The Earth is a marvel among all the other planets in our universe. While all the other planets are essentially just barren rocks, our planet is pulsing with life. Conditions are just right on Earth to support life. There is enough oxygen for animals and enough carbon dioxide for plants. There is plenty of water for fish to live in and for us to drink. There are plants and animals in abundance to provide us with food. Not only does our planet provide for our physical needs, it also is a place full of wonder. We look in awe as the sun sets into the horizon. We marvel at the beauty of the oceans and the majesty of the mountains. Our world is a wonderful place. Unlike any other planet we know of, it is uniquely capable of sustaining life in such abundance.
Though we can clearly see how special Earth is, there are many who believe that it was all an accident. They think that it was just by pure luck that there is enough water and oxygen to support life. They say that it is by pure chance that we are close enough to the sun to not be frozen but far enough away to not get burned up. These people look upon the same wonders of nature as we do but they do not see the same creating power of God that we see. The evidence of God’s handiwork in creation is plain for all to see, but they do not recognize the same Lord and Giver of Life that we worship. They are the ones of whom Jesus said: “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.”
God reveals Himself clearly in the beauty of the natural world which surrounds us. But He has also revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the image of the Heavenly Father. Whoever looks on Jesus, sees the Father. Whoever listens to Jesus, hears the voice of the Father. And whoever welcomes Jesus, welcomes the Father. Just as the evidence of God’s existence is manifest in the universe, so the evidence of His great love is revealed in Jesus who taught us to love one another and showed us the real meaning of love by dying on the cross for us.
Jesus understood very well, however, that no matter how convincingly He spoke and that no matter how many miracles He performed, there would be those who would refuse to believe. There would be those who would close their hearts to His message of love. And there would be those who just would not listen. He encountered opposition to the good news at every turn right up until the moment He was condemned to die.
And so we can understand the meaning of Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel, the Parable of the Seed and the Sower. Though the seed is spread over a wide patch of land, only some of it takes root and grows. There is nothing wrong with the seed. But there is something wrong with much of the soil. Unless the seed falls on soil that can nurture it, it cannot grow.
The meaning is clear. Some people will accept God’s word and it will transform their lives. Others will totally reject it and get nothing from it. There is nothing wrong with the messenger. There is nothing wrong with the message. But there is often something wrong with our hearts. We are often too closed-minded, too preoccupied with other concerns or too afraid to welcome God’s word and its power to transform us.
All of us have had this experience. We are sitting in church during Mass but are so concerned with our work, with bills we have to pay, with homework assignments that are due or with other matters that we do not even hear what is going on around us. If someone were to ask us after Mass what the gospel or the homily was about, we would have no idea. We were not paying attention because we were so wrapped up in our problems. And yet, next week we will come to Mass with a whole different set of problems and will barely remember what we were worried about today.
That is why Jesus tells His disciples that anxiety over our lives can so often choke off the power of God’s word within us. While it is natural to be distracted over our problems, it does not have to keep us from listening to and profiting from the proclamation of the good news.
The first thing we need to do is become aware that we are distracted. We have to be able to catch ourselves starting to drift off. Then we have to make a conscious effort to pay attention to what is going on at Mass. Getting mastery over our distractions in prayer is no different from telling our children to stop talking during Mass. As we would do with our children, we remind ourselves that now is not the time to be thinking about our day-to-day problems. The more we remind ourselves, the better we will be at turning our minds and hearts over to God and letting His word sink into our soul and find rich ground within us.
The other thing we need to do is remind ourselves that God cares about us and knows the problems we face in our lives. Then we can place all that anxiety we are feeling in God’s hands and ask Him to help us deal with the difficult circumstances we are facing. As Saint Peter tells us, “Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.” As we grow in trust, the anxiety will diminish and we will find ourselves better able to focus and pay attention.
We are here today because God has spoken His word in our hearts and it has found rich soil within our soul. We have seen and believed. We have heard and understood. At the same time, there is still so much soil within us that is overgrown with fear, anxiety and doubt. However, the more we choose faith over fear, trust over anxiety and belief over doubt, the more God’s Holy Spirit will be able to make our souls a fitting place for His word to take root and bear much fruit.