Parable of the Sower and the Seed and the Missionary Option Called for by Pope Francis
I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion - Pope Francis
The Father still loves the world and sends His Son to save it. (John 3: 16) That work of loving redemption and recreation continues through you and me. He has placed us in the world with redemptive purpose. Jesus now walks into the world through His Body, the Church, of which we are members. It is in this sense that I regularly write in my reflections, and proclaim in both preaching and teaching, that we actually now live in the Church - and go into the world.
Published in U.S.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Our readings this Sunday Liturgy speak to the call of the Lord to fruitfulness, growth and the missionary mandate to spread of His Kingdom. The Spirit of God speaks through the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah reminding the people of Israel that God's word always bears fruit when it finds fertile soil and accomplishes His plan:
"Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it". (Is. 55: 10, 11)
The Apostle Paul speaks to the Christians in Rome of the coming fullness of redemption, the Resurrection of our bodies. He reminds them - and us - of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. The Holy Spirit is transforming us, as we cooperate with grace, ever more fully into the Image and Likeness of God. (Romans 8:18-23)
Then Matthew the Evangelist gives us his account of Jesus teaching the crowd the parable of the Sower and the seed - and then explaining it more fully for the disciples (Matt. 13:1-23) I will focus on the explanation which He gave to the disciples - because we are the disciples. We are members of the Body of Christ. Jesus has been raised from the dead and, through our Baptism, we are now incorporated into Him. Thus, His word continues to bear fruit within us and is meant to bear fruit in the world through us.
He tells us today:
"The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."
We have been baptized into Jesus Christ. The Risen Jesus now lives His life in and through us - as we live our lives in Him. This is more than a spiritual metaphor - it is meant to move from piety to reality for us as we learn to live in His Body, the Church, for the sake of the world. The Father still loves the world and still gives His Son to save it. (John 3:16) Now, that gift of His Son continues to be given to all men and women through you and me.
In Matthews Gospel, Jesus also uses other images to communicate the meaning of the parable to us: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." (Matt. 13: 31 - 33)
We are to become light and leaven, salt and seed, in a world that is waiting to be reborn. We are being spread as seed in the fields of the world. We are called to fall to the ground and bear fruit. All of these images are meant to bring home the new reality that comes from our discipleship.
In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva:
"May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
The beloved disciple John was the author of the last Gospel written. He also wrote letters to the early Christians during his later years. They are tender, rich in practical instruction and well worth regular consumption by anyone who wants to get serious about living the Christian life in every age.
As is sometimes the case in biblical translation, sometimes an important point really can get lost in translation. After all, the New Testament was written in Greek. We read it in vernacular translations. One such point which too often gets confused concerns our relationship to the world.
John writes in his first letter:
"I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven for his name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the Evil One. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the Evil One.
"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever." (1 John 2:12-17)
Yet, we read in the most often quoted text from the Gospel of John that "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son." (John 3:16) I pose the question - How can we Love the World and Not Love the World at the Same Time? We have to understand the way in which the word - world- is being used in a biblical context in order to understand how we are called to live our Christian vocation as missionaries in every age.
First, some of the confusion concerning our relationship to the world comes from the remnants of one of the early heresies in Christian history, Manichaeism. The followers of this error believed that matter itself was evil. That is NOT a Christian belief.
We profess in our ancient Creed our belief in a bodily resurrection - and the coming of a new heaven and new earth! Yet this error of viewing matter as evil still infects many, including some Christians and can lead to a kind "ghetto mentality" whereby Christians withdraw from the world and build little separated communities.
Secondly, some of the confusion also comes from ways the term or phrase "the world" is used in the New Testament, at least in the English translations. Let me explain.
There is "the world" that God created and looked upon and said "it is good". (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman.
Then there is "the world" or "this world" - a system, a culture of death and use, which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols in His place. That system is also called "the world" in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to "love" that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion.
We are to reject that system which has rejected God and His love - in order to free those enchained by its lies.
However, the Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Those of us who live in Jesus Christ are sent on that mission into the world. We are called, like the Lord in whose Image we are created to "love the world" in order to participate in its transformation from within.
The power to effect redemptive change in the world in which we live comes from the life of God within us. God's word, His very life, has been sown within us. One of the many images Jesus uses in his parables is that of leaven. (See, e.g., Mt. 13:33) It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread.
That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough. Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf!
So it is with Christians. We are leaven within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up in the loaf. We have to get into the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used by Him to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.
Leaven or yeast that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. That leaven must be in the dough in order to effect its extraordinary change. So it is with each one of us. We must be "in the world" to effect its transformation. Once hidden in the loaf, leaven always raises the dough. It also takes human effort - it must be kneaded - and worked into the loaf - but it has extraordinary power within it.
So it is with us as we walk learn to walk in living faith. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church, for the sake of the world, we are called to continue the redemptive mission of the Lord Jesus, to bring the whole world back to the Father.
This kind of missionary mindset is called the missionary option by Pope Francis. It calls for a new orientation in each one of our lives concerning our call, the call of every Baptized, Christian to be a missionary. Such a missionary vision has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can do so once again, in this hour in which we have been born - and born again!
However, it always begins one person, one grain, one seed, at a time.
The seed of the kingdom, the living Word, has been planted within us. And now, we become the seed, the salt and the leaven for the Divine Sower who continues His redemptive mission in a world waiting to be reborn in Him.
He spreads us in the field of the world to bear a harvest for the Kingdom to come. We are called to live at the crossroads of that world and become missionaries of the new world, of which the Church is a seed and sign.In addition, he calls us to sow the seed of His Word, in a world which thirsts for its liberating power.
Finally, we are also the soil into which the seed of God's word is planted. We need to work on remaining receptive to the continual work of God's grace within us. When rocks fall in the way, we need to recognize them and remove them. We need to regularly water our hearts with the Living Water of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, in order to remain receptive to the dynamic work of God in our lives.
The Father still loves the world and sends His Son to save it. (John 3: 16) That work of loving redemption and recreation continues through you and me. He has placed us in the world with redemptive purpose.
Jesus now walks into the world through His Body, the Church, of which we are members. It is in this sense that I regularly write in my reflections, and proclaim in both preaching and teaching, that we actually now live in the Church - and go into the world.
One of the titles that the Fathers of the Church used to describe the Church was - the world reconciled. The Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church used this phrase and reaffirmed another Patristic Image of the Church as a seed of the kingdom.
Several other biblical images help us to grasp this missionary vocation. In Matthews Gospel Jesus also uses the image of salt and light: "Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden."
"Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matt. 5: 13 - 16)
The passage calls to mind the words of the Lord, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) We carry that light into a world which is often steeped in darkness. To bring the light we must be willing to enter the realm where that darkness is contending for the hearts of men and women.
In his Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Gospel of Joy (Evangelii Gaudium), Pope Francis wrote these words:
"I dream of a "missionary option", that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation.
"The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: "All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion". (Par. 27)
It is time to go forth. The Sower, the Soil and the Seed calls us to live the Missionary Option called for by Pope Francis in this hour.
Copyright 2017 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK
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