Monday, 14 July 2008

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The first reading paints a picture of the Word of God that is dynamic or animated. God’s Word goes out and never comes back empty handed. This dynamic depiction of God’s Word directs our memory back to the beginning of the Book of Genesis. There we are told that God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. In fact, this dynamic image is somewhat stylised or ritualised in our liturgy as experienced in the penitential rite that we celebrated a while ago: You come in Word and Sacrament to strengthen us in holiness.

The expression might sound a bit dry because we use it all the time so much so that we think nothing of it. Earlier I mentioned “Ritualised and stylised” which for many means being toned down and therefore boring. However we feel about it, it definitely is an expression which simply proclaims the might of God’s Word. But, God’s Word is not a “What” but a “Who”. God’s Word is none other than Christ Himself who comes to us not only as Word but also as Sacrament.

This is where I would like to make a connexion between the Gospel and the First Reading that may draw us into a deeper appreciation of the Sacraments and how we ought to approach them.

The Gospel is rather straight-forward as it describes the different soil conditions that produce different measures of harvest—such a description invites us to take a look at ourselves and to see what label might best apply to us: rocky ground, edge of the pathway, thorns or rich soil. Where do we stand? Labels are good because they allow us to categorise and organise ourselves or people but, the fact is, labelling may not give us the best picture of who we or people are.

We are probably all the soils put together. Even though we might be productive or even outstanding members of society we might have thorns of anxiety choking the life of God in us. Successful people are not always happy. Otherwise, how to explain why celebrities need “highs” from drugs, alcohol or sex to feel high when they are already high up there on pedestals? This is why I think the Gospel might be read through the First Reading. [1] We might be discouraged by the presence of thorns in our lives, [2] we may be lukewarm about our faith—with an attitude that is neither here nor there, [3] we might be dispirited by the poverty of our goodness that no matter how hard we try, we never seem to be good enough. The point is, all of us struggle to be good. Otherwise, we would not be here. Thus, the First Reading invites us in our struggles to be open to God because “His Word goes out and never returns empty, without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent out to do”.

Such is the powerful assurance of the Sower of seeds that at the beginning of Mass, we acknowledge that Christ is both Word and Sacrament. As I said earlier, the First Reading may paint a picture of the Word as powerful and dynamic but these descriptions are adjectives and also redundant. The Word has to be both dynamic and powerful because the Word is Christ Himself. In short, Sacraments are God’s Word in action.

Thus, the Sacraments are not just mere “words”. If they were, then they would become boring. In fact, every Sacrament is the action of Christ Himself. This definition does not say much but we will begin to recognise what this means if we contrast Sacraments with “sacramentals”. According to a definition, a sacramental is anything set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion. That is why sacramentals do not confer or give the grace of the Holy Spirit the way that the 7 Sacraments do. In blessing a rosary, a medal, water or a person, by the Church’s prayer they prepare us to receive grace and give us the opportunity to co-operate with grace. Sacraments, on the other hand, are actions of Christ because through them, Christ continues His saving work amongst us. Christ is truly present amongst us. Thus, the difference between the Sacraments and the sacramentals is: Firstly, the Sacraments were instituted or established by Christ whereas the sacramentals are instituted by the Church and secondly, the Sacraments give grace of themselves when we place no obstacle in the way; the sacramentals excite in us pious dispositions, by means of which we may obtain grace.

Now, perhaps, we can begin to appreciate what a Sacrament means. Every Sacrament that we celebrate is Christ Himself who [1] adopts us, [2] feeds us, [3] strengthens us, [4] forgives us, [5] heals us and [6] commissions us. You’d be wondering why only 6 actions of Christ which does not correspond to our 7 Sacraments. Actually, Christ Himself [1] adopts us in Baptism, [2] feeds us in the Eucharist, [3] strengthens us in Confirmation, [4] forgives us in Confession, [5] heals us through Anointing and commissions or sends us to sanctify the world through [6] Marriage or [7] Holy Order. Every sacrament that we celebrate generously and with deep faith will open us to the efficacious or effective action of Christ in our lives. The point of the First Reading is that God’s Word, meaning, Christ’s actions never fail to achieve what they set out to do. Even when we seem to face, feel and experience failure and we are ready to give up hope... the point is never to give up hope even if we feel that we are more rocky patches or thorny ground than fertile soil but continue to trust in the actions of Christ. In fact, the Second Reading acknowledges our groaning or yearning for salvation. The power of God’s Word in the Old Testament is Christ’s actions which are the Sacraments of the Church that we celebrate day in and day out, in and out of season. Alleluia.