25 July 2014

'One pearl of great value.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Chaldean Catholic Church
ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ
Ecclesia Chaldaeorum Catholica

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 13:44-52 [or 13:44-46] (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
[“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”]

Fr Ragheed Ganni (20 January 1972 - 3 June 2007)

We have been given the most precious 'pearl' of all, our Christian faith. And at the heart of that 'pearl' is the Eucharist, the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, as Vatican II tells us in Lumen Gentium No 11. Fr Ragheed Ganni, a priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is in full communion with Rome, spoke in Bari, Italy, about the Eucharist on Saturday 28 May 2005, the eve of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to close a Eucharistic Congress there.

This is what Father Ragheed said (emphases added):

Mosul Christians are not theologians; some are even illiterate. And yet inside of us for many generations one truth has become embedded: without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live.

This is true today when evil has reached the point of destroying churches and killing Christians, something unheard of in Iraq till now.

On June 2004 of last year, a group of young women were cleaning the church to get it ready for Sunday Mass. My sister Raghad, who is 19, was among them.

As she was carrying a pale of water to wash the floor, two men drove up and threw a grenade that blew up just a few yards away from her.

She was wounded but miraculously survived. And on that Sunday we still celebrated the Eucharist. My shaken parents were also there.

For me and my community, my sister's wounds were a source of strength so that we, too, may bear our cross.

Last August in St Paul Church, a car bomb exploded after the 6pm Mass. The blast killed two Christians and wounded many others. But that, too, was another miracle—the car was full of bombs but only one exploded. Had they all gone off together the dead would have been in the hundreds since 400 faithful had come on that day.

People could not believe what had happened. The terrorists might think they can kill our bodies or our spirit by frightening us, but, on Sundays, churches are always full. They may try to take our life, but the Eucharist gives it back.

On 7 December, the eve of the Immaculate Conception, a group of terrorists tried to destroy the Chaldean Bishop's Residence, which is near Our Lady of the Tigris Shrine, a place venerated by both Christians and Muslims.

They placed explosives everywhere and a few minutes later blew the place up. This and fundamentalist violence against young Christians have forced many families to flee. Yet the Churches have remained open and people continue to go to Mass, even among the ruins.

It is among such difficulties that we understand the real value of Sunday, the day when we meet the Risen Christ, the day of our unity and love, of our [mutual] support and help.

There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say 'Behold the Lamb of God, Behold, who takes away the sin of the world', I feel His strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really He who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in His boundless love.

In normal times, everything is taken for granted and we forget the greatest gift that is made to us. Ironically, it is thanks to terrorist violence that we have truly learnt that it is the Eucharist, the Christ who died and risen, that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope.

Father Ragheed

Two years later, on 3 June 2007, Trinity Sunday, Father Ragheed was murdered after celebrating Mass in Mosul, along with three subdeacons, Basman Yousef DaudWahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed.

Last Sunday, 20 July, for the first time in almost 2,000 years Mass was not celebrated in Mosul, where Father Ragheed, who gave up his profession as an engineer to become a priest, had served. Christians had been driven from their homes by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This video, with a recent news report from Al Jazeera, is one of many available on YouTube.

Last Sunday Pope Francis expressed his concern for the Christians of Iraq in his Angelus talk.

The Christians of Iraq, all of whom are Arabs, are descended from people who became Christians in the time of the Apostles. They have lived and passed on the Christian faith for 2,000 years. In 2003 there were 50,000 Chaldean Catholics and 35,000 Syrian Catholics, all in full communion with Rome, and many Orthodox Christians, in Mosul. Now there are hardly any.

And one Muslim, Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, was killed by ISIS militants in Mosul the other day for protesting at the way Christians were being treated.

The Christians of Iraq, and of Syria, desperately need our prayers. Perhaps we can unite ourselves with them as we take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the 'pearl of great value', this weekend in our local church, something the Catholic and Orthodox Christians of Mosul have been able to do for 2,000 years but may never be able to do there again.

Perhaps too we can join with Father Ragheed in prayer to Our Blessed Mother. His recording of a hymn to her was played during his funeral procession.

