The Gospel of Love, Lived in and Announced in Christian Marriage and Family, Sixteenth Sunday (A), July 20, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Betania II Retreat Center, Medway, MA
International Gathering of the Super Region Responsibles of the Teams of our Lady
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 20, 2014
Wis 12:13.16-19, Ps 86, Rom 8:26-27, Mt 13:24-43

To listen to an audio recording please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

The One Thing Necessary

It’s a great joy for me to have been invited to pray this Opening Mass with all the members of the Teams of Our Lady from around the world. Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Therefore the Eucharist is likewise the alpha and the omega of the spirituality of the Christian family in general and of the Teams of Our Lady in particular. You are here this week to ponder the theme of the love of God and for God as the one thing necessary, as the “better part,” as the “pearl of great price,” that we are called to receive and choose. The Eucharist that we celebrate is Jesus’ love for us “to the extreme” and, receiving this gift, we are meant to make our whole life a commentary on the words of consecration. Jesus in the celebration of the Eucharist teaches us how to love, showing and assisting us to give our body, our blood, our sweat and tears, our heart and all we are and have for others, for our spouses and family members, for fellow team members, for our parish communities, for our neighbors, and for Christ in the various disguises by which he comes to us in search of love and mercy. The Eucharist is also the consummation of the spousal union between Christ and his Bride, the Church, and therefore, as St. John Paul II wrote in his exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, the Eucharist is the source from which their own covenant of love flows, is interiorly structured and continuously renewed. It is where the Christian family, he insisted, finds the foundation and soul of its communion and mission (FC 57). And so, as a chaplain to a Team of Our Lady for the past 13 years and a great believer of its importance for the renewal of the Church, it is a certainly a great honor for me to join you all here to begin our time together sitting at the Lord’s feet like Mary of Bethany and, instead of trying to feed him like Martha, allow him to feed us!

Today Jesus has a great deal to say to us in the Gospel about the growth of the kingdom. Insofar as the Gospel of Human Love, the Sacrament of Marriage, and the Family is so central to the Kingdom, he has much to all of us about the growth, the mission, and the adversaries of the marital and familial life.

Growing in and with Christ

Last week, in the parable of the Sower, Seed and Soil, Jesus indicate that he wishes to implant his Word, his work and ultimately himself within us on good soil so that in communion with him we might bear abundant fruit. We all know from gardening and farming that once a seed has matured and grown into a mature plant or tree, it produces fruit with seeds that now can be planted elsewhere. Spiritually the same thing is supposed to happen. Jesus Christ is the seed that has been planted within us. He is the grain of wheat who fell to the ground and died (Jn 12:24), but when he rose, his kingdom began to grow and to extend throughout time to all the places of the world. From this seed of Christ, from this one God-man in Palestine, the Church was born and grew, grew into the largest of shrubs, in which countless people throughout the ages, including whole nations, have been able to come and find shelter in her branches. That tree continues to live today, right here and how, and we’re in it. But we’re not only in its branches, but we’re part of that tree, along with all Christians throughout the ages past and to come. Together with Christ, as branches on Jesus the vine (Jn 15:5), the Church extends throughout the whole world, in areas of great sunshine and of great darkness, with all of us taking our roots in that one event, that one piece of soil on Calvary, that one seed that feel to the ground three times and died, but rose again, like a plant in springtime, giving life to all of us throughout time.

The Growth of the Teams of the Our Lady

[Preached in French] In the Parable of the Mustard seed, we see a perennial lesson that not only describes the growth of the kingdom and the Church as a whole but of so many movements within the Church throughout the centuries. So many religious orders, apostolates, parishes and dioceses that the Lord has raised up to help the Church began like a miniscule mustard seed, often with one person or a few families, but through much grace rained from above, patience, hardship and hard work, they eventually grew to be quite large and a refuge for multitudes. We all know how the Teams of Our Lady began. It began essentially with an event in the life of a 19-year old boy, Henri Caffarel, who in prayer recognized that he was loved by Jesus Christ and that he loved him in return. That seed of love, the one thing necessary, began to grow within him and led him even years later to priestly ordination. It continued to grow such that in 1938, when four couples approached him desiring to live their Christian sacramental marriages to the full as a path of holiness, he readily sought to accompany them. From those first four couples and their chaplain, eventually the Teams of Our Lady was born and, like a mustard seed, grew so that it is now a large tree with over 12,000 teams with 62,000 couples and 135,000 members in 78 countries on every continent, speaking all types of languages, are able to find shelter in its branches. We give God thanks for the powerful seed he implanted within Father Caffarel and the first couples so that eventually the tree grew to embrace us. We also ask the Lord to give us the good soil so that that seed may continue through us to grow and expand even more.

