Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

David A. Cregan, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Wis 12: 13, 16-19
Ps 86: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Rom 8: 26=27
Mt 13: 24-43

One of the most extraordinary experiences of being a prayerful Christian is our engagement with the Holy Scriptures. Each of us has had that moment, whether sitting in church during a Sunday liturgy or weekday mass or praying with our personal Bibles, where the Scripture speaks a word to the very heart of our personal concerns. The immediacy of the word of God, as it reaches out to where we are at any given moment, is a sign of the Holy Spirit present and active, guiding, supporting and caring for the way that we live our lives. And so, in a unique way, when we gather as a Christian community for the celebration of the liturgy the word of God is reaching out to us, not only in our personal experience, but in our collective discipleship, as we discern how God is calling us to move forward in faith and love.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom invites us to recognize the omnipotence of God, and the proximity of His love and grace in our own lives. How inspiring it is it for us to hear the words, “And you talk to your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins”? So, God is asking us today to be kind and reminding us that the source of our kindness to others should come from the benevolence of His kindness towards us. In other words, we have been blessed and forgiven by God and are thus called to be blessing and forgiveness to one another.

We would all agree that prayer is the cornerstone and strength of our lives. Prayer is the practice of recognizing God in both the good times and the bad times of our lives. The source of the great gift of prayer is our baptism. When we were brought to the church, or came on our own accord, for baptism, the priest traced the sign of the cross on our forehead and claimed us for Christ. In this moment we were granted the grace of God as an indwelling Spirit always at the center of our lives. This Spirit at the moment of baptism is the proverbial mustard seed that we hear about in today’s gospel from Matthew. It starts off small, is nurtured by prayer and cultivated by our participation in the sacraments of the Church. With divine care it grows large, and becomes our personal treasure through which we are able to manage all of the ups and downs of life.

But why do we pray? When I was younger I used to pray for success. I would ask God to help me do well on an exam in school, or I would ask Him to help me get the things that I wanted, and I would also ask Him to bless and protect myself and the people that I loved. And, I might add, that more often than not God granted me the things that I prayed for. But also, more often than not, that prayer would be rather self-absorbed, as I sought God’s blessings on myself and all the things that I thought were important in the world. If I prayed for something I somehow felt that God should give it to me. But, of course, these were the prayers of my childhood and young adulthood. As we grow up our spiritual lives should also mature in such a way that the expanse of our prayer life moves beyond ourselves, pouring out over the whole world in order to make the world a better place; not just for ourselves but for everyone.

Inevitably, as we journey through our own lives, the initial seed that God planted in our souls through baptism finds itself caught in the tangled web of the weeds of life. This metaphor is beautifully unfolded in today’s Gospel. We hear that God is gentle, not yanking those weeds that surround us away for fear that it might destroy the plant. Instead He is patient with us and with our immaturity. These proverbial weeds are our own blindness, selfishness and self-absorption. They impact the way we pray and the ways in which our prayer demands something of God, rather than submitting to His grace and His will. For those with longer life experience, we know what it feels like to be caught in the weeds of our own human mistakes and sins. Reckoning with our own sin is not God’s way of punishing us, but is, instead, God’s way of guiding us on our spiritual path towards maturity in life and in prayer. If the prayer of the young is absorbed with asking God for what we need, the prayer of the mature leans into God, and asks of Him what He needs from us. The humility of the errors of life can be, if we allow it to be, the source of our redemption and the very grace that nurtures our mature relationship with God. As we know from Jesus himself, suffering is the source of redemption, and one of the hardest things for us as human beings to do is to accept our own frailty, turn it over to God, and allow Him to be in control. The bumpy road of self-examination and its companion humility is truly challenging, but is the pathway or the narrow gate that leads us towards complete and utter dependence on God. As we mature spiritually we have an opportunity to listen in silence for what He wants from us, not only what we want from Him.

Once one welcomes the hard work of weeding our own lives through reconciliation and prayer, we must be diligent to try to keep our own garden as free from this blight as possible. Today’s gospel is very prescient in its clarity for just how we are to grow in holiness. When Jesus dismisses the crowds and is left with his disciples, he begins to explain to them the meaning of the parable. In this explanation he describes what he calls the Enemy as the one who sows the weeds. What does this mean? The Enemy is the power of darkness or Satan in the world. In our times we have been reluctant to talk about the presence or the work of the Enemy. We ignore this spiritual reality at our own peril. But how does one recognize the Enemy in our midst? Far from being that horned and tailed creature of ancient mythology, the Enemy is often more present to you and I in our immaturity and selfishness. The Enemy encourages our narcissism and our belief that we deserve something that others do not. This attitude can oftentimes breed a selfishness that only focuses on our own needs and the needs of those who we care about or deem worthy. When we do this we use God to be what suits us, and forget that we must listen and surrender to His will; a will that is broader and more inclusive than any human perspective could imagine. But as we know from the model of Jesus, we are called to be light to the world, not just to those whom we love. The fruits of allowing these particular weeds to grow in our lives are concretely manifested in racism, violence, anger, disregard for life and intolerance. Jesus, our life and our model for a living, encourages the seed of faith within us to grow in compassion, reconciliation, and peace. These are the fruits of grace and faith. These values are so important to the core of our faith and our personal growth, and to our maturing as we hear and see every time we gather for liturgy. We pray the words, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” This is the seed he has given us, and what he has asked to plant broadly and generously.

Today’s Scriptures are speaking to you and me very clearly. We have been gifted by the grace of God, and that grace has inspired and protected us throughout our lives. Through our own dedication and faithfulness the seed planted deep with in us has grown into a healthy and thriving plant, as manifested by our lives and the life of our Church. Today we are invited to maturity, to grow up spiritually, if you will. This is hard work. We must first look within and weed our own garden. And once we have grown in spiritual knowledge and safeguarded ourselves against the Enemy with prayer and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we must try to do God’s work, not just our own.