whatever is true. It shuns all that is base and indecent. It respects the dignity of all human beings, even when they are not worthy of respect.

Faithfulness maintains commitments. In our day, half of marriages end up in divorce, divorces in many instances resulting from spouses who have given up too easily and too quickly. Friendships are lost for similar failures in effort. A person gifted with faithfulness is steadfast particularly in times of difficulty and trial. Dependability, loyalty, and stability are the result of God’s graces that are well received within us.

Gentleness is built upon self-control, a self-control that is particularly manifested in the way we treat others, particularly others who may be obnoxious. Many times people are obnoxious because they have been beat up and hurt. Gentleness is a healing touch that is Christ-like and powerfully redemptive. Gentleness is even-tempered, tranquil, and balanced.

Self-control frees us from the imprisonment of being ruled by our feelings. Too often we make decisions based on our feelings, decisions that we later regret. Feelings are good, but we ought not to be governed by them. Rather, in self-control we should base our decisions on our convictions.

You and I, like all good farmers who continually face floods and disasters of every sort, need to seriously engage ourselves in the enterprise of faith and hope, planting what we have, planting the best of what we have, and then letting God’s sun, wind, and gentle rains do the rest. God’s only-begotten Son, along with the gentle breath of His Holy Spirit, provide waters of grace to nourish and sustain what He has planted in the lives of those we love. The best years of our lives, and the best that we have given to others in those years, or are giving right now, or will give in the future, will not be fruitless.

If we cooperate with God, and work with Him, then the promise of Jesus will come true in our lives. “But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or thirtyfold.” Faith and hope will then be in our hearts, not defeat and despair.

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
July 10, 2011

Parable of the Sower and the Seed – a Double Meaning
I’ve always loved gardening. Seeds I’ve planted include carrot, cucumber, and of course, zucchini. In each case, I’ve planted seeds in neat rows, expecting nearly all of them to sprout and yield fruit.

But the farmer in Jesus’ parable (Mat 13:1-23) uses the broadcast method. Lots of seed cast everywhere. And predictably, many of these seeds do not produce. Some get eaten by birds. Some sprout but then wither. Some seedlings get choked out by weeds. Finally a few yield varying amounts of grain.

The marvellous Parable of the Sower is unusual in that Jesus gives quite a full explanation of it. Normally Jesus leaves the people to work things out for themselves and lets them take what they can from his parables. They often work on a number of different levels and people are able to draw their own conclusions, after all this is the very nature of a parable and why they are such an effective teaching tool.

We long for it. He gives it.
But are we willing to do something with it?
In the early part of the Thirteenth Century, Giovanni Franceso Bernardone was headed to a prosperous life as a cloth merchant in the Province of Umbria, Italy. He loved every sort of pleasure and was known to engage in various street brawls. But, Francis, as he preferred to be called, didn’t become a merchant. After spending a year as a military captive in nearby Perugia, Francis decided to change the course of his life, radically change the course of his life. He wanted to focus on serving God and only serving God. He saw his status as part of the rising merchant class as blocking his ability to experience Jesus Christ. He gave up his possessions and his future as a merchant, and embraced poverty. He begged for food in his native Assisi, and spent his days in prayer.

God’s Word is Never Spoken in Vain
In Verse 10 of today’s first reading from Chapter 55 of the prophet Isaiah, we read: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater.”

Rain may seem lost when it falls on a desert, but it fulfils some purpose of God. So the Gospel word falling on the hard heart; it sometimes brings about change in one’s life; and even if so, it leaves people without excuse.

Parables in The Gospel
In the next several weeks in Mass we will be hearing parables in our Gospel Readings. They are meant to catch the attention of the listeners and are invitations to the listeners to find their places in the stories.

We are in the heart of the book of Matthew, learning about who Jesus is and who does his coming make us.

This Sunday’s parable of the sower is especially poignant. The closer Jesus comes to our part of the soil the more fruitful we become and he will not leave us to ourselves. By ourselves we will whither and default to our beaten-pathness. By ourselves we will be choked by our own greed and self-centered demands.

The Wisdom of God
I once asked a Carthusian why he embraced a life of silence and anonymity. It seemed to me that he could have done more for the Church if he were actively ministering in the world. I was thinking with the wisdom of men. He answered me with the wisdom of God.

An American Pope In Our Lifetime?
Father “Jeremiah” spoke to me about a particular situation in the United States, and its relation to the future of the universal Church.

“Europe is in crisis, demographically and morally,” he said to me. “For this and other reasons, it may be time, in the not-too-distant future, for an American Pope. A possible candidate will have to have had a strong formation, perhaps in one of the traditional religious orders. . . .”

Baptist Convert: Stacy Trasancos
Stacy is a Catholic convert from the Baptist tradition. A former chemist, Stacy is now a stay at home mom pursuing a MA in Theology at Holy Apostle’s College and Seminary.