Christian Married Couples and Families as Leaven

[Preached in Spanish] The second image Jesus gives us today to describe the growth of his kingdom is of leaven in dough. The dough is the whole world and we Christians are called to be the leaven. One Christian in a neighborhood, or one truly Catholic family on a street, should be enough over time to transform that neighborhood and that street if the Christians don’t hide the light of our faith under a bushel basket (Mt 5:15). Similarly one true Christian — or a few of them — in a school or in an office should be enough over time to impact all the rest. The true Christian, Jesus is saying, is the opposite of a “bad apple.” We know that one bad apple can quickly corrode a whole bushel. Christians are supposed to be the good apples. We are supposed to be the yeast that can make the whole world rise to God. What is true of us as individuals and as the whole Church is certainly true of families. During my studies in Rome, I used to love to compare stories and strategies for preaching the Gospel with future priests from around the world. I remember once talking about evangelization with an African seminarian who told me that when they want to spread the faith they don’t concern themselves with producing slick fliers, books, videos and CDs for people to read, watch, listen to and devour. Rather they ask for a family to volunteer to move into another village and just live the faith with joy, spreading it as good news through friendship, or, on occasion, being willing to spread it through becoming a martyr for it. And in these parts of Africa, the faith is growing by leaps and bounds. They become the yeast that the Lord places in the dough of surrounding cities.

[Preached in Spanish] Pope Paul VI described this process of evangelization in his famous exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: “Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization. The above questions will ask, whether they are people to whom Christ has never been proclaimed, or baptized people who do not practice, or people who live as nominal Christians but according to principles that are in no way Christian, or people who are seeking, and not without suffering, something or someone whom they sense but cannot name. Other questions will arise, deeper and more demanding ones, questions evoked by this witness which involves presence, sharing, solidarity, and which is an essential element, and generally the first one, in evangelization.”

[Preached in Italian] This is the form of evangelization that all Christian couples and families, but especially those who belong to the Teams of Our Lady, are called to carry out. In the midst of a world that has lost faith in God and faith in the promises of marriage, Christian couples are able to live in a provocative way in the midst of the same poverty and prosperity, good times and bad, health and sickness that other couples face. The formation to holiness that happens through living according to the spiritual practices of the Teams of Our Lady, the support that comes not only from one’s spouse but from the other team couples and spiritual assistants, are meant to help all those who belong to the team to become this type of Christian leaven that can help others to believe again in the meaning and beauty of marriage and family in God’s plans. Father Caffarel called all Teams of Our Lady to this apostolate back in 1950, writing, “I simply want to invite you…  to do everything you can for the married and family spirituality that you get from Teams to reach couples around you. May it strengthen their union that is perhaps breaking up. May it reanimate their love and reveal to them the riches of their sacrament of marriage. May it help them also to know the joy and strength that comes from fraternal friendship between couples. But do not tell me that there is nothing to be done. If you really care for all these threatened couples that are short of love and grace, you will know how to invent what needs to be done and you will persevere in your efforts. Inventiveness, perseverance, such are the qualities of missionaries. How numerous are the missionaries who struggle, preach and persevere for years without result! Well, yes indeed, be the missionaries of this married spirituality that gives you life” The importance of this apostolic dimension of the Teams of Our Lady has only grown with time. The one whom Pope Francis called the “Pope of the Family,” St. John Paul II, using images from Jesus’ agricultural parables called on all of us in the Teams of Our Lady to this type of missionary fervor in 2003, saying, “I thank God for the fruitfulness of your movement throughout the world, and encourage you to witness untiringly and explicitly to the beauty of human love, marriage and the family.”