A translation of the hymn:

We honor you with hymns O Mother of God, 
you are the pride of the whole earth, 
because the Word of God whom the Father sent, 
chose to take His human body from you. 

The generations call you blessed, 
all nations and people's honor you 
and ask for mercy by your prayers. 
You are a generous earth in which plants of joy always grow.

St Elijah's Monastery, south of Mosul, founded in the 6th century [Wikipedia]

Further reading on the situation of Iraq'a Christians

'Beautiful Witness of Fidelity to Christ' in Iraq.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) 21 July 2014The jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant 'commit atrocities in the name of religion, but go against the dictates of the Koran. Iraqis of all religions and of all ethnic groups must be committed so that the great common heritage of this country is not destroyed', writes the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Mar Raphael Louis Sako I, in an open letter addressed 'to all those who care about national unity' and sent to AsiaNews. Below is the full text of the message. 

To the people of conscience and good will in Iraq and the world,

To the voice of the moderates, our Muslim brothers and sisters in Iraq and the world,

To all concerned about the continuation of Iraq as a nation for all its citizens,

To all leaders, thinkers, and human rights activists,

To all defenders of the dignity of the human person and the freedom of religions,

Peace and God's Mercy.

The takeover of the Islamist jihadists of Mosul and their announcement of an Islamic state, and after days of composure and anticipation, the situation had turned negative on the Christians of the city and surrounding areas. The first signs of this reversal were the kidnaping of the two nuns and three orphans who were released after 17 days, We were encouraged by this development and we considered it a glimmer of hope, and a breakthrough. Only to be surprised by the latest developments,   the Islamic state issued a statement calling on Christians openly to convert to Islam, and either pay Jizya without specifying a ceiling, or leave their city and their homes, with their clothes only, without any luggage, and issued a "fatwa" that the homes will become the property to the Islamic state.

They have marked the letter "N" on the homes of Christians for "Nazarenes"!!! As they have marked on the homes of Shiites with the letter (R) for "Rejectors". Who knows what is holding in the coming days as the laws of the Islamic state is based on what they claim to be the Sharia law, including the redefinition of identities on the basis of religion and sectarianism.

These requirements offend Muslims and the reputation of Islam, which says "you have your religion and we have ours," and "There is no compulsion in religion", and it is in contradiction of a thousand and four hundred years of history and a lifetime of the Islamic world, and coexistence with different religions and different peoples, east and west, respecting their beliefs and living in fraternity. The Christians  and in particular in our East, and since the advent of Islam, have shared together sweet and bitter memories, their bloods were mixed in defense of their rights and their land, and together they built, cities, civilization and heritage. It is shameful that Christians are being rejected, expelled and diminished. It is obvious that this would have disastrous consequences on the coexistence between the majority and the minorities, even among Muslims themselves, in the near and long term. Hence, Iraq is heading to a humanitarian, cultural, and historical disaster.

Therefore we call unto them, a warm, brotherly, urgent and serious call, and we appeal to our fellow Iraqis who support them to reconsider their strategy, and respect the unarmed innocent people, of all ethnicities, religions and sects. The Quran commands respect to the innocent,  and does not call to seize the property of people forcibly, it calls on helping the widow, the orphan, the destitute and the defenseless, and even recommend to help the seventh neighbour. We also call on Christians in the region to adopt rationality and acumen, and calculate their options well and understand what is planned for the area, and come together in love and think through together and in solidarity to build confidence in themselves and their neighbours, gathering around their church, being patient, enduring and praying until the storm passes. 