I am Catholic, simply, because I am alive. I began conversion in 2004 and entered into Communion with the Catholic Church in 2006. That I know of, I have a full decade of children to remember when I pray the Rosary, seven whom I am raising and three whom I never held in my arms. My life these 42 years has been full of self-induced pain. Today I know deep joy and peace because I am accepting the abundances of Truth and Love. I’m telling my story because as shameful as it is, it is real and needs to be told so others will know the dangers of life without a moral compass.

Can a sinner become a saint? Yes. Why do you ask?
Can someone who is a sinner become a saint?

That, essentially, is the question that Stephen Prothero asks in a CNN blog post today.

The question is remarkable–not because it is difficult, but because the answer is so obvious. No one who has even a passing acquaintance with Christian thought should ask such a question. Prothero, a Professor of Religion at Boston University, has more than a passing acquaintance with the subject. So one suspects that he has something up his sleeve. And sure enough…

Punishing the Prodigal
I received an e-mail the other day from a woman who had generously shared her story with me for my latest book, When’s God Gonna Call Me Back? Her words of praise for my work touched my heart, and I was grateful to learn of her favorable reaction to the book. She felt I had handled her story well and done a good job of gently addressing the conflicts and tensions that cause Catholics to lapse in their faith. Her opinion carries a great deal of weight for me; I know it was especially hard for her to be so open and frank.

Catholic Church interested in Crystal Cathedral
The Roman Catholic Diocese is exploring the idea of buying the Crystal Cathedral, which has been struggling financially for the last four years and is in bankruptcy.

The Diocese of Orange released a statement Wednesday morning saying that Bishop Tod D. Brown has authorized The Busch Law Firm and other diocese advisers to “explore the possibilities” regarding Garden Grove’s glass cathedral.

Pilgrims Flock to Wisconsin Shrine, Site of the Only Approved U.S. Marian Apparition
Attendance is booming at a Wisconsin shrine at the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States.

On Dec. 8, 2010, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay decreed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to a young Belgian immigrant woman, Adele Brise, three times in October of 1859.

After that, shrine caretaker Karen Tipps said, “the phone was ringing off the hook.”

A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small
OTTAWA – The lawyer representing the widow of Theodor Seuss Geisel, known around the globe as children’s writer Dr. Seuss, is protesting the reprinting of a quote from the author’s work, Horton Hears a Who!, on an anti-abortion poster being distributed in Ottawa Roman Catholic churches. Cathy Bencieengo said she will ask the local anti-abortion group Action Life Ottawa to remove the line “A person’s a person, no matter how small” and Dr. Seuss’s name from a colour poster showing an embryo.

Five Reasons GOD Permits Problems
The problems you face will either defeat you or develop you—it makes you better or bitter depending on how YOU respond to them. Unfortunately, most people fail to see how God wants to use problems for good in their lives. They react foolishly and resent their problems rather than pausing to consider what benefit they might bring. It is a choice(free will). Here are five reasons God May have Permitted the problems you experience in your life:

12 Catholic Words that Don’t Sound Like What They Mean
I was born a Catholic but that doesn’t mean I knew anything about the faith until I decided to investigate it for myself in college. In my research, I came across a number of things that weren’t true that I thought were, many things that were true that I hadn’t thought were true, and words that I misunderstood completely.

So to help others here’s a list of Catholic words that probably don’t mean what some may think they mean.

Secularism Run Amok! Defending the right to pray
Arleen Ocasio seems to be setting herself up for a second rebuke from a federal judge. Ocasio has been, since 2009, the director of the Houston National Cemetery, which, at 419 acres, is the second-largest cemetery administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, exceeded in size only by Arlington. Houston National has somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 men and women interred there, including several Medal of Honor winners and the congressman who worked to have the cemetery built and recognized as a national one. It is, like all such places, a scene of both sorrow and celebration, of patriotism — and prayer.

Red Skelton, Abraham Lincoln and One Nation Under God
Red Skelton and his unforgettable rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance. Skelton rose out of abject poverty to become one of the great comedians of his time. His comment about the phrase “under God” reminds us how deeply this phrase is embedded in American history:

Benefactor of Mankind :
Saturday Book Pick: How to Rebut Myths About the Church
In Seven Lies About Catholic History, historian Diane Moczar leads us through a lively survey of some of the worst distortions of Church history. Fabrications about the Inquisition, Galileo affair and Crusades are corrected, along with those regarding the “Dark Ages” and other topics. Many readers — Catholics among them — will be surprised to learn that what they think they know about Church history just isn’t so.

Why Do (Some) Protestants Hate the Catholic Church?
A few days ago I visited a Protestant blog that posts various apologetics entries arguing for (Reformed) Protestantism. I punched in a comment or two, and it wasn’t long before I was blasted by the owner and rudely insulted as “not being able to understand English.”

Another commenter at that site, who I have known for his anti-Catholic virulence, also began making comments toward me, the same guy who told my friend David–a recent Catholic convert from Reformed Protestantism–that Jesus would condemn David to hell at his judgment.

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