A few years ago, there was a story in the news about a police officer named Officer Nate, who was working an overtime shift when he was directed to respond to an emergency call.  The cop happened to be just around the block and was able to reach the incident in just a few seconds. He arrived to discover that an older man had collapsed and stopped breathing.   So he performed CPR on the man until the fire department and emergency squad responded.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -JULY 16, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

Officer Nate shared that over the years, he has had a career in law enforcement; he’s been called on to perform CPR a few times, but this was the first time he had ever been able to revive someone.  Soon after, the medics could transport the man to the hospital.  Officer Nate continued his day with various other calls and emergencies he needed to respond to, somewhat putting this particular call out of his mind.

A few days later, while on patrol again, he was summoned back to Police headquarters.  When he entered the station lobby, a younger man stood there waiting for Officer Nate.  It turned out that this man’s father was the one that Officer Nate had done CPR on, and he just came by the station hoping to thank the man who had saved his father’s life.  Officer Nate was happy and excited and shook his hand just as the man explained that his father passed away the next day.  Officer Nate was stunned and instantly stopped in his tracks.  He said that he felt horrible for celebrating.

We want the Happy, Triumphant, Hollywood-style ending, don’t we?  You know, the ending where the next day, there are pictures of a grateful man in his hospital gown on the road to recovery, shaking hands with a humbled but proud cop who could chalk this one up as a good or positive end when so often the majority of his calls, just because of the nature of police work, so often end on a negative, unpleasant note.  That’s a very understandable, natural human desire.

What makes it understandable, natural human desire, is that it is so relatable.  How many people are doing the right things with the best of intentions and end up frustrated that those best efforts don’t meet the remotest of their expectations?  Which so often is followed by disappointment and discouragement flooding in.

Things like:

-The student who does the work:  study, get their homework done, are prepared for class, cram for their tests, and don’t cheat but still struggle in that course…

-The employee who treats their coworkers with respect – does their work consistently competently, doesn’t suck up to their bosses or cut down those around them and doesn’t get that promotion or raise or any recognition….

-Parents who did everything they could for their kids, took them to Mass every Sunday, sent them to Catholic Schools, or brought them to CCD, and now their kids don’t practice the faith or seem to have any faith at all anymore.

Even as a priest, I have to admit discouragement in my ministry.  I’m trying to be attentive to all the different responsibilities… I try to be supportive and encouraging to the students, the staff, the missionaries who work with us… I try to be open and creative to new ideas and outreaches – why hasn’t Mass attendance doubled?

The beauty of this parable that Jesus offers today in the Gospel of the Sower and the Seeds is that Jesus relates to the frustrations we can encounter in finding our sometimes best, noblest, most virtuous efforts not producing the result we hoped for or expected.  Think about what we just heard – a majority of the examples Jesus offers – in three out of four scenarios, the sower’s efforts result seemingly in nothing:  Birds, rocky soil, and thorns all thwart the efforts of the farmer planting the seeds.   In just that one instance, where the seed meets the rich soil, it produces an abundant harvest, growing 100, 60 or 30 fold.

The more I sit with this parable, the more the quote from Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind.  When asked about the incredibly challenging work she undertook in serving the poorest of the poor, those dying that had been discarded and forgotten by seemingly everyone, where no matter what she or her sisters were able to do, there was this never-ending and ever-growing numbers of people in need, in the face of all that, she didn’t give in to exhaustion or frustration.  She responded   – God has not called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful.  Just imagine if we really believed that… trusted that.  God asks us to be faithful – to His word – to His commands – to His direction in our lives.  He asks us to faithfully sow the seeds – being the best parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, employees, students, priests we can be.  He asks us to faithfully, lovingly do whatever it is we’ve been called to do… He wants us to do the works of mercy – caring for the poor, attending to the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned… And to do all of it for Him… knowing that sometimes our best efforts not yielding the crop we wanted, whether that means we didn’t get the response or reaction we hoped for, or it seems like it didn’t do anything, or that nothing seems to be different  – none of those things that we allow to judge and determine so many aspects of our lives in our world, Jesus tells us in the life of faith, that’s not what defines their importance.

For the perfectionists among us (and here I’m really preaching to myself), that’s essential.  God is in charge… not you or me.  And God has not called me to be successful, he has called me to be faithful.  Often times we may never know the importance or the effect of that faithfulness… of our work…

Officer Nate said that as he apologized for being excited to meet the son of the man he saved only to learn he died the next day, the guy said, “No, I appreciate you so much.  Because you brought my dad back and I could fly in from Florida to say goodbye to him one last time before he passed.” The officer revealed, “I don’t get too emotional very often in this job, but my eyes were flooded as we hugged.” Another family member posted on her Facebook page: “Today we met the police officer that performed CPR on our dad and brought him back long enough for our family to spend another precious day with him.  There are no words that can describe how truly thankful we are . . . you will always be in our hearts.  Stay safe out there.”

Not the Hollywood-story, happy and heroic ending he wanted… but from the perspective of eternity, this chapter ending like that could have been even more important and meaningful than the cop could have ever imagined.    Jesus calling us to be faithful wants us to trust that sowing seeds is indeed noble, important work…

So often, it’s our expectations that can take the joy out of things in life.  That time we went the extra mile to help someone only to have them fail us somehow:  They didn’t respond in a spirit of gratitude; they squandered the money.   So often, it’s our expectations that can take the joy out of being a Christian.    That time we prayed for that sick relative; that time we pushed ourselves to go to Mass and felt less than inspired; that time we offered forgiveness to someone simply because Jesus asked us to when the person didn’t really deserve it (or appreciate it)

In all of these and countless other ways, instead of feeling foolish in helping, or offering or serving, Jesus wants us to rejoice in knowing that we were faithful.  Remembering that all that we have is God’s gifts to us in the first place.  He blesses us to bless others.  And He is blessed and glorified when we go about doing just that… sowing the seeds he has entrusted us with.