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Janet D'Souza

1) Opening prayer

be merciful to Your people.
Fill us with Your gifts
and make us always eager to serve You
in faith, hope and love.
You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. "The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

3) Reflection

• Today’s Gospel speaks to us about the parable of the seed. Whether in society or in the community or in our family and personal life, there is a mixture of good qualities as well as inconsistencies, limitations and errors. People of various origins, each one with her own story, with her own lived experience, her own opinion, her own yearnings, her own differences, meet in community. Some people do not know how to live with differences. They want to be the judges of others. They think that they are the only ones who are right, and that others are in error. The parable of the seed and the darnel helps us not to fall into the temptation to exclude from the community those who do not think like us.

•The background of the parable of the seed and the darnel. For centuries, because of the observance of the laws of purity, the Jews lived separated from other nations. This isolation had marked them. Even after being converted, some continued to follow this observance which separated them from others. They wanted total purity! Any sign of impurity had to be eradicated in the name of God. “Sin cannot be tolerated,” some would say. But others, for example Paul, taught that the new law which Jesus asked them to observe said the contrary! “Sin cannot be tolerated, but it is necessary to be tolerant with the sinner!”

• Matthews 13:24-26: The situation: the darnel and the wheat grain grow together. The Word of God causes communities to be formed and this is good seed, but within the communities there are always things which are contrary to the Word of God. From where do these come? This was the discussion or mystery which led to keeping the parable of the darnel and the wheat.

• Matthew 13:27-28a: The origin of the mixture which exists in life. The laborers asked the owner, the sower: “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” The owner responded, “Some enemy has done this.” Who is this enemy? The enemy, the adversary, Satan or the Devil (Mt 13:39) is the one who divides, who distracts from the right path. The tendency to division exists in the community and in each one of us. The desire to dominate, to take advantage of the community in order to be more important, and so many other interested desires divide. They are the enemy which sleeps in each one of us.

• Matthew 13:28b-30: The different reaction in the face of ambiguity. Faced with this mixture of good and of evil, the laborers want to eliminate the darnel. They thought, "If we leave everything in the community, we lose our reason for being! We lose our identity!” They wanted to send away those who they thought were different. But this is not the decision of the owner of the land. He says, “Let both the darnel and the wheat grow together till the harvest!” What is decisive is not what each one says, but what each one lives and does. God will judge us according to the fruit which we produce (Mt 12:33). The force and the dynamism of the Kingdom will manifest themselves in the community. Even if it is small and full of contradictions, it is a sign of the Kingdom. But it is not the master or the owner of the Kingdom, neither can it consider itself totally just. The parable of the seed and of the darnel explains the way in which the force of the Kingdom acts in history. One must make a clear option for the justice of the Kingdom, and at the same time, fight together for justice, have patience and learn to live and to dialogue with differences and with contradictions. When harvest comes then there will be the division, the separation.

• Teaching in Parables. The parable is a pedagogical tool which uses daily life to indicate that life speaks to us of God. It becomes a reality and renders the people’s perspective contemplative. A parable deals with the things of life, and because of this it is an open teaching, because we all have some experience of things of life. The teaching in parables makes the person start from the experience that she has: seed, light, sheep, flowers, birds, father, net, little children, fish, etc. In this way daily life becomes transparent, revealing the presence and the action of God. Jesus did not usually explain the parables. He left the meaning open. He did not determine it. This was a sign that he believed in the capacity of the people to discover the meaning of the parable, beginning with their experience of life. Sometimes, at the request of the disciples, He would explain the meaning (Mt 13:10, 36). This is what He did with the parable of the seed and the darnel (Mt 13:36-43).

4) Personal questions

• How is the mixture of seed and darnel manifested in our community? What are the consequences of this for our life?
• Looking into the mirror of the parable, with whom do I feel more in agreement: with the laborers who want to cut away the darnel, or with the owner of the field who orders them to wait until the time of the harvest?
• This parable adequately describes both good and evil co-existing, and the darnel may impact the wheat exteriorly, but the wheat cannot become darnel. As humans, we can take on the habits and attributes of those around us, thereby losing our beginning character and taking on another. In many ways this is growth when it happens in a positive way. Can one, living in community and accepting differences and contradictions, continue to be “wheat” among “darnel”? How can this be done? What must one do?

5) Concluding Prayer

My whole being yearns and pines
for Yahweh's courts.
My heart and my body cry out
for joy to the living God. (Ps 84:2)

1) Opening prayer

be merciful to Your people.
Fill us with Your gifts
and make us always eager to serve You
in faith, hope and love.
You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus said to his disciples: "Hear the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the Evil One comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty fold."

3) Reflection

• Context. Beginning with chapter 12, on the one side we see there is opposition among the religious leaders of Israel, the scribes and the Pharisees; on the other side, within the crowds who listen to Jesus and are amazed because of His marvelous actions, gradually, little by little, a group of disciples is being formed, with uncertain features, but who follow Jesus with perseverance. To twelve of these disciples Jesus has given the gift of His authority and His power. He has sent them as messengers of the Kingdom, giving them demanding and radical instructions (10:5-39). Now at the moment when controversy breaks out with His opponents, Jesus recognizes His true kinship, not in the lines of the flesh (mother, brothers), but in those who follow Him, listen to Him, and fulfill the will of the Father (12:46-50). This last account offers us the possibility to imagine that the audience to whom Jesus addressed His words is two-fold: on the one side, the disciples to whom He has given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom (13:11) and who have the ability to understand them (13:50) and, on the other side, the crowds who seem to be deprived of this deep understanding (13:11, 34-36). To the large crowds who gather to listen to Jesus is presented, above all, the parable of the sower. Jesus speaks about a seed that falls (or not!) on the earth. Its growth depends on the place where it falls; it is possible for it to be hindered so that it cannot bear fruit. This is what happens in the first three types of earth “along the road side” (the ground hardened by the passing of men and animals), “the rocky earth” (formed by rocks), “on the thorns” (it is the earth covered with thorns). Instead, the seed that falls on “good ground” bears excellent fruit, even if at different levels. The reader is directed to be more attentive to the yield of the grain than to the action of the sower. Besides, Matthew focuses the attention of the listener on the good earth and the fruit that this earth is capable of producing in an exceptional manner.

