Are you Sower, Seed or Soil?

Artist / Iconographer: Dmitry Shkolnik

The parables of Jesus contained in the Gospel of Matthew are about the kingdom of God… and an important aspect of today’s parable explores our hearing of God’s word and what that hearing means in our life.

The farmers who heard this story about the sower and the seed could understand from their experience that planting seed was a process in which some of the seed would grow… and that some of the seedwould not.  They scattered seeds by hand and plowed it in after so…seed fell everywhere… Some on the hard- packed path… some on the rocky ground… some would land among the thorns… and some would fall on the rich ground.  This part of the parable was familiar to his hearers… but the attention getting part of the story is the yield that the seed produces… a hundred or sixty or thirty fold… which was far greater than anything they ever experienced or could imagine… and they probably all thought I want some of that seed… because it was unlike anything they knew.

A hundred, or sixty, or thirty percent yield from the seed for these farmers would be about as amazing as our retirement accounts or college funds having a hundred percent return for the year… or our boss telling us we’re getting a hundred percent raise for next year.  We’d all want that financial advisor’s advice… or to work for that boss because of the bounty that would follow.

But we know that Jesus isn’t just giving agricultural advice to farmers… nor giving us financial or employment tips… but rather teaching us about the kingdom of God… about God’s super-abundant generosity… and about the effectiveness of the word of God at work in the lives of those who receive it.

In the parable… the sower and the seed are the only constants… and the types of soil and the yields are the variables.  The seed produces something wherever it lands… but the better the soil… the better the result.

In this parable…. 

…Jesus is the sower… and sows gifts lavishly and indiscriminately…without boundaries… and 

…the seed is the word of God… always effective and fruitful and bountiful…  

…The different types of soil and the yield speak to the receptiveness of the hearers of the word of God…hearers like you and me… and to our desire to put the word of God into practice in our life.

You see…. From the parable:• Some hear and do not understand… or hear and reject the word of God and produce nothing… like the seed on the foot path

• Some hear with joy at first but the word does not take root and its effectiveness fades quickly… like the sprigs on the rocky ground;

• Some hear but anxiety and material matters take center stageand choke out the word of God… like thorns strangling new growth;

• And finally some hear and understand and let God’s word grow in their life… like seed in rich soil.

We know that true hearing is different than simply listening.  We sit here…week after week… or tune in and catch the live stream and “listen” to God’s word… but do we hear and try to understand?  Do we reflect and ponder and consider what God’s word means to us in our life?

We might be quiet and still… but are we able to abandon our cell phones and texts… and disengage from the thoughts of our enormous “to-do” list and give our mind and heart to God’s word and God’s work? 

… And if we can devote these few minutes to hearing and understanding God’s word… does what we hear take root and influence our thoughts and actions once we leave this place and step back into our hectic world?

The word of God in scripture… and the Word of God in the life of Jesus Christ… is powerful and important and can be effective in our life as we become that rich soil… cultivate your heart and mind… and hearing… to allow God’s word to blossom in this world through you… 

Blessed are your ears because they hear… Hear and let God’s word produce that abundant harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirty fold…right here… in your life.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happinesses”. Ideals we continue to strive for even though we fall short.

Even as the ink was still wet as these words of the Declaration were penned, there was work to be done for all to experience their truth. While not perfectly fulfilled, then or now, these founding principles, referred to as self-evident truths, are what we strive to attain for ourselves and others.

Every day, every interaction, every age we have the opportunity to afford those we encounter with what is endowed by the Creator if we choose too, and we do not always make the best choices. Less than perfect choices yesterday and today, do not assure less than perfect choices tomorrow. Each encounter is a new opportunity in the pursuit.

The word “pursuit” suggests that the quest to plumb the full depths of these truths never reaches a state of attainment. Attainment is never guaranteed, but the pursuit of these truths in the guiding principle is the light on the path that we walk toward the unattainable attainment.

The breadth and depths of truth is infinite and probing truth is never exhausted. Exhausted as some may be, together let’s keep mining truth.

A Cup of Cold Water or a Face Mask it’s Easy and Important

A Cup of a Cold Water

“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because the little one is a disciple—
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Mathew 10)

A cup of cold water can be life giving. How simple it is, how essential it is, how often it is overlooked.

When we see the magnitude of needs that are present in the world today, we might feel overwhelmed and think, “The need is so big and I am so small that what I do cannot possibly make a difference” or “I’m sure someone else will help or someone else is more qualified.”  Both of these thoughts lead us to inaction. Rather than doing something, which was our original intent, we end up doing nothing. Somehow, we fail to act on our good intention.

Something simple is important to the one who receives it.

