O Lord, Open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

The first time I learned that evangelizing was part and parcel of being a baptized Catholic my initial reaction was “Nope. Not me.”  I had one just reason to reject this teaching and it emerged from an experience I had of being confronted by an street evangelist who dogged me for two blocks demanding I tell him I was “saved.” This experience was repeated years later at a party attended by people of all faith traditions, including a few non-believers. It was a happy, social occasion that rapidly went down the tubes when one of the guests decided to share the tale of his Christian conversion, a story which included pressuring anyone within earshot to defend their own faith choices. Just like the guests at that party making a mad dash to the exit, I found myself looking for a way to distance myself from anything that even remotely resembled being an evangelist. And who could blame me?

Fast forward many (many) years. Unfortunate examples aside, I now embrace my role as an evangelizer and so should you. Because in the Catholic Church we are evangelizers, not evangelists. That job is taken. The Christian tradition already has four evangelists who gave us the Gospels. And it is on the stories and teachings of Jesus contained in those Gospels that we base our lives. In other words, we evangelize through our example of living the faith.

But what about public evangelization? True, there are settings where giving witness to our beliefs and spreading the Good News in a specific way is required. In his recent exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis calls this “informal and unexpected preaching,” which means “being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others … in any place, on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” The key for us is remembering that evangelization is never an opportunity to “market” Catholicism. Rather, it is a time to truly listen, and if appropriate, to humbly share the message of God’s friendship.  These are times when a spiritual wisdom, such as what God granted to Solomon, is needed. Make this request for spiritual wisdom part of your daily prayer, and don’t be afraid.  Pope Francis assures us with the words of Jesus that we should not lose courage; what we say will be suggested to us by the Holy Spirit [MT 10:16-23].

Today’s readings can be found here. 

The good seed. The good soil.

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

“The simple truth is that it all starts with the soil” says Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., an urban farm and community food center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (www.growingpower.org). As one of the preeminent thinkers of our time on urban agriculture, vertical farming, and food policy, Allen’s organization actually produces the soil it uses. He continues, “without good soil, crops don’t get enough of the nutrients they need to survive and when plants are stressed, they are more prone to disease and pest problems.”

Parables are stories in which the meaning of one thing is explained with something else.  For Jesus, that something else would be an object familiar to certain members of his audience, but not to all: soil, seeds, yeast, pearls, treasure, fishing nets, and so on. The parable of the sower (MT 13:1-23) if read literally reveals both the plight of the farmer and its solution. Obviously, seed crops and yields were not Jesus’ focus, but to continue the soil metaphor it is worth noting that all seeds have within them the capacity for growth, but unless the soil is receptive, stress, disease and pests threaten to destroy what has been sown. The 4th century Theologian, Gregory Nyssa had a less nuanced explanation, “sin is the failure to grow.”

Presuming we all have ears and want to hear, there’s no better time than right now, in the height of the growing season to consider how we are at different times both the seed and the soil. The liturgical calendar also has returned us to ordinary time, which is represented by the color of nature, green. It is in ordinary time that we want the seeds of our faith to germinate. It is during this time that we cultivate the soil of our community garden.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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