Sexagesima Sunday - 7 February AD 2021
Location, location, and (spiritual) location
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
They say that there are three things that make a
nice home into a truly pleasant place to live; three things that make a properly
run business into a really prosperous enterprise; three things that turn a place
with good food into a great restaurant. Those three things are, of course,
"location, location, and location." Things may be fine otherwise, but
if they are in the wrong location they do poorly or even utterly fail.
Our Lord's parable today uses this same idea as an
allegory of the spiritual life. The sewer sows good seed -- there is no question
of weeds here, like we heard about in another Gospel -- God's word and all of
God's creation are inherently good. But once in the world, that good seed may
be scattered by any number of forces and come to rest in any number of locations.
And, just as the sewer's seeds may trampled by men, eaten by birds, crowded out
by thorns, or dry up for lack of moisture, God's rational creatures can receive
His word only to loose it to the illusions of the devil, or to natural
temptations, or to a preoccupation with the "cares, and the riches, and the
pleasures of life." Unless something is done, only a fraction of the
sewer's seed will fall on good ground and bring forth the planted crop -- only a
fraction of those souls who hear the word of God will do so with "goodness
of heart" and bring forth the fruit of salvation.
Our Lord's description of earthly affairs is correct, of
course. If we take the Christians of any given era, we will find some that fit
into each of the categories described in the parable. Some will hear the word of
God and draw spiritual profit from it. A few will draw a great deal of profit --
others less -- and some will draw no profit at all because of their
"location" relative to the devil or to the cares and attractions of
the world. In every past era, God gave every Christian the necessary graces, so
that all could have been saved -- but when we look back in retrospect, we
generally see a number of people who refused to cooperate with God's graces.
While we cannot judge the state of anyone's soul, we can say objectively that
such people endangered, and may have lost, their immortal salvation. And it is
relatively safe to say that the same scattering of God's good seed will continue
to take place in the future.
But on the personal level of the individual, things are
not so fatalistically determined. The difference between humans hearing the word
of God and the good seed sown by the sewer is that we are capable of overcoming
the chance situations of life. If we are on the footpath we don't have to await
being trodden upon or eaten by the birds; if we fall among the thorns we don't
have to sit back and wait until being choked out. The operative distinction is
that no matter what our situation in the world might be, we creatures with free
will and intellect can do something to better it. Unlike the seed that simply
must stay put until acted upon by the forces of the world, we, so to speak, can
change our location. Supported by God's grace, we are capable of walking away
from the devil, of distancing ourselves from temptation, and of separating
ourselves from preoccupation with material things.
Obviously, this "spiritual change of location"
takes some effort. Often enough we find that the things we know to be bad for us
are difficult to give up and hard to move away from. Sometimes the effort has to
go on for a life time -- indeed, it almost always has to go on for a life time,
for that is the nature of the spiritual life -- we must always move forward,
otherwise we will fall backwards. If we become complaisant in the thought that
we have solved our problems, we probably have not.
It is interesting to speculate about Saint Paul. We know
that at one time he was an anti-Christian, a persecutor even of those attached
to Christ. What do you think would have happened if, after being knocked down on
the road to Damascus by our Lord, he had done nothing more than go to the house
of Ananias to be baptized, and then went back to Tarsus to pursue his trade as a
tent maker? Do you think that Paul the tent maker could have sustained the same
spiritual life as Paul the Apostle? Isn't it possible that -- if Paul had not
set out on the incredible adventure that we heard about this morning -- that
Paul might have wound up in the "wrong spiritual location," that Paul
might have become one of those seeds that withered or was choked out by the
cares of the world?
Paul's story seems a bit extreme to us -- probably because
few people are driven to his heroic heights of sanctity -- but, nonetheless, it
is instructive for us. To be in the "right spiritual location" we have
to be continuously on the move. We can and we must imitate Paul -- at least in
substance, if not in degree. That is the purpose of our annual Lenten observance
-- to accustom ourselves to acting habittually for God's glory, and for our
salvation, and for the wellbeing and salvation of those around us -- to train
ourselves to put up with the difficulties and setbacks and temptations of life,
while ever moving closer to God.
Paul, we know, made several journeys about the
Mediterranean. But, for most of us, the changes we have to make in our
"spiritual location" are not geographical. They don't require a
passport or journeys on a ship. They may never even take us outside of our home
and immediate neighborhood. But they are real "journeys" nonetheless.
And, once again, Lent is the time to begin them and to lay plans for future
adjustments of "spiritual location."
Finally, let me point out another connection between Saint
Paul and today's Gospel. The "good seed," we are told is "the
word of God." Paul went about the known world trying to make sure that the
"good seed" was planted everywhere. Yet, there are many people out
there in the world who have never heard the word of God, or at least never heard
it stated in such a way as to convince them of the need to act upon it. We ought
to consider reaching some of those people as part of our own spiritual growth.
Not everybody can be an active missionary preacher like Saint Paul, but we can
all know our Faith and practice it publicly, so that the good example of the
Christian life can do the preaching for us, and we can all pray for the
propagation of the Faith.
We have the opportunity to change our "spiritual
location" so that our "good seed" can bear abundant fruit. It
takes effort on our part and we are often weak, so don't ever forget the words
of God to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made
perfect in thy weakness."