Sunday, July 16, 2017

Don't try, train

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2017:
I’ll freely admit that today’s gospel is a tough one to preach on.  Jesus gives us a parable, then he also gives us the interpretation.  So, in my experience, most homilies on this gospel fall into two categories.  Number one, priests just end up repeating everything that Jesus says.  They talk about the different categories.  Sorry, but I always think homilies like that are long and boring.  I don’t need to tell you what Jesus just said, Jesus just said it (and he said it better than I could ever do).  Number two, some priests just make up something new.  Last time I heard this gospel I was still in D.C. studying canon law.  The priest that day said: I know Jesus says what this parable is all about, but I think it means something completely different.  Wow, I was stunned.  So this guy knew better than Jesus?  I don’t think so.
So, rather than just give a long boring homily where I repeat what Jesus says, or come up with something new, I thought I would just give some tips on how to be that person who is the rich soil.  We all know that when we hear this parable we want to be that rich soil.  We want to hear the word of God and we want to act on it, giving rich fruit in our lives and in the lives of others.  I mean, we all have that intention right?  So, why don’t we all get there all the time?
This week I was watching the Tour de France.  As I have mentioned before, I’m an avid cyclist, but I’m also a fan of watching the Tour de France on TV.  Thursday was an amazing race.  Chris Froome was leading the race.  He has won the race 3 times in the past, he’s the defending champion, and the favorite to win this year.  During Thursday’s race he was in a good position, near the front.  The cyclists raced through numerous mountains, and Froome looked poised to keep the lead.  However, the last 400 meters of the race went up an extremely steep hill.  Everyone knew it would be a chance to attack.  So, at just the right moment, the rider in second place, who is named Fabio Aru, launched an attack.  It ended up that he was stronger and faster than Chris Froome in that moment.  In fact, he beat Froome by enough time that after the race he took over the lead of the Tour de France and the coveted yellow jersey.  It was an immense triumph for Fabio.  Now, who knows if he will win the whole thing.  In fact, Chris Froome took back the lead yesterday and the yellow jersey.  But, for a few days Fabio was triumphant.
But, that race made me stop and think.  It seemed like Fabio Aru came out of nowhere to beat one of the best cyclists in the world.  But, you know what?  He didn’t come out of nowhere.  He didn’t get lucky.  Rather, Fabio Aru is a world class bike rider.  He has been training his whole life.  He has competed at the highest levels.  It wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t chance, it wasn’t that he tried this one time.  Rather, he won that race because of a lifetime of dedication, because of all his training.
The same has to be true for us.  I think that all too often we think of a life of goodness and virtue as a one shot deal.  Like we get these chances to be good and holy and virtuous and we just hope that at the right moment we will succeed.  But, nothing in life works like that, and neither does holiness.  If we want to be that rich soil that produces a rich harvest, we need to train, we need to be prepared, we need to be ready at every moment for the Lord to scatter his seed into our hearts.  It’s not about being lucky, it’s about training.
We see this too in the lives of the saints.  One of my favorite saint stories is the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe.  St. Maximilian was a priest who was arrested and placed in the concentration camp by the Nazis.  When a fellow prisoner was condemned to death, St. Maximilian stepped forward and offered to exchange his life for the condemned man saying, he has a wife and kids, I’ll die in his place.  Remarkable right!  But, just like Fabio Aru, this great victory of holiness was not a fluke, it wasn’t luck.  St. Maximilian was ready to make this amazing sacrifice because he had been preparing his whole life.
I think the key to understanding this parable and its underlying message is that there are no shortcuts, there are no secret tricks.  Being a disciple of Jesus is a constant practice of keeping our hearts, our gardens, free of weeds and stones.

This might be a little discouraging.  There’s no secret, no trick.  But, rather than thinking of this as discouraging, I think it’s really exciting.  It means that no matter who we are, no matter where we have been, we can always turn it around.  No time like today.

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