July 10, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 55:10-11) Reading II (Romans 8:18-23)
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:1-23)
In the second reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us that all creation has been made subject to futility. Now this is something which is critically important for us to understand because most of us spend way too much time and effort focused on material creation, especially trying to seek some sort of gratification from that material creation. It is futile, Saint Paul says. It is all going to pass away, even to the point where Saint Peter tells us that the whole universe, all created matter, is going to pass away in fire. And so we can think about all of the things that we spend so much time and money and effort on. And as we are reminded in Scripture that most of it is either going to rust or the moths are going to eat it or something will happen and the thing will eventually be worthless, then we need to ask ourselves, “So what was the sense in spending so much time and effort to get something that was just going to pass away?”
If we want to look at the real futility of creation, all we have to do is look around at so many of the young who are desperately seeking some kind of fulfillment. Looking and putting forth incredible effort and time and money, they – instead of seeking the Lord – are putting tattoos all over their bodies, putting holes all over their face and other places in their bodies to stick pins in them. Sexuality has become the national pastime. It is all about the self. The interesting thing is these people also know, as Saint Paul says, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and anyone who destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. Yet the devil himself is the one who has inspired people to do these foolish things, and they are all mortal sins. Putting tattoos on your body and sticking holes in your face are mortal sins. Yet it has become almost the norm in certain areas in our society.
So when we look at these things and we realize the futility of it all, imagine, especially on these young women who are putting tattoos all over their bodies, that one day they are going to be grandmothers. Imagine their little grandchildren coming up to them with tattoos all over their bodies and that is what their grandmother is presenting to them as the example of femininity; not exactly what most of us would want for our grandchildren, I don’t assume. Yet you can see how the collective mentality of our society is just herding people in the wrong direction. It is all futile. All of creation is subject to futility.
But, as Saint Paul points out, all creation is groaning. They are seeking some kind of fulfillment, but they do not have a clue where to find it – and it was given to them on a silver platter. That is exactly what Our Lord points out in the Gospel reading today, about how the seed is sown. It is sown into the heart of each one of us, particularly, of course, those who are baptized into Christ. Yet even though the seed has been sown there, for so many the heart is hard and therefore the Word takes no root. Or for too many of us, it is the worldly problems, the anxieties and the difficulties of life, and so we grow up among thorns. The anxieties of life, the futility of all the things that are out there choke it off. Therefore, it withers away and it bears no fruit because we have focused on the futility of creation, rather than focusing on the Word of God, and the anxiety winds up choking off the Word of God.
Now this Word of God, the prophet Isaiah tells us in the first reading, is not going to return to God empty, but it will achieve the end for which it has been sent. That Word can be understood in a couple of different ways. First of all, the Word of God as it is put down in writing, the words that God has spoken through the prophets, all of the promises that Our Lord has made to us, everything contained in Sacred Scripture, all of it is the Word of God and it is sent for a purpose and it will not return to God void. But above all, of course, as Saint John of the Cross tells us, in the silence of eternity God spoke only one word and that one word is Jesus. God sent that Word into this world to become flesh and to dwell among us, to suffer and to die for us. He did not return to God until He had accomplished the purpose for which He was sent, and that was to die so that we could be saved. He returned to God having accomplished the purpose of redemption. Consequently, then, for those who are in Christ, the same pattern must be lived.
If the Word of God is going to have its fulfillment in us, it means that we have to know the Word of God in both senses. We need to read the Sacred Scriptures. They are the Word of God. They are divinely inspired. They are the very things that God wants for us to know. But we need also to take what we read in Sacred Scripture and we need to sit ourselves in front of the Word of God truly present among us in the Blessed Sacrament and we need to pray because it is only through prayer and through the Word of God, as well as through the sufferings of this life, that the heart is going to be opened and softened so that that Word of God will indeed take root within us. And not just for a short time when it looks like a good thing that can serve our selfish purpose; but rather in the midst of persecutions and difficulties, the Word in fact takes deeper root and bears greater fruit. It is in this way that the Word of God is going to have its fulfillment in us.
What is most important in this world filled with futility is that people need to see where they can find fulfillment. When you look at those people with all the tattoos and pins and everything all over their bodies, you realize that they are trying to find some kind of meaning. They are not evil people who are trying specifically and willfully to destroy the temple of God – they are confused people who do not know where to seek to find the fulfillment for which their hearts desire. The only way they are going to find that fulfillment is if there is somebody whom they can see that has found that fulfillment and is going to point them on the right path. And the only way that anyone is going to find that fulfillment is if they themselves are deeply rooted in the Word of God, in both senses of that word, and if the Word of God is deeply rooted in them. These are people who will have peace. They are living in this world of futility but groaning, as Saint Paul tells us, as we await the revelation of the children of God. These are people who even now are living according to the freedom of the children of God that Saint Paul speaks of.
The freedom of the children of God is freedom from the futility of creation. It is all going to pass away. What is going to remain is your soul. And, of course, your body one day will be reunited with your soul. But it is you who are not futile. It is your life which is not futile because God created you for Himself, not for this world but for the next. He has planted us in this world to test us, to purify us, and to prepare us. So the test is simply a question of, are we going to immerse ourselves into the futility of this world, or are we going to rise above it and seek the fulfillment that only comes from Christ?
When we look around this world and we see that people are not only seeking attention in bizarre ways because they do not know love, they are seeking affection, they are seeking fulfillment, and they need to be pointed in the right direction. In everything that they are seeking through all of their selfish pursuits (and, quite frankly, in their foolish pursuits), it is all futile. It is all going to pass away, but not until it has destroyed their souls if Satan gets his way.
But God has sent His Word into our hearts, and He desires that that Word is going to grow within us and that it is going to bear fruit. The only way that is going to happen is if we open our hearts to receive His Word, if we have our focus set on Christ rather than on this world. If we are immersed in this world and deeply rooted in this world, we are not going to be able to rise to heaven. The Word which is planted in our hearts is not going to be able to return to God because if all that we are seeking is this world then this is where we are going to be stuck for eternity. But we are not created for this world – we are created for the next. So we need to show creation the freedom of the children of God, the freedom from corruption, the freedom from sin, the freedom to live according to the ways of Jesus Christ. That is what has been planted in our hearts, and that Word of God planted in our hearts will not return to God void. But in each one of us, assuming that we do the Will of God and we remain faithful to Him to the end, that Word will not return to Him until it achieves the purpose for which it was sent. And the purpose for which it was sent is the salvation of our souls.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.