Sexagesima Sunday

"The seed is the word of God."--Luke 8

Every Gospel which the Church reads or expounds to the faithful during the ecclesiastical year, points to a dogma or duty intimately connected with our life as children of the Church and of God. This is the case in today's Gospel, which contains a special admonition.

Christ speaks of hearing the divine Word. He refers to the fruit which it should, but unfortunately seldom does, produce. Christ also explains the reasons and circumstances which prevent the word of God from exercising the desired influence upon the lives of the children of the Church.

Let us meditate today upon the explanations which the Lord himself gives us on this subject. O Mary, thou who didst hear the Word of God as it should be heard, and who didst "keep that Word, pondering it in thy heart," grant that the same Word may also bear fruit in our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

The first cause which Christ assigns why the Word of God bears not fruit, is contained in the words: "Some fell by the wayside." The trodden path represents the hearts of those who, despising the truths and laws of faith, pass their days in blindly following the example of others and in thinking only how they may render their lives as easy as possible. To this class belong not only numberless irreligious, but also many of the faithful who in their daily actions differ little from the irreligious.

Though, at times they hear the Word of God and at moments are conscious that their lives are not what faith demands, and though they frequently resolve to change their conduct, still the habit of a lax life has so grown upon them that the seed of the Word of God can not take root and will soon be trodden upon, owing to the wrong use they make of their lives, a use which, in the course of time, has become a second nature to them.

The example of others, too, prevents them from making promises of reformation or from keeping those which they may have made. They recognize during a sermon the necessity of caring above every thing else for their salvation, and of profiting by the graces which God bestows upon them; they harbor for the hour the most earnest resolve of changing their conduct and living as true Christians by attending for the future to prayer, the hearing of Mass, the reading of good books, and the frequent reception of the holy Sacraments. And yet they never do so. The next day they neglect as usual their morning prayers, and proceed as heedless as ever to their work. And why? Because they have grown accustomed to this manner of life, and do as others with whom they dwell. They could conveniently hear Mass during the week, but do not. They are not in the habit of doing so, and others are negligent about it. They made the resolution to receive the blessed Sacrament every month but neglect to do as they resolved. Why? They are not in the habit of going so frequently to holy Communion, and others have not this habit.

Human considerations, fear of man, combine to keep them back and pluck, so to say, the seed of a holy life from their hearts. They fear the displeasure of man more than that of God. The seed of the divine Word bears not for them the fruit of eternal life.

"Some fell upon a rock and withered away." Herein lies the second cause which prevents the Word of God from bearing fruit within us. The stones with which our hearts are filled prevent it from taking root. And what stones are these? They are the different habitual sins, those sins and temptations to which man has become a slave, which he can not resist, and the inclination to which has, so to say, become petrified.

Pride, avarice, anger, envy, enmity, intemperance, unchastity, all become through habit impenetrable rocks to the Word of God. It is true that even souls hardened in sin sometimes feel the influence of the divine Word which calls upon them to change their lives, and they resolve to follow the call; but the slightest temptation withers this frail blossom of an awakened conscience, and the seed of God's Word dies with it.

The third cause which prevents the seed of the divine Word from bearing fruit are the thorns which, as our Lord says, "growing up with the good seed, choked it." These thorns are our immoderate cares for earthly prosperity. The experiences of all ages of the world shows this to be the case. Men occupied with temporal cares heed not the warning of God's words, and forget that which should be their principal pursuit. These anxious people listen not to the warning of Christ: "What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Their maxim seems to be: Of what use is heaven to me, if in caring for it I suffer temporal losses. They heed not the words of Christ: "Seek first the kingdom of God," but seem to say: Seek first happiness upon earth, we will gain heaven any way.

Here is one circumstance in today's Gospel to which St. Gregory the Great refers when he says: Temporal goods may be compared to thorns. Children of men, you will not assent to this, but Christ Himself has said so, and who dares to contradict Him? To you they seem rather a velvet lawn upon which you can rest, yet your own experience must teach you the truth of the words of Christ. Confess, do not thoughts of how to win a fortune torment you day and night? And if you are in the possession of wealth, does not the fear that you may lose or employ it disadvantageously take away your rest? And lastly, how grieved you are when you lose it! You would give your share of heaven to regain it!

Ah! truly among temporal possessions there are thorns which stifle; the seed of the divine Word. Hence examine yourself earnestly and faithfully! Child of the Church, have you not contracted the habit of living, as most men do, after the example of the children of the world? Are there no stones in your heart, no sins which have become habitual?

Do not temporal cares choke the growth of your good resolutions to lead an edifying life, and do not they lessen your anxiety to obtain all which may help you to it?

Remove from your heart this dust, these stones, these thorns; and, no doubt, the Word of the Lord will bring forth fruit for the Life to come thirty, sixty, nay a hundred-fold! Amen!

"But that which fell on the good ground, are they who in a good and perfect heart,
hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience."--Luke 8

As Christ Himself compares the Word of God to seed which brings forth fruit for eternal life, it becomes most important for us to meditate well on all that He has said, in order that we may derive the benefit from it to which He refers in the parable.

