What kind of soil do we offer? Are we the path that makes no room at all for the seed? Or rocky? Or full of brambles? Or ready to welcome the seed that God, who delights in us, wishes to plant?


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The parable of the sower and the seed is very important because it is the basis for understanding all the other parables as well as understanding God’s kingdom, which is revealed in parables. This parable is not about the sower and the seed, but about four conditions of ground. These represent our openness or lack of openness to God’s word. It is difficult to take God’s word to heart because God’s ways are not our ways. Our hearts are naturally deceitful and hardened, and the Lord repeatedly challenges us in His word to repent.

Jesus taught us there are four possible results from His word. Some who read the Scriptures are not affected at all. “Satan comes to carry off what was sown in them”. Often we can prevent this from happening by prayer and fasting.

Others who read the Bible accept the word “joyfully at the outset”. However, “when some pressure or persecution overtakes them because of the word, they falter”.

“Those sown among thorns are another class. They have listened to the word, but anxieties over life’s demands, and the desire for wealth, and cravings of other sorts come to choke it off; it bears no yield”.

Finally, “those sown on good soil are the ones who listen to the word, take it to heart, and yield at thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold”.

What kind of soil do we offer?  Are we the path that makes no room at all for the seed?  Or rocky? Or full of brambles?  Or ready to welcome the seed that God, who delights in us, wishes to plant?

What is needed to ready the “soil” of our being?  A dose of generosity perhaps, or trust?  Do we need to make room?  Rid our ground of negativity, addiction, or regrets?  Be done with past hurts?  Deep resentments?

Jesus says that to those outside the kingdom everything is a parable. While they see and hear again and again, they do not perceive or understand, because if they did understand they would be converted to Jesus’ message and experience forgiveness.

Is Jesus suggesting that if we don’t understand a parable then we are blind and deaf to the kingdom already present? Is our blindness and deafness because we are somehow resistant to conversion of heart, to the experience of forgiveness, that experience of being humbled by love? ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’ Hear the Word and accept him – which seed are we today?

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Whatever God asks, you can trust Him to help you do it. He may stretch you a bit, but He won’t ask more than you can do, with His help. We just need to give God a chance. We can trust Him.


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Today’s readings have a common theme of doing God’s will.  In the reading from Hebrews we are told that God does not want the sacrifice of animals and burnt offerings from the time of the Old Testament.  He sent his Son to do the Father’s will, to make the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice that will save all generations.  By doing his Father’s will, Jesus made it possible for all of humanity to be consecrated “once for all.”

Let’s take another look at today’s Responsorial Psalm. It’s really packed with meaning!

“Here I am, Lord. I come to do Your will.”

Think about that for a minute. When we pray this, we’re saying to God, “I’m listening for Your command. I’m here to do whatever it is that You want.”

“I come to do your will.”

“Not my will. Not necessarily somebody else’s will, but Your will, God. Whatever it is that You want, You’ve got it!”

Although Jesus made it possible for us to be consecrated once and for all, we do not have a free pass to live as we wish, putting our own desires first. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” In place of sacrifices and burnt offerings, the sacrifice that we offer is the suffering and difficulty that are frequently part of living as God wills.

Sometimes the greatest difficulty for us is in the discernment between what we want God’s will to be for us versus what it really is.  We still have a very human nature that seeks what is easy or comfortable and wants admiration, power and self-sufficiency.  We can fool ourselves about God’s will if we fail to develop self-awareness and trust in God’s love for us. This can lead to confusion about what is real and what is self-deception.
Now, be honest. Most of us can’t give God a “blank check” like this.
Why? Because we’re afraid.

We’re afraid of what God might ask . . . We’re afraid of the unknown . . . We’re afraid of pain . . .
We’re afraid of giving up control . . . We’re afraid of embarrassment . . . We’re afraid it will cost too much.
Think for a minute, what are YOU afraid of?

Let’s say that you’re afraid God will ask you to go to a far-off land to help the desperately poor. That’s possible, but He’s more likely to ask you to just go across the room to kiss your tired spouse, or listen to your confused teenager, or phone your lonely mother.

Whatever God asks, you can trust Him to help you do it. He may stretch you a bit, but He won’t ask more than you can do, with His help. We just need to give God a chance. We can trust Him.