+ Louis Raphael I Sako

Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church 17 July2014

Monastery of the Martyrs Saint Behnam and his Sister Sarah
A Syriac Catholic monastery in northern Iraq founded in the 4th century [Wikipedia]

24 July 2014

Environment department nominated for most sickening event of the year

The men who risk their lives and livelihoods to protect the environment, (from left) Terso, Richardo, a biologist known as 'Doctor Jong', and Danilo, with Timoay Barlie Balibes and his son Gerry, both of hwom have already paid the ultimate pricne for their dedicated work with their lives.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). We listen to those words every year in the Easter Vigil. They are the fundamental reason we should have profound respect for God's creation, irrespective of any talk about possible environmental disasters. This profound respect is expressed beautifully in God's inspired word in Psalm 104 (103) and in the Canticle of the Three Young Men (Daniel 3:46-90), used in the Church's Morning Prayer on Solemnities, Feasts and on the first Sunday of the four-week cycle.
In the story below it's difficult not to see our Creator being mocked by those who see creation simply as a source to satisfy their greed, even if it involves killing people, as has happened here in the Philippines (photo above), as well as killing part of God's creation.
Pine forest, Benguet, northern Philippines [Wikipedia]
The following article is from the the 13 July edition of Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Hong Kong. It is featured in the Mabuhay section. Fr Sean Martin, who is extensively quoted, is a Columban priest who has been in Mindanao for almost 40 years.
MIDSALIP (Mabuhay) : If there is an award for the most sickening event of the year, long term missionary to Mindanao, Father Sean Martin, says that he wants to nominate the Department for the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Fr Sean Martin (r) [A Vicious Cycle of Destruction]
He said that its decision to present awards for the National Greening Programme to the big time illegal loggers in Mindanao at a ceremony held in Oroquieta City on June 4 is one of the sickest things he has seen in decades.
“Witnessing this expression of solidarity with those who continually destroy the environment was a depressing experience for the few who continually risk their lives to protect the environment who attended the ceremony,” he told Mabuhay.
Destruction of lowland area of Sierra Madre, Philippines [Wikipedia]
Awards were presented to Nova Wood Forest Industries, Third Millennium Oil Mills Inc., Misamis Occidental Wood Processing Association, Jim Santos, Manuel Animas, Bejamin Lauron, Joy Ong and Jocilyn Capirig.
Father Martin accused each and every one of the award recipients of pretending to protect the environment that in actual fact they are destroying on a daily basis.
He said that each and every one of them is acting in contravention of Executive Order No. 23, which was issued in 2011 by the president, Noynoy Aquino, to safeguard the environment in the rainforests of Mindanao.
Fr Sean Martin with friends in Midsalip [A Vicious Cycle of Destruction]
The order explicitly bans the cutting down of any trees, yet, Father Martin says that the local offices of the DENR routinely issue logging permits for operations in forbidden areas to the very companies and people whom it is now decorating for protecting the environment.
“These people give out permits to cut logs for a huge fee to people who are involved in logging,” the feisty Columban priest says. “The scrap of paper gives a semblance of legality, which is often enough to prevent concerned citizens in rural areas from protecting the environment.”
Midsalip picket area [Hope for Midsalip]
He says that trucks heavily laden with hardwood logs can be seen on a daily basis returning from areas where logging is banned, which in its turn causes more soil erosion and more flooding, while making the dry season longer and the water supply less reliable.
“The cutting of hard wood trees continues, the floods get bigger causing more damage and the dry season gets longer making it harder for poor people to survive,” he said.
He then quoted an indigenous Subaanen person, who lives in a rural area, as saying, “The officials and loggers are blind to the destruction that they are causing.”
He said that the sickening feeling in the stomachs of all people who work to protect the environment in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, as well as the members of the Alliance to Save the Integrity of Nature (ASIN) is on a par with those who were subjected to the farcical presentation of awards by the DENR.
Father Martin described how members of ASIN presented themselves to the department over three years ago and asked to be deputised to look after the environment. He added that several of their members gave their complete bio-data, as requested, and were told that they would be notified in the near future.
“But nothing has happened since then, except that relatives of the barangay captains in Sigapod and Matalang in Midsalip, who are involved in logging, have been nominated as the official protectors of the environment,” Father Martin said in disgust.
Sierra Madre mountain range, Philippines [Wikipedia]
He described how this effectively thwarts any attempt by honest officials from the main office in Pagadian City to respond to reports by ASIN when they come to investigate what is really going on.
He said that the barangay captains simply inform their cronies in advance that there will be an inspection and all evidence is hidden.
“The efforts of powerless people to safeguard the environment by planting trees and reporting destruction are ignored,” the Irish missionary says.
He then directly accused officials from the municipal office in Midsalip of cooperating with Nova Woods in conducting illegal logging. 
“Two saws for cutting timber are installed along the main road to Midsalip in Barangay Bakahan (five kilometres from the town) and in Eastern Sominot, about 15 kilometres from the town of Midsalip, where Nova Woods has its truck depot,” Father Martin explained.
He described officials from the DENR as scauldies (young birds in the nest with their eyes closed and their mouths open), waiting for whatever those who can plunder the environment will give them.
“It is often money, like the official from the town of Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, who clarified during a meeting in 2013 with concerned citizens that his family had a permit to cut trees and had paid hundreds of thousands of pesos for the permit, and so their seven band-saws are operating legally,” Father Martin related.
Filing petition for writ of kalikasan at the Supreme Court [Hope for Midsalip]
The missionary priest says that the worst of the matter is that the damage being done is forever.
He quotes a detailed geological study done by an English mining engineer and a geologist, Clive Wicks and Robert Goodland, as saying, “Past willful negligence of the fundamental connection between natural resources management and food security has cost The Philippines dearly.”
In their study, The Philippines: Mining or Food? Wicks and Goodland say, “As a result of this, the country has suffered from two massive hemorrhages: the loss of most of its forests from the 1950s to the 1980s; and the loss of much of its fisheries since then.”
They point out that the loss leads to a drop in rice production and affects rainfall and water supply.
“The unnecessary and nationally unprofitable loss of forests and fisheries are akin to killing the goose that would have laid golden eggs in perpetuity,” they say, adding that they are the golden eggs that sustain the poorest people in the land.
“The structure of evil is strong,” Father Martin says.
He added that those who protect nature are highly likely to get shot or have their land and possessions destroyed, while those who destroy the environment are in line for government decorations and accolades, which he said mocks both the president and the people in one sickening handshake.
... relatives of the barangay captains in Sigapod and Matalang in Midsalip, who are involved in logging, have been nominated as the official protectors of the environment.
Outside the Supreme Court [Hope for Midsalip]
You may read more about this situation on MISYONonline.com:
Hope for Midsalip by Mary Joy Rile.

