15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
God has given us many wonderful gifts: family, health, education, even life itself.
But to really enjoy these gifts to their fullness,
we first have to know that we have them,
and then understand what they are and how they work.
And so Our Lord gives us one of His greatest gifts,
as He tells us today in the Gospel:
“knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been [given] to you!”
This gift of knowledge of God is the gift that opens up the way to God,
and transforms our lives as Christians
to be able to enjoy and share in all the gifts of God’s creation.
Yet, most of us just take this gift for granted
–especially those of us who are cradle Catholics.
We’ve heard the Scriptures and the Church’s teaching since our youth,
and instead of seeing them as something alive and real to us,
we start to look at the Bible as just another book,
and the teachings of the Church
as just a bunch of antiquated and out-dated customs.
But what an incredibly impoverished outlook.
God—Jesus Christ—came into the world to reveal Himself to us,
so that we could know Him.
Think of it: To be able to know God, the creator!
And to know Him not as some vague power or force in the universe,
but to know Him intimately as a person,
like we know our best friend, our mother, or our spouse.
He tells us how He lives, how He thinks, how He loves,
unveiling the great mystery that for millennia men and woman
longed to know.
Some worked and struggled their whole lives, studying, meditating, praying
–to know what we have just been handed.
As today’s gospel tells us:
“many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see
but did not see it.”
And yet, we treat it casually and put up all sorts of obstacles
even to the point that we ignore it completely.
We have eyes, but we do not see; we have ears but we do not hear.
The people in Jesus’ time had the same problem.
There, standing in front of them, speaking the words of truth
and performing the great signs,
was the Eternal and Incarnate Word–and they would not see or hear Him.
But Jesus is a merciful God.
He knew that His people couldn’t hear
because they had put up so many obstacles to accepting Him.
As He quotes Isaiah, the great prophet of the Messiah:
“Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears.”
So in order to overcome these barriers, Jesus gives them analogies in parables
which go around the barriers they’ve set up
and appeal to the very core of their beings–their hearts.
Not the heart as merely the emotions and feelings,
but the heart as the center of the total self
–intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
And sometimes–as is the case with today’s parable
–He takes the parable which is designed to overcome their resistance,
the obstacles they had set up,
and uses it to teach them about these obstacles.
But He doesn’t just use it to teach them:
we can also hear Our Savior speaking directly to us,
about our own obstacles, in the words of this 2000 year old parable.
Some of us are like a well worn foot path
…we get into a pattern of life and its very difficult to change.
We receive the gift of the knowledge of God, but we’re too stuck
in doing things in our own way or in the way that the crowd leads us
that we find it almost impossible to change.
So when Our Lord speaks to us in the Scriptures or in the teaching of the Church
and what we hear isn’t what we expect or feel comfortable with,
we don’t so much reject it as simply ignore it.
And as we ignore it, the birds come along:
whether it’s the people around us or the devil himself,
lot’s of “birds” are ready to come along and peck away
at what we’ve heard,
until there’s nothing left but our ignorance.
On the other hand,
some of us are like rocky ground
with just a few inches of superficial top soil.
Our hearts are so hard nothing can penetrate them,
and when we do let something penetrate
it’s only through our outer facade, our superficial emotions or desires:
the Word penetrates, but only into that part of us that has no depth
–not into our hearts.
So when we’re in trouble we eagerly turn to the Word for emotional comfort,
but when that comfort comes and we recover,
we move on to the next distraction,
putting off Our Lord until we absolutely need him again.
Or sometimes we come to Church to celebrate a weddings or maybe for Christmas
—and we feel really good about it…
–but we don’t allow those celebrations to go beyond those superficial emotions
and have a deep effect on the way we view the world and live our lives.
Maybe we enjoy coming to Mass to hear homilies that entertain us
or make us feel good about ourselves,
but we get distracted or even annoyed if the priest even suggests
that we might have to make some fundamental changes in our lives.
And some of us are like the ground surrounded by thorns.
We hear the Word and we want to understand it, and even try to live it out.
But at the same time we also want to keep those things in our lives
that distract us from understanding it and living it.
Maybe you want to be poor in spirit
–but you also really want to buy that new fully equipped luxury SUV,
even though you live alone and already own 2 other nice cars.
Or maybe you want to live a chaste life,
but you still feel its okay to hold onto this or that “tiny” sinful habit
–like a roving eye or a weakness for pornography.
But as we open our lives to the Gospel
and try to allow it to take root deep in our hearts,
our virtues and holiness become tangled up with and eventually strangled
by the thorns that are our vices and sins.
It doesn’t matter whether
we’re stuck in a well worn path with the birds picking
at the Gospel in our lives,
or our hearts are hard and our openness to the truth of Christ
is only superficial,
or we live a life which cultivates and grows the thorns
of sinful habits and vices.
As long as any of these things describes our lives, we will never be able to
completely hear and understand the Gospel
—we will never be able to truly receive the greatest gift of knowing God
as a friend, a brother, a Father.
We will never be able to—until we change our lives.
Still, no matter how hard we try to change
—to free ourselves from whatever keeps us
from hearing and understanding the Gospel—
in the end, we can’t do it on our own.
In the end, only God can bring us to know Him, by the power of His grace.
And the primary way He gives us for doing this
–for receiving His grace, His strength—
are the sacraments,
especially the sacraments of Penance and Communion.
Because in these sacraments we go to Him,
and lay before Him our whole lives
and ask Him to make them what they should be.
And He does.
In the Sacrament of Penance,
He prunes away all the thorns of sin and vice,
He penetrates our superficial, hard hearts,
and He puts us on a new path to follow Him.
And in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, which we celebrate here today,
He nourishes the seed of the Gospel planted in our hearts
–He feeds it with His own most Sacred Body
and waters it with His Precious Blood
so that it can grow ever deeper roots in our hearts,
and penetrate every thought, word and deed of our lives.
It’s true that
“knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been [given] to you!”
In fact, today, at this Mass we listen to the Word of God
and look at the marvel of the greatest sign of His love for us
–the changing of a piece of bread and a cup of wine
into the real actual Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Today He reveals His mystery to us.
But we will not hear, nor will we truly see what happens here today
unless we open our hearts and call upon the grace of God
to remove the obstacles that keep us from Him
—so many of which we set up and perpetuate ourselves.
Only then can the words that our Lord spoke to His apostles be true about us:
“blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”