So don’t be afraid. Just take the first baby step. Ask Him to help you. Tell Him about all your fears. Once you go to Him and list all the reasons that you’re so scared to death, they’re out in the open. Then He can take all those fears into His hands . . . and they will no longer be in yours.

Our prayers from the heart are always answered. The answer might not be immediate, or what we expect, but God’s grace always comes to an open, properly disposed heart.


 

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So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Hebrews 4:16)

We see others and ourselves beset with problems, which don’t get better but get worse. Then we wonder whether God cares. We pray, and our prayers are not answered as we hoped. In fact, things often get worse after we pray. If God is blessing us, it seems impossible to recognize this. We see people suffering in pain, shivering in the cold, treated unjustly, and consumed with fear. Then we wonder again whether God cares.

The truth is: GOD CARES. He even became a human being to suffer with us. The crucified Christ communicates to even the most broken and confused people that God cares about each one of them. “We do not have a High Priest Who is unable to sympathize with our weakness” (Heb 4:15). God cares about each one of us more than we care about ourselves. He cares about us more than do those who love us most. God cannot care about us more than He already does. He cares about us and loves us perfectly, infinitely, unconditionally, sacrificially, and eternally. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

The author of Hebrews focuses on Jesus, the high priest, who can fully sympathize with our human weaknesses. Our High Priest calls us to His mercy and grace. He urges us to approach Him in confidence, as we would a trusted best friend, and await His help in our time of need.

We find a similar encouragement in a letter from Paul to the Philippians: Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude. Our prayers from the heart are always answered. The answer might not be immediate, or what we expect, but God’s grace always comes to an open, properly disposed heart — a grateful heart, one that is confident of God’s love.

This grace could come in many forms: the grace to persevere through a painful situation until we arrive at a time of peace; the grace of others in our life who bring relief or gladness in some way; the grace of a new insight that never occurred to us before; the grace of an unexpected good fortune, even a minor one, that assures us of God’s love and presence in our lives. The possibilities are endless.

Much less common is the grace of a period of darkness or spiritual aridity, an experience usually reserved for the spiritually advanced, those well along the path of holiness. This grace is without visible or sensory consolation but is spiritually very powerful, not only for the individual going through the time of darkness, but for others who benefit in ways known only to God.

No matter where we find ourselves along the journey, the Holy Spirit will aid us to grow in confidence and gratitude as we approach the throne of grace in prayer. Let this confidence and gratitude especially apply to those prayers for the lost, the unconverted, and the spiritually sick.

When we listen to our hearts in prayerful silence, God’s voice rises up and guides our daily lives.


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“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

We would be wise to listen to the voice of God, in our hearts, and turn away from sin! Jesus is constantly calling to us to follow Him, to be with Him, and to stay with Him. Only He can make us truly clean — spiritually clean. This is the example we see today in the Gospel of St. Mark with the leper coming to Jesus.

Perhaps the leprosy of our day is the social sin of greed that seems to have snared us all in one way or another. Sometimes it’s so subtle we fail to recognize it. At other times it’s just too hard to break away from the social ‘norms’ taking root in our country. At high levels decisions are often made purely in terms of economic viability. We may be appalled, but gradually that mindset seeps into our culture and into each one of us.

God communicates with us personally and this communication often involves our vocations — our call from God to serve His Kingdom in His’ preferred way. This call may involve a radical change of life — witness Jesus’ call to St. Paul while on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians.

And we Christians believe that God’s voice can be heard not only directing us to our vocations but also directing us daily in living our vocations.  Through the Holy Spirit, God dwells in our hearts making us temples of the Spirit. We receive the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit — wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude, fear of the Lord.

The basic challenge facing us Christians in our very noisy world is building rhythms of silence and solitude into our lives enabling us to attend to God’s presence within our hearts. When we listen to our hearts in prayerful silence, God’s voice rises up and guides our daily lives. In attending to this presence we attend to God’s voice.

Unfortunately many of us irrationally resist listening and responding to God’s voice fearing it will somehow halt our happiness and fulfillment. But Jesus’ wish for us is that his joy may be in us and that our joy may be complete. We Christians have the comfort of knowing that following the voice of God will lead us to the deepest peace and joy possible in this world as well as to our most effective service to God.

