Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions, Martyrs
September 20, 2014
1 Cor 15:35-37.42-49, Ps 56, Lk 8:4-15
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today’s readings and feast are all about various forms of sowing and they provide an opportunity for us to consider our receptivity to God’s sowing in us and our generosity of sowing his word, His very person and ourselves to others.
- The first sowing is what Jesus himself does. He first sows the seed of his word, hoping that he will find in us not tough soil by the path that signifies a shut mind and a hardened heart that refuses to allow the word to penetrate and change; not the superficial rocky soil with just a think layer of soil over a thick subterranean layer of limestone that initially receives the seed with joy but doesn’t nourish it to make sure it grows; not the thorny soil full of the weeks of world cares, anxieties, riches and the pleasure of life that can suck up the energy that should be dedicated to the growth of the seed, but rather the good soil that hears the word, embraces it with a generous and good heart and bears fruit — 100 fold — through perseverance. Today is an opportunity for us to take again a soil sample of our heart to whether the word of God that Jesus seeks to sow in us daily changes our lives in 100 ways or more, or whether we’re resistant, superficial or existentially distracted from allowing our whole life to develop in accordance with what God proclaims.
- But that’s just the first way Jesus sows. He goes beyond it by sowing himself. In St. John’s Gospel, he says that “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). He is the grain of wheat who fell to the ground on the way of the Cross and died on Calvary to bear much fruit in us. He inseminates himself in us in Holy Communion and wants to transform us totally from the inside out, changing us in an astronomical number of concrete ways to become more and more like him, as we seek to respond to this gift by aligning our entire life with Him with Whom we enter into communion, knowing that there are far more than 100 ways in which we’re not presently like him. What’s our receptivity to that sowing with Him in his Risen life?
- St. Paul in the first reading talks about one of the effects that Christ’s sowing himself and his word in us is meant to have. Just like a seed grows and matures and eventually bears fruit that contains other seeds that then can be sown, so Jesus’ sowing in us is meant to lead to our seeking to sow his word in others and to sow ourselves as grains of wheat. St. Paul talks about the way we’re supposed to imitate Jesus’ Eucharistic sowing of his own body for God and for others in the way we die. Death is not supposed to be something that just happens to us. It’s supposed to be something with which we actively cooperate, imitating Jesus in freely laying down our life for him and for others. Answering the questions of the Corinthians who wondered what the resurrected body would be like, St. Paul turns to the image of sowing. He said, “What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. … So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.” He was communicating that the corruptible, occasionally unpresentable, weak, natural body we have in this world is meant to be sown as a seed that in the resurrection will flourish as an incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual body that is the tree that has grown from that act of self-giving. What we sow here, in other words, is reaped eternally. There is an intrinsic connection. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus’ risen body bears the marks of his crucifixion, because those are the lasting signs of the love that he sowed for us in dying so that we might live.
- Today we celebrate the feast of the Korean Martyrs, St. Andrew Kim Taegon and companions. In the opening prayer of the Mass, we talked about the sowing they did for the faith, turning to God and praying that as he “made the blood of the Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Taegon and his companions a most fruitful seed of Christians” that “we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example.” As Tertullian wrote 1800 years ago, sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. This is clearly the case of the Korean martyrs. In the late 1700s, some educated Korean laypeople found some texts from the Jesuit priests who were missionaries in China. Because Korea was so xenophobic, it didn’t allow any foreigners in the country, including missionaries. But these lay people, searching for the truth, found that the truth had a name. They baptized each other and tried to live the faith as best they could. When finally missionaries were smuggled in later, they found that there were already 4,000 Catholics present. And these Catholics were willing to suffer for the faith. There were 6 ferocious anti-Christian persecution waves — in 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846, and 1866 — but none of them had the purpose that the Korean authorities wanted, of intimidating those who remained out of the practice of the faith. They continued to persevere. Today we celebrate St. Andrew Kim Taegon, who was the first Korean priest. At the age of 15, he was identified by a smuggled French missionary priest as someone with a priestly vocation, and he was sent to walk by foot over 1000 miles to study in a seminary in Macão. While he was away, his father, a convert, was tortured and martyred in the 1839 persecution. Fr. Andrew returned in order to sow the faith that had been sown in him and he would die in the persecution of 1846. While he was in prison awaiting execution, he wrote a letter to his fellow Korean Catholics to strengthen them in the faith. It continued the whole image of sowing and bearing fruit.
- He first asked what good would their baptism be “if we are Christians in name alone and not in fact?We would have come into the world for nothing, we would have entered the Church for nothing, and we would have betrayed even God and his grace. It would be better never to have been born than to receive the grace of God and then to sin against him” by betraying the faith under duress. “Look at the farmer who cultivates his rice fields. In season he plows, then fertilizes the earth; never counting the cost, he labors under the sun to nurture the seed he has planted. When harvest time comes and the rice crop is abundant, forgetting his labor and sweat, he rejoices with an exultant heart. … The Lord is like a farmer and we are the field of rice that he fertilizes with his grace and by the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption irrigates with his blood, in order that we will grow and reach maturity. When harvest time comes, the day of judgment, those who have grown to maturity in the grace of God will find the joy of adopted children in the kingdom of heaven.”
