Listen, You That Have Ears

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Sixteenth Sunday of the Year A

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 85: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16a
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13: 24-43

Holding One's Ear to the Word

Wisdom speaks, saying, "Never should thy own children despair" (Wis 12:19). The psalmist sings, "Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild" (Ps 85:5). The Apostle says, "The Spirit comes to the aid of our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). Finally, the Word himself, arriving in the Gospel, speaks to those who have ears to hear: "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man. And the field is the world. And the good seed are the children of the Kingdom" (Mt 13:37-38). The Word given us today is not easily synthesized. One must be willing to hold one's ear to today's Word for a good long while before certain harmonics begin to make themselves heard.

The Demon of Routine

The Gospel obliges us to exchange the meaning attached to the images given us in last Sunday's parable of the sower for another level of meaning. Our Lord plays with the same images -- sower and seed, field and harvest -- but today, through them, He is communicating another mystery. The Divine Teacher obliges us at every moment to listen with ears that are quick to hear, and to look with eyes wide open, lest the demon of routine, the enemy of our souls, slip in to sow the confusion of cockle among the wheat.

Sown in the Field of the World

In last Sunday's parable, the seed was the Word. Christ was the sower sent by the Father to sow the seed of the Word profusely, lavishly, almost carelessly, in every human heart. In today's parable, the sower of the seed is again Christ, but the field is the world and the good seed are the children of the Kingdom (Mt 13:37-38). It is not the Word that is sown far and wide; in today's Gospel it is rather the hearers of the Word who are sown in the vast field of the world. The disciples, hearers of the Word, are the seed Christ scatters abroad. Christ implants in the world those in whom His Word has been fruitful, yielding "in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty" (Mt 13:23).

Alongside the Weeds

By planting His Church in every place, Christ has sown His own good seed among the nations, "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal 1:11). We are the seed sown by the Son of Man. We are the seed tossed into the field of the world to "grow together until the harvest" (Mt 13:30) alongside of weeds sown by the enemy.

The Priestly Prayer in the Cenacle

Today's parable is, I think, best illumined by the priestly prayer of Jesus in the Cenacle. It is a prayer for the good seed, "the children of the kingdom" (Mt 13:38), sown in the field of the world. "I have given them thy message, and the world has nothing but hatred for them, because they do not belong to the world, as I, too, do not belong to the world. I am not asking that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them clear of what is evil. They do not belong to the world, as I, too, do not belong to the world; keep them holy, then, through the truth; it is thy word that is truth (Jn 17:14-17). Jesus' priestly prayer shines on today's parable and brings it into focus. Jesus prays not that the seed be taken out of the world, but that the seed be protected from the evil one. He prays for the children of the Kingdom, the seed of His Church, a seed sprouting holiness.

Grace in Weakness

What are the signs of a sprouting holiness in others and in ourselves? The First Reading offers some elements of discernment. First, holiness is the fruit not of striving and straining, nor of any natural talent or psychological predisposition, nor of accumulated good works, nor of a strong will, but of grace. "Of all justice, thy power is the true source" (Wis 12:16). The Vulgate has, "Thy power is the beginning of justice" (Wis 12:16). "My grace is enough for thee," said Christ to Paul, "my strength finds it full scope in thy weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).

Mildness and Forbearance

Second, true holiness is marked by mildness and by forbearance, by what the Vulgate calls the humanitas of God our Saviour (Tit 3:4). "A lenient judge thou provest thyself, riding us with a light rein" says our text from Wisdom (Wis 12:18). Holiness in the children of the kingdom is but the reflection of Christ who alone is holy. The holiness of Our Lord Jesus Christ is characterized, above all, by clemency, mildness, indulgence and mercy. In authentic holiness there is nothing harsh, nothing overbearing, nothing that crushes the spirit or extinguishes hope. We heard the prophecy of Isaiah in yesterday's Gospel: "He will not snap the staff that is already crushed, or put out the wick that still smoulders" (Is 42:3; Mt 12:20). The refrain of today's Responsorial Psalm bears this out, more strikingly in the editio typica. There, we read, Tu, Domine, suavis et mitis es. "Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild" (Ps 85:5).

To Those Who Pray

Holiness is the Father's gift communicated in Christ Jesus through the inward operations of the Holy Spirit to those accept it, that is, to those who pray. This is where today's passage from Romans comes in. Saint Paul knows the dilemma of those beset by infirmity: those who would pray but do not know how to pray. "The Spirit," he says, "helps us in our infirmity, and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26-27).

Pray Always

One who stops praying seals his own fate. One who prays is certain of obtaining help in infirmity. Pray for the grace never to stop praying. Listen to the reflection of the saintly Jesuit, Père de Ravignan (1795-1858):

Believe me, my dear friends, believe an experience ripened by thirty years in the sacred ministry. I do here affirm that all deceptions, all spiritual deficiencies, all miseries, all falls, all faults, and even the most serious wanderings out of the right path, all proceed from this single source -- a want of constancy in prayer.

The Holy Spirit

Our Lord does not abandon the good seed scattered by His hand in the vast field of the world. "He who is to befriend you, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send on my account, will in His turn make everything plain, and recall to your minds everything that I have said to you" (Jn 14:25). Even as the good seed grows together with the weeds until the harvest, it is secretly nourished and protected by the Holy Spirit.

The Children of the Kingdom

Drawn down by the epiclesis, the Church's solemn invocation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Paraclete, the Source of all fecundity, is poured out upon the good seed. The Mass is the summit of the intercession made by the Spirit "for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:27). The Father who searches the heart of every child of the kingdom, is pleased, in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, to mark His own with the sweetness and mildness of His Christ. By this are "the children of the kingdom" distinguished from "the children of the evil one" (Mt 13:38). On the day of the great harvest, the angels will be sent out to reap the fruits of holiness sprung from the good seed. And on that day, "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen" (Mt 13:43).


"First, holiness is the fruit not of striving and straining, nor of any natural talent or psychological predisposition, nor of accumulated good works, nor of a strong will, but of grace."

Where does effort come in? Pope Benedict's duality of Flesh and Soul? St. Benedict's Pray & Work (Ora et Labora)? Etc.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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