Today’s feast provides the occasion to recall one of the more famous calls — God’s call to St. Anthony the Abbot. While listening to the Gospel reading in church, young Anthony was struck by the invitation of Jesus to the rich young man: “Go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”

The words resonated deeply in Anthony’s heart, and he became convinced that they were addressed to him personally. Anthony was eighteen and his parents had recently died and had left him their considerable estate; he was engaged in managing the estate.   But Anthony responded to the call, sold all his possessions and withdrew to the solitude of the desert, spending the rest of his long life living as a hermit.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

You can take the opportunity today to “come and kneel” before Jesus and confess your need of healing through your examination of conscience and the sacrament of confession. Then and only then will you be able to hear those most wonderful words, from His lips, “I do will it. Be made clean.” (Mark 1:41)

We can only believe in Jesus if we love the Father and can only love the Father because He loved us first.


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When Jesus was asked what the greatest of the commandments was, He replied with two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.

In today’s reading from 1 John, this is stated: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” It is interesting that this is not really a command, but rather the fact that God loved us behooves us to love not only God but our neighbor also. Not only that, but the commandments we are called to follow are not to burden us, but to help us with all the problems of the world.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading today that: “Today this scripture reading is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus speaks to us in the Gospels and He wants us to truly believe in Him, and if we do, “we are begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves the one begotten by Him.”

We can only believe in Jesus if we love the Father and can only love the Father because He loved us first. We cannot give love unless we first have received it. The Lord has poured out love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Yet have our hearts been open? Have we received the incarnate, crucified, infinite, unconditional love of God for each of us personally? The purpose of life is to receive the perfect love of God already given. Then, when we open and receive the gift of God’s love, we can give it to others.

Most people like to think of themselves as loving others. But are we truly loving or just deceiving ourselves? We are loving if:

  1. We are “beloved”, that is, we have first received God’s love.
  2. We love God with all our hearts.
  3. We obey God’s commandments.
  4. We love ourselves.
  5. We love the brothers and sisters we see in our everyday life.
  6. We love our enemies.
  7. The Spirit has poured out love in our hearts.

When we see what it means to be loving, we realize that not so many people are loving. Loving is not something we can do by our own power. We can’t “make love.” Loving is a gift, freely given by God to those willing to receive it.

Knowing the love of God allows us to live without fear.


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In John’s letter, he says: “Love casts out fear.”  He begins with the love of God.  Not the romantic form of love.  Rather he means the total giving of oneself to the other, surrendering oneself to the other, making the other’s well-being the greatest goal of our life. After all, the greatest cause of fear is our self-concern.  I’m afraid I might fail, I might get hurt and maybe I’ll be humiliated.  On and on it goes.  Fear is the product of our self-interest.

There is an interesting connection between “Love” and “Fear”.  In the Epistle, John tells us that love dispels fear.  In the Gospel we learn that the lack of love will only intensify our fear.

Fear and Love are two of the most intense emotions in many peoples’ lives.  Fear we won’t meet expectations, fear that we’re not lovable, fear that we won’t pass exams and fear of sickness and death.  You name it.  There are thousands of fears that disturb people including you and me.

In our Gospel, Apostles who really loved the Lord should have figured he didn’t call them to be “fishers of men” if they were to drown without the opportunity to answer his call. They should have recognized that anybody walking on the water had to be Jesus, the Son of God, not a ghost who would simply swallow them up in the waves. Nor should they have doubted that the man who miraculously fed the 5000 would be unable to calm the winds and the waves.  Had they genuine love for the Lord they would have surrendered their wills to the will of their Lord and with confidence believed that being all powerful he would rescue them even from the elements.

So there is a powerful lesson for each of us in this study.  If we find ourselves fearful and worried in the crises of life we have a third valuable solution for banishing our fears and worries by turning them over to Christ.  To do this we have to develop our total love for the Lord, by putting on the will of Christ not just in words but in all of our actions.

Am I a fearful and worrying type of person; about my lack of friends, my health, my eternal destiny, or anything else?  An honest answer to this question could provide me with a clue to the sincerity and intensity of my love for the Lord.

Love banishes fear. Jesus affirms this for the disciples when they are terrified, not realising that it is Jesus who walks towards them – ’Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ We so often don’t see clearly what opportunities are right in front of us, because we are afraid or hurting or proud. Knowing the love of God allows us to live without fear.