- Then he specifically called them to bear that fruit of fidelity with courage, knowing that suffering waters the seed of their faith and makes it grow by testing it: “Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down. Ever since his ascension and from the time of the apostles to the present, the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow even in the midst of tribulations. For the last fifty or sixty years, ever since the coming of the Church to our own land of Korea, the faithful have suffered persecution over and over again. Persecution still rages and as a result many who are friends in the household of the faith, myself among them, have been thrown into prison and like you are experiencing severe distress.… But, as the Scriptures say, God numbers the very hairs of our head and in his all-embracing providence he has care over us all. Persecution, therefore, can only be regarded as the command of the Lord or as a prize he gives or as a punishment he permits. Hold fast, then, to the will of God and with all your heart fight the good fight under the leadership of Jesus; conquer again the diabolical power of this world that Christ has already vanquished.” This is the example that we asked God at the beginning of Mass today to help us profit from always!
- Last month, on August 16, Pope Francis went to Korea to beatify another 123 of the great martyrs of Korea. There he wanted to help not only Korean Christians today but Catholics everywhere to ponder their example and profit from it in imitation. He said, continuing the agricultural image Jesus employs in today’s Gospel, “The victory of the martyrs, their witness to the power of God’s love, continues to bear fruit today in Korea, in the Church which received growth from their sacrifice.… Soon after the first seeds of faith were planted in this land, the martyrs and the Christian community had to choose between following Jesus or the world. They had heard the Lord’s warning that the world would hate them because of him (Jn 17:14); they knew the cost of discipleship. For many, this meant persecution, and later flight to the mountains, where they formed Catholic villages. They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ – possessions and land, prestige and honor – for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure.” He went on to apply the example of their witness to our own situation: “So often we today can find our faith challenged by the world, and in countless ways we are asked to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age. Yet the martyrs call out to us to put Christ first and to see all else in this world in relation to him and his eternal Kingdom. They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.” Are we willing to sow ourselves for the faith that has been sown in us? Will we conform ourselves to Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection, or seek to conform ourselves to this staurophobic (cross-fearing) age? Are we willing to die for him who died for us, to become like him a fruitful grain of wheat for the world’s salvation?
- Today as we celebrate this Mass, the Lord wants to sow his word in our ears, minds and generous hearts. He wants to sow himself within us and not just in a part of the soil of our life but in the entirety of our life. He wants to help us to persevere in allowing him to grow within us so that we can more effectively sow his word and his very presence in the lives of others. He plants his own body within us and then irrigates that seed with his blood so that we may learn how to slow ourselves together with him. That is the means by which the seed of that sowing will grow into the fruit bearing tree that will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual. That’s what awaits the Korean martyrs at the general resurrection of the body. That’s what we pray we will enjoy with them forever if we, at harvest time, when the day of judgment comes, have “grown to maturity in the grace of God” as adopted children in the heavenly kingdom.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 15:35-37, 42-49
Someone may say, “How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body will they come back?”
What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.
And what you sow is not the body that is to be
but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind.
So also is the resurrection of the dead.
It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.
It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious.
It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.
So, too, it is written,
“The first man, Adam, became a living being,”
the last Adam a life-giving spirit.
But the spiritual was not first;
rather the natural and then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, earthly;
the second man, from heaven.
As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly,
and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one,
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
ps 56:10c-12, 13-14
Now I know that God is with me.
In God, in whose promise I glory,
in God I trust without fear;
what can flesh do against me?
R. I will walk in the presence of God, in the light of the living.
I am bound, O God, by vows to you;
your thank offerings I will fulfill.
For you have rescued me from death,
my feet, too, from stumbling;
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.
R. I will walk in the presence of God, in the light of the living.
journeying to Jesus, he spoke in a parable.
“A sower went out to sow his seed.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled,
and the birds of the sky ate it up.
Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew,
it withered for lack of moisture.
Some seed fell among thorns,
and the thorns grew with it and choked it.
And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew,
it produced fruit a hundredfold.”
After saying this, he called out,
“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”Then his disciples asked him
what the meaning of this parable might be.
“Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God
has been granted to you;
but to the rest, they are made known through parables
so that they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.“This is the meaning of the parable.
The seed is the word of God.
Those on the path are the ones who have heard,
but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts
that they may not believe and be saved.
Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear,
receive the word with joy, but they have no root;
they believe only for a time and fall away in time of temptation.
As for the seed that fell among thorns,
they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along,
they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life,
and they fail to produce mature fruit.
But as for the seed that fell on rich soil,
they are the ones who, when they have heard the word,
embrace it with a generous and good heart,
and bear fruit through perseverance.”