One of the beautiful things about Jesus’ parables is that he uses these everyday examples to make his teaching more relatable, more accessible to every body.  But I have to confess that this particular parable hit me somewhat differently this time then in years past.  Up until recently my experience of seeds, plants planting or gardening in general had been pretty minimal.  At the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State University where I serve, our office manager Mary and I will go to Home Depot or some local greenhouse, get a pot with some plants already pre-grown, and ditch them at the end of the season.  They were all simple and easy enough –  they looked nice and seemed to do well without a lot of attention.

Hi everyone here’s my homily for the 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME  JULY 12, 2020.   Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even more for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again… I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim

It wasn’t until the last few years that our plants were continually being destroyed that I started paying more attention. It started with our mums in Fall of 2018 getting vandalized.  Which I assumed was some nameless, faceless delinquent college students who walked passed the front of our place on their way to campus.  I got so infuriated that I considered getting a camera for the front of our house.  Then a few months later, during Holy Week, I had been at the store and saw a bunch of tulips already grown and blooming.  I thought that would dress up the place for Easter so I bought them and planted them.  A day later, Good Friday no less, came home that night from helping at a local parish and saw they were destroyed.  The whole row of tulips looked like they had been chopped in half.  Knowing that no one was around or on campus I found a new culprit – those freaking deer that roam around our property.  So now I’m reaching out to some friends of mine who are hunters and asking “hey are you busy for a day?” When they turned me down, I started looking up how to “deer proof” your garden – what plants are deer resistant, what you can do to discourage them from eating your plants.  Reading all these different suggestions and advice, I had set out to redo our landscaping in the coming weeks.  Early May of last year, I had bought the right plants, put them in pots up on the stairs of the porch – so they would be a bit out of reach for deer.  The lady at the store was able to get me to purchase coyote urine spary that was supposed to ward them off – which in hindsight I really feel like an idiot for purchasing.  But at the time, I felt pretty confident and proud of things and was looking forward to seeing the “fruits of my labor.”

A few days later, I’m leaving the center and was closing our front door when I caught him. This nasty ground hog is standing there on his hind legs, helping himself to the third pot of plants (having already helped himself to two others) I just stood there frozen in shock for a moment and the two of us locked eyes with this stare down.   I realize now that this is when I lost my mind as I started yelling at the Ground hog “I’ve been blaming the poor deer and it’s been YOU” as I went lunging towards him.  What did I plan on doing if I caught him?  Well, I hadn’t really thought that far ahead.  Of course he waddled away and jumped down one hole (which happened to be at the foot of the massive crucifix we have in front) to which I followed up with “Jesus isn’t going to save your furry butt.”  In any event, I spent way too much time googling how to ground hog proof your garden, what can you do to discourage or make it difficult for them to finally searching out “okay how can I ‘take care of them’ -get rid of them permanently?”  The most humane way, which this nasty animal has our office manager to thank for showing him mercy, was done by this company called “Fur Patrol” who for a ridiculous fee set traps for four days, caught them and “relocated them” – I say them because they ended up catching 3 ground hogs as well as 3 skunks about 5 weeks ago.   They also found the “holes” and filled them in with concrete to prevent their friends and relatives returning.

One benefit from this whole experience has been a better appreciation of the work that goes into gardening.  I realize that – even if we do end up buying a ready-made pot of plants  – you still have to be attentive to how much water, how much sun, how much fertilizer they need.  You have to be protective of them from ground hogs or other wildlife… be mindful of changes in the weather.  I don’t think I ever gave much thought to how you have to be vigilant when it comes to plants.

With this parable about the sower and the seeds, Jesus is challenging us, asking, do we recognize the same is true for the gift of faith each of us has been given?  What type of soil are we?  Are we vigilant, mindful, protective of the Word of God we receive?