17 July 2014

'Let both of them grow together until the harvest . . .' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, November 1888, Arles; Vincent van Gogh
 Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 13:24-43 (or 13:24-30)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
[He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
    I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the 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 causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!]
Burning Weeds, July 1883, The Hague; Vincent van Gogh
Bibliothèque de l'Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

In 1997 while on a visit to Toronto I read in a newspaper about a woman from the Philippines  who had been found guilty of embezzling about Can$250,000 over a period of time from the company for which she worked. The judge had no alternative but to send her to prison. However he was a very compassionate man. 

The judge was aware that the woman was no Al Capone. She had spent the money on surgery for her father in the Philippines, on improving her family's house there and on other family needs.

She was also pregnant.

The judge delayed the woman's imprisonment until six months after the birth of her child. She was also to serve her time in a women's prison near where she lived so that her family and friends could visit her easily.

The First Reading gives context to the parable of the good seed and the weeds: Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins (Wisdom 12:19)

The judge in this case was both righteous and kind. As one implementing justice on behalf of the state he had to punish the person before him because she had committed a serious crime. But he also filled her with good hope and, I've no doubt, gave her an opportunity to repent of her sins.

The parable shows once again God's mercy, God's desire to be merciful. He doesn't want to destroy what is good. He wants what is good to grow. He wants to cultivate the virtues in our lives by nourishing them through his grace and with our cooperation. 