Most ardently do I desire that this be the case today; for what greater wish can a preacher have than that the Word which he proclaims may not be lost, but that it bear fruit; nay more, that it bear good fruit threefold, sixfold, a hundred-fold for the life to come.

Consider with me the causes on which, according to Christ's own testimony the fructifying influence of the divine Word depends; then you will in future hear sermons with greater profit.

Mary, thou whom the Lord calls blessed, because thou not only didst hear the Word of God, but also kept it in thy heart, that it might bring forth fruit, pray for us, that we, thy children, may follow in thy footsteps! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

Those who bring forth fruit are they who hear the Word of God with a good and perfect heart. And who are these? I answer: They are those of whom the angels at the birth of Christ sang: "Peace to men of good will." They are those who are really filled with the desire to hear the Word of God, to understand it and to benefit by it. But of how many can this be said? The majority hear the Word of God, but the soil of their hearts is not prepared to receive the seed; it is neglected, not tilled. They evince neither the spirit of Christian self-abnegation in receiving the divine Word, nor the willingness to act in accordance with its precepts at any cost.

They listen not to a sermon with the sincere desire of profiting by it and deriving the assistance necessary to change and sanctify their lives. They listen to it as coming from a human being, and are more desirous of hearing a well-ordered speech than of being impressed and improved.

Were it otherwise, how soon men would reap the benefit of the sermons which they hear! The instruction heard on Sunday would remain in the memory all week long, and with it the determination to keep the resolution then taken of leading a life pleasing to God.

A true cry of the heart is: O God, enlighten me, strengthen me, that Thy Word may not be lost upon me, and speak Thou Thyself to my inmost soul, Thou who searchest the heart and mind, in order that Thy Word may bring forth fruit for heaven!

Secondly, it is necessary that we should not only hear the Word of God, but take it to heart, or as Christ says, that we should keep it, that is, meditate upon it and put it in practice. We must not be satisfied with merely receiving God's Word and taking no further notice of it, like a man who, according to St. James, looks into a mirror, and then goes away, presently forgetting what manner of man he is.

How many while listening to the Word of God feel in themselves the weaknesses which the preacher blames, or feel their obligation to serve God in earnest! Yet this impression lasts only during the sermon, and no sooner have they left the church than all is forgotten.

No! the seed must not remain on the surface; it must sink deep into the soil, take root, grow and bring forth fruit. That is to say, the Word of God must take root in our heart by the practical application of its teachings. How many are satisfied with merely understanding the meaning of a sermon or seizing the importance of the subject treated, without applying its lessons to their lives! They leave the church, and perhaps during the entire week never think once of what they heard. Hence the little fruit which accrues to them.

Thirdly, Christ admonishes us to bring forth fruit in patience. What an important admonition! No doubt patience is an indispensable condition, that the seed of the divine Word may give life to our hearts. "In patience," says the Lord, "you shall possess your souls." The Holy Ghost assures us through St. James that: "Patience hath a perfect work."

Our life is a trial in this vale of tears. The parable in today's Gospel says so plainly. Cast your eyes upon a field, and observe the manner in which it is tilled. First, the husbandman scatters the seed, which quietly falls wherever he throws it. It lies upon the ground and is covered with earth, or perhaps is trodden into the soil. There it lies patiently until it decays. The new germ then bursts forth and lifts its head higher and higher until it is rocked by the winds of heaven; it is refreshed by the dew and the rain and the sunshine; it is beaten by storms and hail and snow; it suffers all and grows on, bearing in time blossoms and fruit, and bending at last its head under the weight of its own product. Then it is cut, threshed and ground, and serves as nourishment to man and beast.

What a beautiful symbol of patience a virtue so necessary for the soul in which the seed of the divine Word shall fructify!

There are two more virtues whose influence is necessary, and these two are humility and unceasing thought of heaven. They give us strength to bring forth fruit in patience for eternal life.

In regard to the humility with which we should hear the Word of God, I need only remark that if we wish it to bear fruit for the salvation of our soul, the more humble we are the greater will be our desire to be instructed in sermons. The proud do not feel the need of instruction; they think they possess sufficient knowledge.

The more humble a Christian is, the less danger there is of his receiving the Word of God as though it were only the word of man. The humble hearer does not criticise the delivery of a sermon, and still less does he apply it to others instead of to himself.

Of not less importance is the second virtue of which I spoke, namely, the constant remembrance of heaven. Without doubt, the thought of the inexpressible reward that is prepared for those who have served God faithfully in this world, acts as a powerful stimulus in the practise of virtue. It not only gives us courage to do violence to ourselves, but makes this violence unnecessary by infusing into our hearts a holy eagerness to reach our blessed home.

Oh, were we thoroughly humble and had heaven continually before the eyes of our mind, then indeed the seed of the divine Word would be like unto the manna which fell from heaven in the wilderness, and would nourish us in this desert of life, and bear abundant fruit for eternity! Amen!

"And other some fell upon good ground: and being sprung up,
yielded fruit a hundred-fold."--Luke 8.