Recall the story of the Starfish…

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

Simple is essential. Caring for neighbor, one neighbor at a time is how we live out the Gospel message.

A cup of cold water, a face mask, respecting physical distancing, staying home when you are sick… a simple gestures of love and charity directed towards your sisters and brothers.

The Spirit’s Whispers

1 Kg 19:9a, 11-16

Stand on the mountain before the LORD.

A reading from the first Book of Kings

At the mountain of God Horeb,
   Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
   “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
   the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
   and crushing rocks before the LORD−
   but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake−
   but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire−
   but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
   Elijah hid his face in his cloak
   and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

The Holy Trinity and the George Floyd Protests

The Holy Trinity is the central truth of the Catholic Church and the singular truth that distinguished Christianity for all other religions.

We profess this mysterious truth every time we pray, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We offer all our prayers in the mystery of the Trinity. Our Profession of Faith that we pray at Mass states our beliefs in the Father, In the Son- Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.

We are enveloped as Christians in the love shared among the Father, Son and Spirit. We could spend time and energy dissecting the mystery and not come any closer to cracking the code of how the Trinity works, or we could avoid that intellectual distraction and focus on what the Trinity teaches us about God and love.

Scripture tells us clearly that God is love. Jesus reveals the Father and the Spirit. So fully divine Father, fully divine Son, and fully divine Spirit is love.

The community of the Trinity is love. The three divine persons of the one God are united in and through love.

So, what can we learn on a practical level?

The human family, made in the image of God is built to live in community and to love in community, without exception.  But we seem to stray from that model when we allow factions to develop, when the human family is dived against itself, when the human family is segmented by race which has been demonstrated on our city streets and across our nation.

We might think and even say aloud, “I’m not racist” but we all develop and retain bias, pre-judgements (prejudice), and stereotypes. We have these, but most of the time we do not realize that we do and we operate on unchallenged preconceptions. This is the covert racism that we much bring to the light.

Institutional racism, can and has been legislated, but we cannot legislate away the hidden biases that prevent us from loving universally as the Trinity teaches us.

We want to look outside of ourselves and be distracted by looting and rioting thugs, or by the mass gatherings and the impact of spreading COVID-19, or of potential loss of personal property, or fear and anxiety, rather than focusing on the genuine issues at hand, and seeing what resonates in our hearts.

In our own families sometimes things get heated, and loud when one does not feel heard and respected, in conference rooms and on work teams there are disagreements and arguments to be resolved, and so too it is within the human family. People gather and protest and argue and shout and scream if they do not feel heard, valued, and accepted.  

There are many justice definitions floating around which are based on transactions- you do this- you get that- but in Catholic Social Teaching justice is present when all get their due because they are children of God.  We have a shared God-given human dignity flowing from our Creator.

For a moment, think about what you deserve?

Do you deserve a safe place to live and protection for the elements?

Do you deserve to eat on a regular basis?

Do you deserve the opportunity to work and support your loved ones comfortably?

If I think I deserve these things, and I do- with so much more- then what is good for me is good for all others because we share a God-given human dignity.

Look around… do you see all others having what they are due? Do all others enjoy even the most basic elements of human dignity, not given through others magnanimity, but afforded because it is theirs, guaranteed by their creator?

The love of the Holy Trinity teaches that we are of the community of the human family…how are your sisters and brothers doing?  What are you doing to help them- to hear them?

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Genesis 4:9

Our cities have been the scene of peaceful protests and violent unrest over the last week, but the fundamental issues from which we must not be distracted that are at the heart of our social malignancies are injustice, discrimination, and deprivation of human dignity. Anyone viewed as “lesser than” is marginalized, and this is an affront to God who hears the cry of the poor, the oppressed, and the afflicted.

As we ponder our part in the perpetuation of discrimination, and our part in the social solution we must be guided by the Catholic Social Teaching

In his message for the celebration of the Day of Peace in 1972, Pope Paul VI wrote


The sentiment remains true today. If you want peace in our world, in our nation and city, and in our lives, work first for justice and abiding peace will follow.

The Good of Good Friday

We call this day, Good Friday, but what is so good about it?  

A familiar Good Friday hymn asks “were you there” when they crucified my Lord, when they nailed him to the tree, when they pierced him in the side, when the sun refused to shine.  Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Were you there?

I was there because my sins nailed him to the tree, and my sins pierced his side, and the darkness of my sins blocked out the sun.  Yes, I was there, and sometimes it causes me to tremble.  But there is more to Good Friday than sin and trembling.

