Sunday Word

Find hope, growth with Holy Spirit

Father Hernández
Sunday, July 23
Wis 12:13, 16-19; Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

Before we approach the three parables we read this Sunday from Matthew 13, it may be good to begin with what St. Paul tells us in the second reading: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning.” All three parables speak of things that cannot be done without God’s help, and St. Paul shares the same message, in a sense. We cannot even pray without God’s Spirit being the one who prays in us. To ponder this message can truly leave us with our mouths open in wonder. Any sincere and real prayer we make to God is only possible because the Holy Spirit, within us, is moving us and is inspiring our prayer.

The growth of the kingdom of heaven is also the work of the Spirit, and our three parables insist on this point. It is not our kingdom, but God’s. The first and longest parable is that of the weeds among the wheat. As we look at the world around us, there are so many signs that an enemy has come and sowed weeds all through the wheat. There is much temptation to go out weeding, as if we were pulling out weeds in our backyard, and find out what (or who) needs to be weeded.

The constant challenge for us as Catholic Christians is to find the way to oppose forcefully the constant attacks on the dignity of human life and the family without becoming judgmental like those who said to their master, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” Currently right here in Florida and in our country, we can speak up for the rights of the unborn, for the meaning of a lifelong marriage between one woman and one man, and for justice for immigrants, especially immigrant minors, innocent of the actions of their parents and of politicians.

On the world stage, we are always called to be witnesses to peace, praying as the Spirit teaches us for real peace for all peoples. But in all of this, we must avoid, as Pope Francis has insisted on many occasions, the temptation of becoming judges ourselves. And thus, Jesus gives us the words of the Master: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” If we believe the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of mercy and forgiveness, then the words of the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, certainly speak to the reason for Jesus to tell his disciples to avoid weeding: “You gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

The parable of the mustard seed gives us hope that while it can sometimes seem, in our post-Christian age, that the time for the Church is past, the Spirit is still giving growth to the little mustard seed. Our task is to allow ourselves to be a part of that growth, to trust and not put up obstacles. This parable is not about triumphalism, proclaiming our glorious impending victory to the disbelieving pagans, but about confident hope as we live the life of the kingdom in freedom, despite our own weakness.

The final parable, of the woman and the yeast, speaks to the doubt we can all have as to whether our efforts at living the Catholic faith are worthwhile. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to “the yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Our challenge as Catholic Christians, nourished by the bread of life in the Eucharist, is to become ourselves that yeast that can leaven “the whole batch” of the world today. To be that leaven, we have to be different than the world around us. We need to judge reality by the standards of the kingdom. We must be able to change reality, not by our numbers or our power, but by the effect of our own humble witness. Can we make a difference? Are we yeast?

To be unafraid when we see weeds around us, to trust that the small seed of the kingdom will continue to grow and to be the yeast that can leaven the world — the Holy Spirit can make all of this possible for us as Catholic Christians and all of us as the Church, for “he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

The word of God cannot be fruitless

Father Hernández
Sunday, July 16
Is 55:10-11; Ps 65:10-14; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23 or 13: 1-9

When you have worked hard on a particular task, whether a project at work or a project for a parish community, it is normal to look back, wondering if it was all worth it. Parents, whose children have grown up, look back to see how much success they have had in their mission. Elderly people will often consider what fruit their lives have borne, as they see that there is less road ahead of them than behind.

Our readings today speak to us of bearing fruit. Isaiah compares the word of the Lord to the waters of rain and writes: “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” The word of God cannot be fruitless. This truth assures us that our efforts, nurtured by the word of God, cannot be fruitless either. The psalmist expresses a similar idea, after describing the work that the Lord has done in his fields: “The fields are garmented with flocks and the valleys blanketed with grain. They shout and sing for joy.”

It is this joy that St. Paul, writing to the Romans, makes clear that not only are all people waiting for, but all of creation: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” The assurance that all we do for and with Christ, animated by his Spirit, will bear fruit is what allows us to work with courage in the world.

This passage from Romans begins: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Catholics do not look for suffering. We are not masochists. But we look at the world realistically, and we can see the truth, pointed out many times by recent popes, most recently by Pope Francis, that there have been more Christian martyrs in the last century than in the previous 19 Christian centuries. We know there is suffering in each of our lives. But none of this compares with the joy that awaits us.