The Weeds Sown Among the Wheat

[Preached in Portuguese] This witness of the beauty of human love, marriage and the family to which St. John Paul II called us is needed in every generation. But it is more urgently needed today than ever because of what we learn in the third parable Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. Jesus describes that while he is seeking to sow us — and especially good Catholic marriages and families — as good seed in the field of the world, that planting is not happening in a vacuum. There is an enemy trying to sabotage God’s plans for the growth of his kingdom and the salvation of the human person. Jesus identifies the enemy straight out as the devil and tells us that the devil is sowing in the fields of the world those who are beholden to him and to his lies, those who do evil and cause others to sin. They are the anti-yeast, the bad apples, who rather than lifting everyone up toward God, bring people down, to behave without faith or supernatural vision, to behave more like proud devils, to behave morally sometimes like animals. Just as in the Garden of Eden the devil attacked the first marriage and family, so he is always seeking to sow poisonous weeds in every marriage and family and he is also seeking to poison the culture so that it will lose appreciation for marriage and family in general. Can anyone deny that these noxious weeds exist in our world and that the fields of our respective countries are becoming more populated with them? We see these weeds in the push for no fault divorce, sex as a meaningless contact sport, cohabitation, the redefinition of marriage, abortion, pornography, contraception, and sterilization. We see these weeds in the cultural push for individualism, consumerism and hedonism, all of which weaken matrimonial and familial bonds. We see them in the work policies of many nations that force dads to live apart from their family, even to migrate to other countries. We see it in the endemic structures of poverty than penalize marriage and make it very hard for families to support themselves. We see it in the violence and abuse that are fomented by many of our movies, but the dependence on alcohol and drugs, and many other means. Whether they realize it or not, there are many who are under the sway of the devil’s poison, who are living by principles antithetical to the Gospel and to healthy, happy and holy marriages and families. are under the sway of the evil one, living by principles antithetical to the Gospel.

But in the parable Jesus does not eliminate these weeds. He allows the good seed and the bad seed, the wheat and the weeds, to grow up together. This is so that the wheat doesn’t get destroyed with the weeds. In the Middle East, the wheat and the weeds Jesus is describing in the parable are indistinguishable during the early phases of growth. Not even expert farmers can tell the difference between them. When they grow enough to be differentiated, their roots are so intertwined that you can’t separate them without ripping out the wheat by the roots as well. So one needs to let them grow, harvest them all together and then separate them on sifting tables, so that the good wheat not be contaminated by the toxic fruit of the weeds.

The type of patience and prudence Jesus is describing here is not easy to have. Many of us would prefer to battle immediately against these weeds that can hinder the develop of good soil for marriage and family to grow. Pope Francis talks about our impatience in his Angelus address this morning in the Vatican. He said that there is a “contrast between the impatience of servants and the patient waiting of the owner of the field, who represents God. We are sometimes in a hurry to judge, classify, place the good here and the bad beyond. But God knows to wait. He looks at the ‘field’ of every person’s life with patience and mercy. He sees much better than us the dirt and the evil, but He also sees the seeds of good and looks forward with confidence for them to mature. God is patient, he knows to wait.” This is not, he stressed, indifference to evil, but a certainty that evil won’t have the first or the last word. St. John Paul II pondered this point back in 1991 when he said, “This parable explains the co-existence and the frequent mingling of good and evil in the world, in our lives and in the very history of the Church. Jesus teaches us to see these things with Christian realism and to handle every problem with clear principles, but also with prudence and patience. This presupposes a transcendent vision of history, in which one knows that everything belongs to God and every final result is the work of his Providence. However, the final destiny–in its eschatological dimension–of the good and bad is not hidden. It is symbolized by the gathering of the wheat into the barn and the burning of the weeds.”

What are we to do in the meantime?