When you think of the passion of our Lord, your images may be influenced by many of the film versions of the story.  There are countless artists’ renditions of parts of the passion story:

Maybe the betrayal of Judas with the kiss comes to mind and reminds us of how our sins are a betrayal of God’s love; or

Maybe the image of the agony in the garden and the “let this cup pass me by” scene that represents our sins as agony and a denial of the will of God for us plays in our mind; or

Maybe we think of the trial of Jesus and His silence and our silence in the face of our sinfulness compared to God’s love for us; or

Maybe we see Jesus stumbling along the way to Calvary and Simon of Cyrene being pressed into service to carry the cross and the hope for each of us that we too may take up the cross and follow Jesus.  

All images and applications of the passion story which may captivate us, but none of these images come from the Gospel of John which we heard on Good Friday.  These images come from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke but not from the Gospel that the Church chooses to use on Good Friday, the Gospel of John. 

According to Raymond E. Brown, a noted Scripture scholar, the portrait of Jesus that John paints for us today is one of a Jesus who reigns even from the cross.  John’s passion narrative presents a sovereign Jesus who has defiantly announced, “I lay down my life to take it up again; no one has taken it from me.”  When Roman soldiers and Jewish police come to arrest him, they fall to earth powerless over the great I AM.  In the garden, according to John, Jesus does not pray to be delivered from the hour of trial and death for this hour is the whole purpose of his life.  

No Simon of Cyrene appears, for the Jesus of John’s Gospel carries His own cross.  His royalty is proclaimed in three languages and confirmed by Pilate.  Jesus is not alone on Calvary as in the other Gospels, for at the foot of the cross stands the Beloved Disciple and Mary, His mother.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not cry out, “why have you forsaken me” because the father is always with him.  His final words are a solemn decision “It is finished.”  His burial even speaks of his royalty as he lies amid a hundred pounds of spices as befits a king.  

The Jesus we see in John’s account suffers human death, but reigns victoriously from the cross, in control of all that is happening.

We call this day, Good Friday, but what is so good about it?  Is it only remembering our sinfulness and our trembling, or is it also experiencing the certain assurance of the absolute and unconditional love of Jesus Christ for you and for me and His single minded focus on doing the will of the Father in buying our salvation with His life that makes our remembrances this day good.

Holy Week – Holy Work

Palm Sunday 

• The purple of our Lenten penance is yielding to the red of our martyred savior’s blood, the blood of our salvation  

• The chorus of praise we sing… “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord”…is silenced and we hear his friend say “I do not know the man” while the crowd cries out repeatedly… “Let him be crucified”.  

• Today’s traditional procession with palm branches held high… remembering Jesus’ triumph as king …becomes the way of sorrows and the Triumph of the Cross.

Holy Week has begun and we celebrate anew the boundless love that God has for us.  

This week is Holy because it is a week of love like no other.  We recall …we relive… we enter into… the greatest expression of God’s love for us, and our never failing source of hope… the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In Matthew’s Passion narrative we can see that we have a Savior in Jesus who shares the trials and tribulation of our human existence. We see in Jesus one who suffers great physical pain and knows the sting of false accusations and the outrage of injustice. We see in Jesus one feeling the loss of fair weather friends and abandonment in his time of need. We see in Jesus a person mocked, ridiculed, and reviled for what he believes and for the good that he did for others, when it wasn’t the popular or easy thing to do.

We see in Jesus someone preparing for His death, and drawing His last breath and yet we hear from him no words of condemnation, anger, or regret.

Jesus died as He lived… a man of faith.

Jesus died as he lived… obedient to the will of the Father.

Jesus died as he lived… filled with compassion and mercy and love for all.

He died as He lived… teaching us through His words and actions that God’s love for us, sinners though we are, never diminishes.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is laid in the tomb, and the stone is rolled into place and the tomb sealed while those  who followed him look on. They had no hint of what was next but we know the rest of the story… we know that his story is not finished.

We also know that our story isn’t finished either and that we are not passive bystanders in the crowd watching Holy Week parade by one more time.

We are to walk the way of Jesus, that St Paul describes to the Philippians and to us. Paul tells us that Jesus descended in order to ascend, he emptied himself, he humbled himself, he became obedient, and through this way of his, God highly exalted him.

Our Holy Week and our life’s journey is like that way of Jesus… we descent in order to ascend… we empty ourselves of ourselves so there is room for others… we rightly humble ourselves before God and forgo death dealing pride and self righteousness so there is genuine joy in our dependence on God… and in discovering our life giving dependence on God… the one who loves us and only wants our well-being… we gladly become obedient because we never want to be separated from God’s great love.

No… We’re not passive bystanders simply retelling familiar stories and repeating familiar rituals… We have our work cut out for us… we have our Holy Work… during Holy Week… to follow the way of the cross of self emptying… humility… and obedience.