In his 2007 encyclical “Spe Salvi,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told the story of a Vietnamese martyr of the mid-19th century, Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, who after describing the terrible sufferings he was experiencing in prison, wrote: “In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor toward the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart.” Paul Le-Bao-Tinh’s hope, in the midst of “the sufferings of this present time,” is truly amazing, and during this summer, where we have so much violence in the world and even in our own land, it is good to be reminded of the hope that defeats all despair.

Turning now to the Gospel parable of the sower and the seed, perhaps the most amazing hope of all, speaking by way of analogy, is that of God himself, who knowing our weakness, commends his seed to us to grow. Jesus describes in the parable the many ways the growth of the seed can be stopped before it starts, stunted or choked off. Yet the sower continues to sow. God trusts in us to bear fruit, because he knows that it is his work that we are to do and his fruit that we are to bear.

Summer is certainly a good time for all of us to pause and take stock of our lives. Can we look honestly, but at the same time hopefully, at the reality of our lives? Can we trust that if the Lord has done the sowing and the watering, then our lives will bear fruit, even if sometimes the signs do not seem so clear to us? Can we accept that suffering may have been in the past, or may be now, a part of our Christian journey, but that this is not a reason to despair, but precisely the occasion to “cast our anchor toward the throne of God”? Can we trust that Jesus will continue to care for and water and fertilize the seed of the kingdom of God he has planted in us and that we (each of us, and all of us together in the Church) can indeed bear fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold”?

Jesus invites us into the life of the Trinity

Father Hernández
Sunday, July 9
Zec 9:9-10; Ps 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30

The words of today’s Gospel are among the most beautiful and at the same time the most challenging in the Scriptures. Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Is it not the mission of every Catholic parish to make this invitation heard and believed by all? Is it not our mission to allow all to hear Jesus’ invitation to come to him and share in his rest?

At the same time, it can sometimes be difficult to believe that Jesus really will give us rest, that his yoke is truly easy and that his burden is really light. Last week we heard about carrying our cross and following Jesus. Today we hear about a light burden. Especially if the cross is very much present in our lives, we might want to say to the Lord: “Make up your mind!”

But the rest that Jesus promises to us can only make sense in the context of the earlier assurance: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” The most important thing that Jesus does for us, as we celebrated a few weeks ago on Trinity Sunday, is invite us into his relationship of love with his Father, to invite us into the life of the Trinity. When we come to appreciate and begin to live ourselves the joy of that awesome relationship, then what seems to be only cross and yoke and burden — in the eyes of the world — can become life and ease and lightness.

Zechariah announces that something new is coming, a cause for joy: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion. Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” The reason to “rejoice heartily” and to “shout for joy” is that Jesus is indeed with us in our burdens and inviting us into his rest, that he is inviting us into that relationship of love with his Father. The very title of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on evangelization, “Evangelii Gaudium,” states it perfectly — “The Joy of the Gospel.” Pope Francis invites us all to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ precisely as the cause of our joy, and he invites all of us in the Church to be communicators of that joyful good news. It all starts with knowing the Father, as revealed to us by the Son.

It is the Holy Spirit who makes this communication possible, as it is the Holy Spirit who binds the Father and the Son in love (again, as we celebrated on Trinity Sunday): “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” The Christian who believes this is truly alive and is able to share that life with all he or she meets.

We hear the invitation of Jesus to come to him and allow him to carry our burdens, and we seek to bring that invitation to others in his name. We hear the good news of something that is truly a cause for rejoicing and singing for joy, and our very joy is the most important instrument of evangelization. All of this occurs as we are drawn into Jesus’ relationship with his Father, becoming able to call him “Father” ourselves. With the Spirit of Christ living in us, we already now begin to live a new life, a life that transforms us and has the capacity to transform all around us. May the Spirit of Christ help all of us, in the Church universal and in our dioceses and parishes, and help each one of us as individual Catholic Christians to fulfill our mission; extending the loving welcome of Jesus to each person we meet: Come to me!

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

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