Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Is 55:10-11;  Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23 

Mark Twain has said that “we can secure other people’s approval if we do right and try hard,” but our own approval is worth much more and no way has been found of securing it. He’s right. To be unable to approve of self apart from community is not a neurosis. We are each and all made for community. It is the venue in which we exercise our freedom toward the realization of a shared truth, a union of wills. Shared truth—well-lived—generates reciprocal approval; unshared leads to appropriate self-doubt.  Today’s gospel, like all the gospels, calls us to first and foremost seek God’s approval. As members of the Body of Christ our most important task in life is to respond to His approval and to pass it on to others. Happiness is found in a union of wills.

Approval, community approval, sets the norm by which we become who we are. The criteria for the approval come to us through a story such as today’s. Scripture gets its credibility from the existence of a community that knows its life depends on faithful remembering of God’s care of His creation through the calling of Israel and through the life of Jesus Christ.  “Remembering” distinguishes the four ways of reacting to God’s word that Jesus speaks of today. We remember our personal exodus and that the word was “made flesh and dwells among us”, i.e., that we encountered Christ.

Let’s consider the Parable of the Sower as the Parable of the Soil. The soil is obviously our hearts, and our receptivity depends on remembering. In focusing on different types of soil Jesus implies that it is not the fault of the seed if it does not germinate. As Christians the story of Jesus Christ is the norm for how we live our lives. We let it affect three things about us we’ve discussed before: Perception, Disposition, and Identity.

In the first story, having forgotten our origin in God, we don’t understand the word. It is about grace rather than something tangible or controllable. Having forgotten, our perception finds nothing to pay attention to. Without a coherent story our disposition is not inclined to act in a particular way. We just don’t get it. No identity, no sense of who we are or want to become, is formed and we live by whims.

In the second story we hear the word and are attracted to it, but it doesn’t connect us to a community that remembers. We don’t pay attention to it. Apart from a community that is rooted in our dependence on God, we do not become disposed to live a certain way for a higher purpose. We do not see the Word dwelling among us and thus form an identity as a disciple of Christ; our identity is up for grabs by fashion. Without a community we’re just not rooted.

In the third we perceive the word as for our self-enhancement, our personal peace-of-mind. It is about self, so it bears no fruit, no good for another’s own sake. When it fails, we stop paying attention. We get anxiety and become disposed to seek refuge in what feels good. With no greater purpose for facing adversity, our identity subtly becomes that of a coward.

In the fourth story Jesus highlights three things that we do: we hear, understand, and bear fruit. To hear the word is to perceive it and pay attention to it. It fits into the context of our remembering God’s care and our encounter with Christ (In other words, we know which side our bread is buttered on!). Thus, we understand it and it disposes us or makes us ready to live by His teachings. We know it shapes our identity by the fruit it bears in giving glory to God and benefit to neighbor. Committed action integrates these three. We are what we do.

The parable of the Soil is primarily about the foundational decision we must make. It is a decision to be permanently receptive to the word. It is the “magnetic north” of our moral compass.  Perception is the starting point of our spirituality as that determines what we are receptive to. We intuit God’s approval, “hunger and thirst” for more and become disposed to seek it in a community and way of life that makes approval palpable. It is most experienced in the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity.  It is in the security of community approval that we discern God’s will. A simple criterion for discernment is this: What fits with the person and mission of Jesus and what does not? Since discernment is a spiritual practice, it requires a faithful community in which to do it.

An older sister of many years of monastic life reflected on discernment. She said, “When you get to be my age, ideas that come from the Lord are just easy to welcome, and those that aren’t from God just drop off; you just let them go without much fuss.”

Go and do likewise.        


Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Am 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:7-13

Today’s gospel is about mission. The very first words Jesus spoke to his followers after His resurrection were “Peace. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It is the mission of Jesus that the Father’s love, the kingdom of God, becomes present and perceptible in ways that make a difference in the lives of His people. In today’s gospel, and in the gospel of John 17 that we read at Vigils of St. Benedict, we see that this mission requires the unity of the disciples, and we see that its object is to pass on the good news of the Father’s love and care for humanity.

Mission is not an optional extra added to Christian existence; mission constitutes Christian existence. It is first a personal call. God creates each person with a particular idea of how he or she fits into His plan. The person has particular gifts, life experiences, and understandings of those experiences that suit her for the mission. This is what we mean when we say that we are called by name. We are not called by category, ethnic, diagnostic, or any other. Surrendering ones natural capacities to this service of God is how we find ultimate fulfillment in this life. One’s mission makes her a person. It is for this mission that one is granted holiness and that holiness is demanded of her.

To follow one’s mission is to become Christ-like in some sense. Conformity to mission is the same as conformity to Christ. What affected Him must affect us. This requires the work of the Holy Spirit whose task is to “unself” us; to guide and comfort us in the self-emptying that makes us available to the Father. This process of unselfing will cause change in what affects us and thus changes in our behavior that others will see. It will, hopefully, lead them to belief and trust in the Fathers love.

We know we are living our mission when our personal truth becomes identical with God’s truth. Living this mission, then, is living in the truth. Living in the truth is humility. Thus, humility is first and foremost living the truth of our mission to spread God’s love. A means to this end is to know the truth about oneself as measured against ones mission.So the apostles first preached repentance.

At the very core of mission is the task of doing not one’s own will, but the will of the sender. Thus, the goal or content of Jesus’ mission is His “hour,” His passion and resurrection. This is not an extreme example of mission; this is the norm. For us to devote ourselves so entirely to mission we must have a change of heart. The Steps of Humility show us how to consent to the Spirit’s “unselfing” by repenting of our varied forms of self-will and self-seeking. The object of repentance is not God, but our bad acts that have sought self to the exclusion of others. We repent before God.

Repentance begins with the experience of pain. It proceeds to the realization that we were free to do other than what we did. And it is the realization that we, not others, not society, not genetics, we were responsible for our actions. Repentance goes beyond mere regret for bad acting when we acknowledge the principle, the GOOD that we violated and decide to let that Good affect us in the future. It is then that we have a change of heart. It is then that what affected Jesus begins to affect us.

 A change of heart is a change in what affects us.