So let “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you” so that together we may celebrate God’s gift of love and our source of hope…the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Take Away the Stone

The grave… the tomb… and the stone feature prominently in today’s scriptures… and while we hear of death in these scriptures…for us… physical death is not the point. The death we are concerned with today is not our physical death…but rather…our spiritual death… as some will die a spiritual death… long before they pass away.

From the prophet Ezekiel we heard:

Thus says the Lord GOD: 
O my people, I will open your graves 
and have you rise from them, 
and bring you back…
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, 
when I open your graves and have you rise from them…

I will put my spirit in you that you may live…

Here Ezekiel is not speaking about physical death…and physical rising… but mostly about the restoration and return of the people of Israel who have been scattered… and his message of restoration…his message of being reunited in God… at God’s invitation… is most applicable to us today.

God invites us to return… to come back from where we have wandered.  The graves that God will open and have us rise from are the spiritual graves that we dig that separate us from the life that God intends.  God says that he wants to put his spirit in us that we may live…but we need to cooperate, and develop a receptive spiritual life open to God’s words and ways.

The spiritual graves we dig for ourselves… the sins we commit… the prejudices we perpetuate…the resentments and cynicism we harbor… numb us to God’s presence… anesthetize us to the needs of our sisters and brothers… and dull us to the life we are called to live.  What spiritual graves… entomb you today?

Like the spiritual graves we considered with the reading from Ezekiel that deprive us of life… the tomb and the stone in the story of Lazarus also might be seen as whatever blocks us from a life with Christ.  The stone stood between Jesus and Lazarus and prevented life.

In the Gospel story we hear that Jesus is perturbed and that he weeps.  Some attribute this to being emotional at the death of his friend and I am sure that he felt for his friend and for the comfort of all who mourned…but a close review of the dialogue and actions also reveals what might be considered a lack of faith… a resistance by some to believe what he has said.  Maybe today… Jesus weeps over our lack of faith and our reluctance to believe what he says.  What stands in the way of you believing that Jesus wants to love you and that all he did…he did for you?

Jesus’ words…Take away the stone… might become our refrain for the rest of lent…Remove the stones that prevent your life in Christ…remove the stones that stand between you and Jesus…and heeding Martha’s caution about opening a four day old grave…yes… when we roll back the stones in our life to be united with Christ… there might be a stench…for the things that separate us from a life in Christ are indeed foul and putrid. 

As Christ called Lazarus by name to emerge from the tomb… he likewise calls each of us by name to abandon what keeps us from a life with him and when we emerge from our spiritual tomb we too can hear Jesus say…untie him and let him go… or untie her and let her go… to go from our sinful ways of spiritual death…to a new life in Christ.

It is never too late to take away the stone and return to God with our whole heart … for the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment… This is the God who awaits us!

Anointed, Bathed, Sent 4th Sunday of Lent

Jesus heals the man blind from birth

The readings for this 4th Sunday of Lent help carry us on the journey to Easter. The Baptismal theme of Lent is reinforced today with the story of the healing of the man blind from birth.

Much of this Gospel is spent establishing that the man was truly born blind so that his healing can be seen as the miracle it truly is, by those who want to see. Not everyone wants to see and believe the works of Jesus. A question for us to ponder…Do we want to see and believe the works of Jesus?

Jesus tells the disciples that this man’s blindness is to show God’s works through him. In that line we should hear that regardless of our infirmities, limitations, social standing and blindness that God’s works are accomplished within and through us.

As the story goes, Jesus makes mud and smears it on the man’s eyes and sends him to bath in the healing Pool of Siloam. 

Was the trip to Siloam necessary? Did Jesus have to add a Step 2 to the process of healing? 

Simply put, yes!

This Gospel is analogous to a faith journey- our faith journey. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “faith is a supernatural gift from God.” This gift, this invitation of God, is made to all human beings. But the gift must be accepted and acted upon for humankind to actualize the gift and develop a life of faith.

The man born blind was given a gift from God, his anointing with the mud, but for the gift to be realized, in this case, for the man to see, he had to accept what Jesus did and said and take a free will action of his own to allow the work of God to be seen through him. He had to go to Siloam as a sign of his faith being put into practice. Without his action, his healing would not have been complete.

Just like this blind man we too have been, or for our Baptism candidates will be, anointed, bathed and sent.  At Baptism we are anointed with Sacred Oil of Chrism. We are bathed by the Holy Spirit in the water of rebirth, and sent into the world to follow Jesus, to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the earth, and to put our faith into action as we love God and love neighbor.

Baptism is the gateway into our life of faith. Walk through it…and keep walking… be sent in the name of the Lord.

@2020, Deacon Bill Fobes