If we allow the truth of God’s message to permeate our being, rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future, we might find the courage to let go enough to simply be in the presence of the God who is love and who banishes all fear. What does it take to live the words ‘Abide in me’?

In the Gospels, we see Jesus walking on the water on several occasions. Once He got into the boat and the wind died down. Another time, the boat miraculously covered the three miles to the shore in one second. On another occasion, at Peter’s request, Jesus commanded Peter to walk on the water with Him. The gospels seem to indicate that we have something to say about what effect the water-walking Jesus has on us.

Most of us think of only one thing when we’re in a storm. We want peace and safety, and that’s what we get, and all that we get. If we had more faith, we would be open to Jesus doing more. The Lord is willing to get us somewhere fast, to accelerate our growth in holiness, to speed up our efforts to evangelize, and even to hasten His final coming.

Few Christians have the faith and boldness of Peter. We’re content to sit in the boat and watch Jesus walk on water, but we could join Him if we requested it. We could walk on the waters of sin and evil. We could even quickly crush Satan under our feet. Let’s go for a walk with Jesus.

When we put first things first and surrender ourselves to God, all other things fall into place. Because Jesus first went to pray, He had the strength to walk on water. Too often we discharge the batteries constantly, hastening from this good and holy event to the next good and holy event, becoming emptier and emptier as we do not fill up on God.

In any task, in any endeavor, let us first turn to God. Let’s spend time in prayer — not because God needs or requires it, but because we do. Let us seek peace in our hearts and in our souls, and spend some time talking to God, reflecting on God and meeting with God. Let’s restore ourselves with His word and His presence with us.

When you give God what you DO have, He can deal with it. He can make it work. He can multiply our finite resources — with His infinite power.


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“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.

In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

This passage from today’s reading tells us who God is and what God has done for us – in just two and a half verses. It is most – perhaps all –  that we need to know “so that we might have life through Him”.

God is love – a love given to us not in response to our virtue, but as an expression of who God is.

We have to understand that the word we translate into English as “love” might be better rendered “self-giving” (not “affection”). Read the passage again, substituting “self-giving”, and let your breath be taken away by the boldness and incredibility of what it says. It can’t be so. Words utterly fail us as we try to express and grasp this seemingly impossible reality.

God is self-giving – not just as an abstract concept, but as the very concrete taking on of our fleshly humanity with all of its too evident limits, suffering all we suffer and more, and by conquering evil, allowing us to share God’s own self-giving. We didn’t earn it; we couldn’t. We didn’t have to. We’re not worthy; that’s OK; we don’t have to be. My sins are too great; God could never love me. Yes God could. God does; God gives; God fore-gives, gives Godself.

How then could we not do likewise? God gives us that power. Being selfless is not just a test we have to pass to enter the kingdom. It is exactly what the life of the kingdom is and will always be.

Then a sense of abundance comes through the story of the loaves and fishes in today’s Gospel. Twelve baskets were filled with the scraps after the five thousand were satisfied. Does this suggest the generosity of God? Can we assume that our earth contains more than we need? Surely we should not selfishly hoard the earth’s resources but rather share them generously, ensuring they are distributed among all God’s people and trusting there will be sufficient for all.

Jesus is training his apostles in this gospel.. He’s just told them to feed thousands of people! But His apostles know they don’t have enough bread. So, what to do? Go out and buy some? That’s human logic. That level they understand. But Jesus is operating on a higher plane — and He wants them to join Him there. So He says patiently, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

It’s a question He could ask us today, if we’re in an impossible situation — and we know we don’t have enough of what’s needed. Jesus patiently asks us, “What resources DO you have?”

So we need to obey Him, to “go and see,” and then report back to the One who can make it happen. What we have may not seem like much. But even five loaves and two little fishes can be enough, when they’re in the hands of Jesus.

When you give Him what you DO have, He can deal with it. He can make it work. He can multiply our finite resources — with His infinite power.

You don’t believe it? Just look at what He did with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish! He’s the same Jesus today. He’s still got the power. We just need faith.

This is the Year of Faith. So, if you don’t have enough faith, go and ask Him for it! He wants to give you more faith!

Whatever you’re facing right now, even if it looks impossible, take a moment to “go and see.” What DO you have? Then, take it and hand it over to Jesus. In His hands, miracles still happen.