But the parable also acknowledges the reality of evil. Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, the householder instructs his workers. We can choose to be 'weeds', to spurn God's mercy. The consequences are the result of our choice, not of God's. The, the author of the Book of Wisdom says to God, you give repentance for sins. God himself offers the grace of sorrow for our sins, the grace to ask God for forgiveness, won for us by Jesus on the Cross. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The greatest expression of the God's mercy, given as a gift to the Church, is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we often call confession or penance. Last March Pope Francis said this to confessors (emphasis added): First of all, the protagonist of the ministry of reconciliation is the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). Therefore, you are called to always be “men of the Holy Spirit,” witnesses and heralds, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord. This testimony is read on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers with faith and with “unction” the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He welcomes penitents not with the attitude of a judge, not even with that of a simple man, but with the charity of God, with the love of a father who sees the son returning and goes to meet him, [with the love] of the shepherd who has found the lost sheep. The heart of the priest is a heart that knows how to be moved, not by sentimentality or mere emotion, but to the “tender mercy” [viscere di misericordia] of the Lord! If it is true that tradition points out the dual role of doctor and judge for confessors, we must never forget that as a doctor he is called to heal and as a judge, to absolve.

The judge in Canada, though he had to be primarily a judge, also showed the charity of God, as many judges do. He showed compassion, which was expressed not only in the respect he showed the woman from the Philippines, but also in the respect he showed to her unborn child.

And Pope Francis shows us the way to avail of God's mercy so that when the reapers come there will be no 'weeds' to burn.

Lenten Penitential Service, St Peter's Basilica, Rome, 28 March 2014

The music being sung at that moment during the service was Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, a setting of the Latin translation of Psalm 51 (50). The refrain is the opening line of the psalm: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam (Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love).

Miserere, by Gregorio Allegri
Sung by the Tallis Scholars

11 July 2014

'Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain.' Sunday Reflections, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, Vincent van Gogh
June 1888, Arles, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 13:1-23 (or 13:1-9)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!”
[Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,

    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
        and they have shut their eyes;
        so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”]
June 1888, Arles. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

In the spring of 1982 I made the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. We spent 40 days there, a few days of preparation for the Thirty-Day Retreat proper and five days of reflection on the experience afterwards. One of the spiritual directors, though not my own, was an American Jesuit priest named George. He was probably in his 60s at the time. He had worked for some years in South America and he was a recovering alcoholic.

One evening I saw Father George come out of the Jesuit residence dressed very nattily, wearing a rather nice sports coat and hat, his pipe in one hand - and his rosary beads in the other. I said to myself, 'That man has it all together!'

He gave unusual homilies, laced with a delightfully dry and ironic humour. One was simply about a tiny bird - I think it was a species of hummingbird - that migrates each year in both directiosn between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, without stopping. All of us listening were filled with awe at God's creation, at the power and endurance of one of God's creatures, one that didn't have the power of reasoning but that knew how to get from one end of the landmass of the Americas to the other and to know where to go.

The First Reading and its Responsorial Psalm along with the Gospel invite us to reflect on how God's word takes root in our hearts. But they also invite us to reflect on God's bounty as revealed in nature itself. Isaiah tells us in the First Reading that it is impossible for the rain and snow that God sends not to bear fruit: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.

July 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise. Neue Pinakothek, Munich [Web Gallery of Art]

Psalm 64 [65] echoes this: You crown the year with your bounty;
    your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
    the hills gird themselves with joy,
 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
    the valleys deck themselves with grain,
    they shout and sing together for joy.

Jesus takes something simple in nature as an example of how God's word, God's very life, takes root in our lives. But we can see God's loving power, presence and bounty in the seed itself, without drawing any analogies or other meanings from it. Those of us who aren't from a farming background can take for granted the food that lands on our table. All the nourishment that we find in a loaf of bread or in a bowl of rice is there already in the grains the farmer sows. The seed of a husband fertilized by the egg of his wife becomes a new human being containing already in its microscopic size all that will be evident when that person is born and grows to maturity.

There is great emphasis today on the urgency of respecting nature and of not abusing it, in order to avoid possible disastrous consequences.

But the basic reason we should respect all of nature is that it is an expression of God's infinite bounty 'singing' in its own way: the hills gird themselves with joy . . .

Father George conveyed something of that to all of us on retreat in Guelph 32 years ago. Another Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, captured that in some of his poems, including Pied Beauty, published 29 years after his death and 41 years after he wrote it rather like the seed being buried in the ground in spring and bearing fruit at harvest-time.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things —
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

Wheat Field with a Lark,Vincent van Gogh
Summer 1887, Paris. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]