First, we should focus on growing together with Christ — as individuals, couples, families, teams, parishes and international movements — rather than spending the majority of our time annoyed at all the weeds. Jesus tells us that while such weeds can provide frustration for the farmer or for the Christian, they ultimately can’t stop the growth of the good seed. Pope Benedict XVI pondered this reality back in 2010 when speaking of the saints who were pivotal players in the reform of the Church after the scandals that led to the Protestant Reformation. He described that they knew they were living in a world and a Church “where wheat and weeds grow side by side” but precisely because that is the reality, they were “not shocked at her human weaknesses. To combat the weeds [they] chose to be good wheat: that is, [they] decided to love Christ in the Church and to help make her, more and more, a transparent sign of Christ. [they] saw the Church very realistically, her human frailty, but he also saw her as being ‘God’s field,’ the instrument of God for humanity’s salvation.” Pope Benedict was calling us all to that same holy realism.

Second, the parable teaches us that we never know whether even those who seem to be weeds may, in the final analysis, turn out to be wheat. We need only to think of St. Paul who as Saul opposed the kingdom but after his conversion became one of that kingdom’s greatest apostles of all time. We can also think of great St. Augustine, who when he was young fathered a child out of wedlock, cohabitated with his girlfriend, lived in a morally dissolute way, but then, after the prayers of his mother for so long, converted and became one of the greatest teachers of the faith. Even someone we know who is passionately living contrary to the kingdom may be given the grace of conversion and become one of the great saints, bearing much good fruit what once seemed to be just weeds. So we should pray for all those in situations contrary to the Gospel with the fervor with which St. Stephen prayed for Saul and St. Monica prayed for Augustine!

The Mission For the Future of Humanity

At this Mass, through these inspiring parables, the Lord wants to strengthen us to carry out this crucial mission of the spreading of his kingdom for the salvation of the world. The future of humanity, St. John Paul II said in his exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, “passes by way of the family.” Jesus wants to strengthen us, strengthen our Teams, strengthen the whole movement of the Teams of Our Lady throughout the world, so that we might be his good seed, his leaven, his ever growing mustard plant in the midst of the field of the world. Jesus strengthens us today not just through planting the seed of his word through our ears into our hearts, but by planting himself, the mustard seed, into our mouths and digestive tracks through a Holy Communion that is meant to be the source of our spousal and familial communion. From within, Jesus wants to strengthen us by his love that we might bear fruits of love abundantly and so that others in seeing the love of God radiating through the love of husband and wife and within the communion of persons that is the family, may come to learn anew of God’s love for them and his plans for them to experience it in truth in marriage and family life as he instituted it. Under the mantle of our Lady who received Jesus within by the power of the Holy Spirit and witnessed his body grow ultimately to be not just an adult but a Mystical Body extending through time and space, we ask her to help us become ever more rooted in him and in his love so that together with him the Movement of the Teams of Our Lady may help all married couples in the Church recognize the holiness to which God calls us. Jesus wouldn’t be calling us as members of the Teams of Our Lady to this mission to be good seed, mustard trees and leaven unless he were prepared to give us everything we need to fulfill it. He gives us that “miracle gro” fertilizer here at Mass, where he tells us anew, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear!” And we listen like Mary of Bethany at the feet of the altar as we prepare to welcome our “one thing necessary,” our Lord and Savior, the Love of God incarnate and the Spouse of the Church.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
WIS 12:13, 16-19

There is no god besides you who have the care of all,
that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.
For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.
For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.
But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,
and with much lenience you govern us;
for power, whenever you will, attends you.
And you taught 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.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16

R/ (5a) Lord, you are good and forgiving.
You, O LORD, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.
R/ Lord, you are good and forgiving.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship you, O LORD,
and glorify your name.
For you are great, and you do wondrous deeds;
you alone are God.
R/ Lord, you are good and forgiving.
You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.
Turn toward me, and have pity on me;
give your strength to your servant.
R/ Lord, you are good and forgiving.

Reading 2
ROM 8:26-27

Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.

Gospel
MT 13:24-43

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”He proposed another parable to them.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”He spoke to them another parable.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.

Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”