Not I--without divine grace, and not divine grace without me, but I with divine grace," thus speaks St. Bernard, paraphrasing the great Apostle of the Gentiles. We find in these words the cause why the divine Word does not bear fruit in all children of the Church in the same proportion. The principal reason lies in the different degrees of co-operation. Jesus points most distinctly to this difference in another place, when He speaks of the seed which yielded fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.

What is meant by thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold? Let me explain this to you today. Listen to me attentively, reflect with me and you will understand our Lord's meaning.

Mary, thou who didst willingly receive and faithfully guard, as no other mortal did, the Word of God, pray for us, that we may receive divine grace to follow thy example in hearing the Word of God and keeping it! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

And the seed bore fruit thirty-fold. What hearers of the divine Word are meant by those in whom the seed produced fruit thirty-fold? Who are they in whom it produced sixty, and who are they who gained a hundred-fold? We will readily understand this if we consider the meaning of Christian justice, and if we reflect on the different states or conditions in which the soul of man may be constituted.

First, then, we have souls who are in the state of disgrace, either because they voluntarily continue to live in irreligion or unbelief, or because, though believing children of the Church, they remain guilty of mortal sin.

"Avoid evil," is the fundamental principle of all justice, and the first condition necessary to gain salvation. As long as man remains in the state of mortal sin, the seed of the divine Word falls in vain upon his heart.

They, however, who are in the state of sin, and who by hearing the Word of God receive light and strength to be converted and lead for the future a sinless and God-fearing life bear fruit thirty-fold. The divine Word offers to every sinner this advantage, if he hear it not as proceeding from man, but as coming as it really does from God.

As soon as a person is truly converted, and sincerely confesses his sins, he begins to fulfill his duties as a Christian, and by prayer and other religious exercises brings forth fruit for heaven. But this fruit is still meager and largely mixed with the cockle of venial sins and imperfections. Such newly-converted persons frequently lack determination, not only in avoiding temptation to sin, which may again rob them of divine grace, but also in seeking after perfection and in keeping themselves free from every voluntary venial sin. They are satisfied with fulfilling those duties which they dare not neglect without offending God mortally. They think not of practising the virtue of Christian zeal with earnestness, but remain content with that degree of fidelity which merely saves them from the guilt of a grave sin of omission, although Christ calls those who are instant in the practice of virtue eight times blessed. They are unconcerned about it so long as no one can say to them: "You are a bad Christian." They do not trouble themselves to attain that degree of holiness which our vocation as children of the Church demands. The Word of God bears fruit in these thirty-fold but not sixty-fold. To gain the latter, the Christian must earnestly endeavor not only to avoid mortal sin, but also every voluntary venial sin, every little imperfection. In those who strive after this, the Word of God brings forth fruit sixty-fold.

A Christian, who is careful to avoid every venial sin and every imperfection, is more inclined to listen to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. He becomes more pleasing to God, and feels a stronger desire and a more courageous determination to fulfill His will whenever manifest. All his actions are adorned with a purer intention, because he returns the love of God with an unselfish affection. His works have more merit in the eyes of the Almighty and his reward is very great. In him the seed bears fruit sixty-fold.

Who are those in whom the Word of God brings forth fruit a hundred-fold? I answer: They are those who, not content with avoiding offense to God, either mortal or venial, or with fulfilling His holy will chiefly to escape the punishment of hell or purgatory, but who, impelled by the love of God, not only walk but run with winged speed in the high path of Christian perfection. These are the souls who for love of God not only fulfill the duties of their station and do good whenever an occasion presents itself, but who strive to make all their actions as perfect as possible, performing them through motives the purest and best, that is only to please God and glorify the Redeemer. They not only seize the opportunity which their station in life offers them, but they search for occasions and means to sanctify their life, edify the good, and awaken to the truth the souls slumbering in irreligion and unbelief.

The lives of the saints evidence to us what salutary fruit for eternal life a soul can bring forth if, instead of opposing the influence of divine grace, she cooperates with determination, strength, alacrity and pure love of God. There are saints who, though dead, continue to produce the fruit of virtue through the zeal of others, and this not only in the place where they lived, but over the entire world.

As an example, look at the Apostles who scattered the seed of faith throughout the world, and thus extended the Church of God. Their words are still producing fruit. The same may be said of those apostolic men who have confined their labors and preaching to certain nations as Patrick, Remigius, Boniface, Xavier, and others.

In like manner we may speak of the different founders of religious orders. The fruit of their saintly zeal still continues, after centuries have elapsed, in the good which is still accomplished by their followers and for which they no doubt are rewarded in heaven. We need only mention St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Dominic and St. Ignatius, whose sons in Christ work to this day all over the globe in the vineyard of the Lord.

The saints will tell us on the day of judgment what great fruit the seed of holy faith and the divine Word planted by them have brought forth in the hearts of men; for, the greatest part of their work is still unknown to us. They were humble, and did not boast of their deeds, and their holy thoughts, words, wishes and acts are treasures hidden in eternity.

Imitate the saints, and listen to the Word of God; keep it, as they did, deep in your heart, and it will fructify and bring forth fruit a hundred-fold for the life to come! Amen!