Sermon on Sexagesima Sunday
16 February 2022
by a Dominican friar
“When a very great multitude was gathered together, and hastened out of the cities unto him, he spoke by a similitude.”
Last Sunday’s gospel, the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, ended with these words: “Many are called but few are chosen.” Today’s parable seems to allude to the same theme. St Luke tells us that our Lord spoke this parable of the Sower “when a very great multitude was gathered together, and hastened out of the cities unto him”. The disciples of Christ, when they saw such an enormous and enthusiastic crowd, must have supposed that nothing could resist His preaching and that all Israel would soon be converted and accept Him as their Saviour. Christ wished therefore to prevent His disciples from being disappointed; and also, to show them that, later on, when they found themselves preaching to great crowds, they must not suppose their work to be done, or the salvation of their hearers assured. Perhaps many would come to hear them too, but it by no means follows that all who heard would be saved.
Jesus of course desires that all His hearers will be saved. This is why He came into the world. He wishes us all to “bring forth fruit”. What does that mean, to bring forth fruit? It means to perform actions which, by the grace of God, will merit an eternal reward. This is what He calls elsewhere “fruit that will last”, and He says that His Heavenly Father is glorified when we bear this kind of fruit. We heard many examples of such fruits in the long epistle, in which St Paul was obliged, in order to maintain his own authority against certain people who were slandering him, to mention some of the hardships that he had endured out of fidelity to Christ. “Of the Jews, five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I was in the depths of the sea.” All these sufferings of St Paul are fruits that have lasted; they have lasted not so much in the sense that we are still reading about them today, but in the sense that now, in heaven, St Paul is glad to have suffered them for his Saviour, and to have glorified God thereby. While the essence of beatitude is the vision of God as He is, Three-in-One, the good deeds which the saints performed while on earth are part of what we call their accidental, or secondary, beatitude.
This is what Our Lord calls “the mystery of the kingdom of God”. Is it not mysterious that by our lives on earth, which pass so quickly, we can merit what St Paul calls “an eternal weight of glory”? For it is not only in such dramatic events as shipwrecks that we bear fruit for God: each time we go to work or cook a meal, if it is done for the love of God, we add a little more to this “weight of glory”. Hence the usefulness of beginning each day with some form of morning offering: that is, with any prayer offering in advance all the words, sufferings and actions of the day to our Heavenly Father through the Heart of Christ.
Our Lord desires the salvation of all, but it does not follow that all are saved. There are three obstacles that can prevent His words from bearing fruit in our lives. The first, He tells us, is the devil, the enemy of the human race. “They by the way-side are they that hear; then the devil cometh, and taketh the word out of their hearts, lest believing they should be saved.” We might have imagined that if someone hears the Catholic faith preached, and decides not to believe it, this simply results from his free will; perhaps he is too attached to pleasures or freedoms which he fears to lose if he believes in the gospel. And certainly, his free will is in play; that is why it is a sin to refuse to believe when one has heard the faith clearly preached. But Our Lord shows us that there are still others involved in the matter. The devil does what he can to prevent the spread of the Catholic faith, by causing teachers to teach badly, and their hearers to be inattentive. Hence the importance of praying, especially for the bishops of the Church, that they may teach well. St Paul himself, in one of his epistles, asks his readers to pray for him that he may announce the word of God clearly; if even an apostle needed such prayers, then the successors of the apostles certainly need them too.
The second obstacle to fruition is the lack of a root. “They upon the rock are they who when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no roots; for they believe for a while, and in time of temptation, they fall away.” How do we make our roots grow? What roots are for a plant, such are good habits for the soul. The manner in which we make habits to grow is no secret: it is simply by repetition. Taking some time for prayer every day, coming to Mass every Sunday, going to confession frequently, for example, at least every month, these things make the roots of good habits to grow in the soul. And, in order that these good habits do not become mechanical, it is good, if possible, to set aside a day – or several days – in the year to serve God in a fuller way, for example by going on pilgrimage or even by some short stay in a monastery. If someone has lived in this way, for several years, or several decades, it is not likely that he will soon wither away under the sun of persecution, since moisture, that is, the dew of the Holy Ghost, is constantly refreshing his soul. As St John says in his first epistle: “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.”
But there is one more obstacle from which Christ wishes us to be free. If the first group is comprised of those who never attain to the faith, and the second group of those who renounce the practice of their faith because of social pressure, the third is of those who do not use the faith which they have. “That which fell among thorns are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit.” You may ask, since we are in this life, how is it possible to avoid the cares of this life? But Jesus does not say that the seed among thorns represents those who experience the cares of this life, but rather those who are choked by them. We do not consider a gardener lazy or incompetent if some little weeds sprout up near the bottom of his rose-bushes. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the most diligent gardener to completely eradicate them. But if we see a flowerbed in which the weeds are as tall as the flowers, then we reasonably think that it has been neglected. And since, in human life, the weeds of care will continually grow unless they are consciously checked, it is useful, to prevent ourselves from being choked with the cares of this life, to say often, “Lord, I do not desire to have anything more than I need, and Thou alone, O Lord, knowest how much that is.”
“That on the good ground, are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.” These words of Our Lord are not only a prediction: they are a promise. If we believe the Catholic faith, and nourish our faith by prayer and sacraments, and try to avoid excessive care by our trust in the providence of God, then He promises us that our actions, however ordinary they may seem, will be fruits worthy of heaven, from which will come that new wine which He desires to drink with His friends, in the kingdom of His Father.