Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heaven is for Real, Weeds Among the Wheat

There's a book that came out recently and is the number one best seller on the New York Times: "Heaven is for Real". It deals with an account of a young boy who has this wonderful experience of heaven. While it didn’t really do much for me, it does get us thinking about the idea of heaven. The book helps us to realize the reality of Heaven which we sometimes forget because it seems so far away.

In the Gospel today Jesus gives us His own account of Heaven

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”

Now this is a very different account from the glimpse of Heaven that Holden has in "Heaven is for Real." And Yes, Heaven will be all that we could ever hope for and more... but Jesus shows us that the Kingdom of Heaven is also experienced in the here and now... right here... right now... in your life.... "Heaven is for Real."

Sometimes we doubt that we can experience the kingdom on this earth because we look around and see evil all around us... think of the daughter of Casey Anthony, The Murders of Anthony Sowell in Cleveland, and even some of the crime in your own home town. Then think of some of the evil in your own work environment, your home, and even in your own heart. We can get discouraged, become afraid, and despair, but we don't need to. Jesus tells us to expect it evil in our world.

In this life, Heaven is for Real, but right now it is a mixture of good and evil, weeds and wheat, working themselves out. But here's the thing. God permits it, he doesn't allow us to rip all of the weeds out, or get rid of all the bad people, and make everything easy. No, we are a work in progress. And the key is that in the end, when the master comes to harvest, the weeds will be ripped out and burned and the wheat will be harvested. The wheat will survive.

Just because we see evil present in our world, we shouldn't doubt the existence of God or the in breaking of His kingdom. No, in fact we should realize it is exactly as he foretold. In this life we will constantly grow and toil and wrestle with evil. Why? God permits it for our growth and wellbeing. We grow even stronger in virtue and goodness in the presence of evil.

In his book “Weeds among the Wheat,” Thomas H. Green SJ describes that even in our own soul we will struggle until that final harvest with the intermingling of the weeds and the wheat… “We can see that some at least of our instinctual and involuntary weaknesses are likely to remain in us until the harvest time of death. The lord leaves them in us to keep us humble, to make you realize how totally we depend on him and how helpless we are to do good without his grace and his power. The wheat of our virtues – truest, humility, gratitude, zeal – could not come to full maturity; it seems without the weeds of our instinctual failings.” (Green 145)

St. Paul spoke so strongly of this when he referred to the thorn in his flesh that would not be removed and growing content with his weakness. We too experience this same weakness in ourselves when we do the things we hate and don’t do the things we want to do. We too must learn to be content with our weakness with a trust that God will sort us out in the end.

So think about some of the weeds in your life right now. Maybe it's a difficult relationship, or a downright nasty person at work, or a tension in your marriage or family. These weeds, this presence of evil, are not a sign that God has abandoned you. No, it is a sign that he is working out your redemption right in your midst. Maybe it is even weeds and wheat growing in your own heart. Different pulls and tensions, temptations, and graces. The weeds and the wheat growing together. But, not forever. Don't be discouraged, you’re all right, trust that the wheat will continue to grow. In the end, there will be a harvest. The wheat will have grown strong and will be gathered, and the weeds will be pulled out and burned. Heaven is for Real, and it is in our midst in the weeds and the wheat, in the struggle and toil, in endurance of good in the face of evil. Heaven is for Real.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunflower Seeds Homily

A few weeks ago I planted some sunflower seeds. I'm not much of a gardener but I have really enjoyed the few things that I have planted. It's actually a great mystery to me and I kind of delight like a child when I see things grow. In the fall my aunt had given me a large head from her sunflower plant and told me how to take the seeds out when to plant them. I have a house with a few other priests where I go on my day off so I decided to plant them there.

As I mentioned, I don’t really know anything about this so i figured i better try it in a few different places. I planted some in the back yard by our Mary shrine, some in the back corner, some in a planter, some in the front yard. A few weeks later I could see the difference. In the back corner nothing seemed to grow, by the Mary shrine a few tiny ones, in another spot a couple grew, but have already withered away because the soil is not very deep, and in the front yard they are growing beautifully, already a few feet tall. I have to believe that all the seeds I planted had the potential to grow, but only the ones in the good soil have grown into what they are intended to be.

The same is true for us when we come to mass. There are a lot of seeds spread out here today. God's Word is literally dumped out in abundance on us. Every time we go to mass the seed is spread when we hear the readings and especially when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. His Word is effective and His Word has great potential. Ahhh... but here's the catch. The Word of God needs good soil.

So the question is: "How is your soil today?"

Is it hard like the path? Is it rocky? Is it Thorny?

How do we make our soil rich moist soil where God's seed can grow?

First off, if there are any big stones or rocks in your life you need to get rid of them. What do I mean by this? Sin. If there are any grave or serious sins that you are toying with in your life, they are keeping the seed of God's word from really growing in you. Get rid of the stones. Go to confession. Let that encounter with the Lord in the person of the priest remove some of the rocky areas of your life. Then the seed can have deep roots in rich soil.

Second, has your soil become hard and dry? Does God seem distant or unimportant in your life? If so, the seeds not going to have much of a chance of growing in you. Our soil must be deep and moist. My sunflower plant in the back corner only grew a few inches and shriveled because there were only a couple inches of soil. Your soil must be deep. How do we deepen our soil? Sunday Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith but it can't be the only time that we pray. In order for us to have some depth we must spend some time each and every day in intense, focused, solid prayer. For beginners that may be 10 or 15 minutes, up to a Holy Hour for those most advanced. One of the best ways to spend this time is with the readings for the upcoming Sunday. If you've spent some time each day meditating on this, reflecting upon it, thinking about it, contemplating it, dwelling in it you will come to mass with very deep and rich soil.

Finally, Is your path is thorny? If there are areas in your life that maybe aren't even sinful, but simply do not foster the gospel way of life there may be some things that are slowing or choking your growth. These are usually the attachments to people, places or things. Is there someone in your life that you are just giving too much energy too? Is there somewhere in your life that you are using as an escape? Is there something that you find yourself too attached too or too consumed by? These thorns will also detract from the growth that can come from the seed planted in the Sunday Eucharist.

So yes, Sunflower seeds will in fact grow into a large and beautiful plant, but they do require good soil. The same is true for the Word of God. It is effective. It is being poured out in abundance when you come to mass. If you want it to grow in your life, you gotta have good soil. How’s your soil? If it is rocky, hard, or thorny, do what you can to come to the mass prepared with rich, deep, moist soil. If your soil is good then the Word of God can grow and blossom fully and beautifully in your life.