Because oftentimes when encountering this particular Gospel passage, there’s a temptation to look outward.  To assign people to different categories being laid out here.  Our minds think of so and so who used to come to Mass but doesn’t anymore and think “oh that must be those who Jesus was talking about with the rocky ground who started out all excited but then fell away.” Or that relative who has completely disavowed the Catholic faith and now says they’re a Buddhist or agnostic, they must be the ones who Jesus meant who ‘heard the word without understanding it’ and the evil one has stolen away.   But good rule of thumb for us:  Jesus isn’t interested in feeding our egos to somehow feel more righteous than anyone else… in fact that would be the last thing he would do.    As Catholic Christians when we gather for Mass yes we gather as a community, but in this gathering, each of us encounter Jesus personally and intimately.  So there’s an urgency as He lays out these scenarios of seed and soil and saying are we fertile ground or not?  How vigilant, attentive, how protective am I, receiving the Word of God – in both scripture but also, Jesus who is the incarnation of the Word of God and who’s body and blood I receive in the Eucharist?

It’s tempting to think “I’m here, so I’m good…”  Even for me as a priest, I can be foolish in thinking that just by ordination, my life of faith must be producing some crops if not a 100 or 60 fold, or even 30 fold at least something?  But if I’m honest with myself as I go line by line and listen to Jesus speaking to my heart, there’s work to be done and all of these scenarios can hit close to home.  Are there things in my life that need healing?  Are there areas where I feel a lack of peace?  Do I get stressed out and anxious about things?  I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with some (all) of these things.  Heck I was just telling you about my obsession with wildlife in our yard that had me plotting how to kill a ground hog, so yeah, I’ve got some issues.

But the good news is that Jesus loves you and me.  And He wants us to know that love, and experience that love in the here and now.  In every moment of every day – with whatever it is we’re facing.  So as we go through those different scenarios that Jesus laid out, we hear Jesus asking us to probe ourselves on a much more personal level:  Do I guard my relationship with Jesus Christ from worldly anxieties?  I don’t know about you, but I know watching, reading news of protests and riots, and looting – getting drawn into divisive fights about everything from politics to reopening things – none of that has made me feel more peaceful, more joyful, more Christ like.  The lesson – yeah we need to know about all the things going on in the world – but do I allow those things to re-orient me where the things of this world become of greater importance?  I’ve noticed that just by cutting back how many hours of news that I digest and shifting that to engage some other things – spiritual reading, I’ve been watching this bible-based series that’s free on the internet called The Chosen… Even in the car, rather than listening to current events pod-casts, just making that a time I pray the rosary or listen to something that will enliven my faith  – those are ways that I can help guard my heart – not letting the drumbeat of non-stop words of anger, negativity and fear to eclipse, distract or take priority over Christ in my life.

Does the temptation to the lure of riches sometimes cause me to forget the blessings, the favor of God?  Sadly yeah, I can see how that pops in my own life.   I’ll go online to Amazon to order something and there it comes up with suggestions of things picked out specifically for me it become enticing…. or emails that seem to know some things I like and luring me with “now on sale” that my mind starts thinking “it would be foolish not to get this thing now when it’s on sale.”  All of these are things that promise to make me happy, more comfortable, more productive and somehow never seem to live up to those expectations.  Rather they can cause me to forget all that I have been blessed with, and the things, the gifts that are of most importance.  One way of dealing with that is putting a time out on purchasing things.  Just saying I’m not going to buy this right now, I’ll wait a day or two and ask is this something I need.

Finally, am I willing to be “hated” by the world am I willing to suffer persecution or struggles for standing firm with the word of God as being what is true, what is right, what is just?   We see a lot of people right now very boldly, loudly protesting chants and posting signs with sayings that the crowd (or mob) demand everyone agrees with.  But do we dare to dig deeper and be a bit more thoughtful and consider what is being asked, what’s being said before we blindly go along?  Do we even push back and risk the wrath in saying something we know to be true and of even greater importance:  that our faith in Jesus Christ has made us beloved sons and daughters of God – that’s our identity.  It’s not my gender, my ethnicity, my race, my nationality or any other thing that matters… and people fixating on all of those things are using them to isolate, cause further division and tension among an already divided and tense world.   In Jesus Christ, the greatest truth is that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God.  That gives each of us a dignity and demands a reverence on our part.  That’s what matters the most.

Jesus is calling each of us to deeper intimacy with Him.  We can sometimes discount how precious and important a gift it is.   Because it’s so freely, generously and lavishly poured out on us we sometimes can take it for granted treating our faith like a maintenance free, ready-grown plant rather than a seed that we’re responsible to nurture.  Jesus calls us blessed if we have eyes and ears that open, attentive, receptive – to being vigilant, mindful and protective of this precious gift of faith He has offered us.