In 1938 when the Nazis took over Austria, a young Catholic policeman – feared that he would loose his job; so to save his job and get security for himself, he decided to claim that he had been a secret Nazi for years. Forty years later he said: “I was looking forward to 40 sweet years of life in front of me.” He spoke those words from a prison – cell after being condemned to life imprisonment for being the commandant of the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
Fritz Stangle probably didn’t make a single, dramatic decision to reject God’s reign over his life. He probably assumed, as most of us do, that God’s reign can somehow be “squeezed in” after we take care of all the other things we do to make ourselves happy.
In the Gospel today, Jesus told a parable concerning the matter of faith. The farmer in the parable is Jesus who scatters the seed every where. The seed is God’s word. The seedbeds – path, rock, thorns, good – soil – refer to each one of us – the people who hear God’s word: Some people reject it outright. Others receive it in joy, and then reject it later. Still others receive it in joy, treasure it, and put it into practice. Where do we fit in?
The basic lesson in today’s parable of the sower is that if what Jesus is telling us doesn’t result in making us better people, then there is something wrong – not with His teaching – but with us! There is a deficiency of some kind in the ground that will not grow the seeds which have been planted.
The problem is not the message or even the packaging of the message; – the problem is the receiver – the ground on which the seed is sowen. The great message of today’s Gospel is that nothing can choke out God’s word in our lives unless we want it to be chocked out! Through the Mass and the Sacraments, God is always sending His grace to us.
He enlightenes our minds; or at least tries to: He encourages us to do good; or at least tries to: He gives us strength to live as He taught, and to avoid sin in all its forms; or at least tries to. But in the end, it’s left up to us to cooperate with His help and benefit from it – or ignore it.
The words Jesus spoke, the parables He told, the lessons He taught can be taken to heart and integrated into our lives or we can ignore them and live any other way we desire. We are like good soil that grows seeds sowed on it, or like bad soil filled with thorns and rocks – we can live the teachings of Christ or reject them.
In our Baptism, we were given the gift of Faith: the question is “What do we do with that seed of Faith?” Are we attentive to the Gospel? Do we hear it and treasure it in our lives? Do we let it effect the way we live? We can let what Jesus taught produce goodness and holiness in us “a hundred, sixty, or thirty fold” or no fold at all.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking about “LIVING FAITH”. He describes the faith of some people as a seed among briers, choked off by worldly anxiety and the lure of money. Perhaps if Fritz Stangl would have lived up to his Faith, many deaths could have been avoided at Treblinka in Poland.
Faith will not survive unless it is lived and practiced. Faith requires constant spiritual nourishment through prayer, penance, and participation in the Celebration of Mass. Today, Jesus also spoke about the seed that falls on rocky ground – receiving the Gospel is joy, but not living what we hear – letting other influences distract us from what Jesus asks of us. We listen too easily to the ideas which are most popular, but we ignore the message of the Gospel and the Church. We become content with a mediocre faith or we become so busy with our possessions, our success, our status – that there is no time left to nourish our Faith – we become rocky ground.
As we gather here at St. Mary’s Basilica today, we are called to be the “thirsty soil” which Isaias spoke of in the first reading: open and ready to receive God’s Word making it “fertile and fruitful” in our lives. By discovering which kind of ground we are, we can make those necessary changes. Each one of us – as St. Paul said in the second reading – is part of creation groaning in labor pains – longing to be one with God. May each of us have the courage to be attentive to our Faith and nourish that Faith in every possible way.