The first part of the parable ends with an admonition: “Anyone who has ears should listen” (v. 9); it is an appeal to the freedom of the listener. The word of Jesus may remain a “parable” for a crowd incapable of understanding, or it can reveal “the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” for those who allow themselves to be upset or affected by its force. It is the acceptance of the Word of Jesus that distinguishes the disciples from the indeterminate crowds; the faith of the first ones reveals the blindness of the others and obliges them to look “beyond” the parable.

• To listen and to understand. It is always Jesus who leads the disciples on the right path for the understanding of the parable. In the future through the disciples, it is the Church to be guided in the understanding of the Word of Jesus. In the explanation of the parable the pair of verbs “to listen” and “to understand” appears in 13:33: That which has been sown in the good ground is the one who listens to the Word and understands it...” It is in the understanding that the true disciple is distinguished from the crowds, who listen to Jesus’ words only occasionally.

• Hindrances to understanding. Jesus recalls, above all, the negative response to His preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven given by His contemporaries. Such a negative response is connected to the various impediments among them. The earth on the edge of the road is that transformed by pedestrians into a trodden road; it is totally negative: “Throw the seeds on the pavement of the street, everybody knows that it serves nothing: the necessary conditions for growth do not exist. And, then people go by, step over it, and ruin the seed. The seed should not be thrown just any place” (Carlos Mesters). Above all, there is the personal responsibility of the individual: to accept God’s Word in one’s own heart. If it falls on a “trodden” heart, which is obstinate because of its own convictions and indifferent, he sides with the evil one. Then the rocky earth: If the first impediment was constituted by an insensitive, indifferent heart, now the image of the seed that falls on the rocks, on stones, and among bushes indicates a heart immersed in a superficial and worldly life. Such life styles are energies that prevent the Word of God from bearing fruit. They begin to listen, but immediately it is blocked, not only by tribulations and trials that are unavoidable, but also because of the involvement of the heart in concerns and riches. It is a life that is not deep but superficial, worldly. It is similar to instability. The good earth is the heart that listens and understands the Word; this one bears fruit. Such fruit is the work of the Word in the heart that accepts it. It is a question of an active understanding that allows one to get involved by God’s action present in the Word of Jesus. The understanding of His Word will continue to be inaccessible if we neglect the encounter with Him and, therefore, we do not allow it to overflow in us.

4) Personal questions

• Does listening lead to the deep understanding of God’s Word or does it remain only an intellectual exercise?
• Are you a heart that accepts, that is available, docile to attain a full understanding of the Word?
• The crowds traveled far to hear Jesus. They invested time and effort, yet they are identified as having hard or rocky hearts. At some level, they came to say yes, but don’t. Do we also come to say yes but don’t really?

5) Concluding Prayer

The Law of Yahweh is perfect, refreshment to the soul;
The precepts of Yahweh are honest,
light for the eyes. (Ps 19:7-8)

July 25, 2019 - Wanna Be Great? - A Reflection on Matthew 20:20-28 - Feast of St. James

This is another one of the stories in the Bible that I tell a lot because it illustrates the radical difference between how the world works and how the kingdom of heaven works. And if we want to do a quick test to find out whether we work by the rules of the world or the rules of heaven, we don’t need to look beyond this story. Let me tell it to you quickly in my own words.

Jesus has just told his apostles he was gonna die, but they didn’t seem too concerned about that. They were more concerned about what was going to happen to them after he died. The mother of two of them, James (whose feast we celebrate today) and John, went to Jesus asking for her sons to be seated on either side of him in heaven. to be seated on his left and right in his kingdom. In another version, the apostles go with the request themselves, but it isn’t important. The mother obviously went at the behest of the two men. 

The other apostles got angry with the two men, because those were positions that they sought for themselves and Jesus had to call them to him and chew them out. Listen to what he says (I paraphrase for better understanding): In the world, people who want to become great, lord it over each other. In my kingdom, in heaven, if you want to become great, you have to become a servant. Talk about a paradigm shift! I become great by serving others?! Tell this to any “great” person and see how he laughs in your face.

And then Jesus says, “Look at me guys. I am the Son of God, but I did not come to be served but to serve, and offer my life as a ransom for many, and truly there is no greater way of service than this.” The apostles eventually understood what he was saying, and they all gave their lives in service to others. This was literally so for all of them, except John who died a natural death. This earned them the greatness that they sought. Their names are written in heaven. 

Which brings us to us. How do we seek greatness? Jesus doesn’t have a problem with us wanting to become great; he just questions the methodology. So, what do we do? Run after the acclaim of other mortals? Seek earthly rewards, be it money or prizes? Want our names to go down in human history books? Or would we rather have our names written in the books of heaven, praised by God almighty? This requires us to follow the rules of heaven. 

We found one rule here. Let us discover the others. And ask the question: Whose rule do we follow: heaven’s or the world’s? The answer has eternal consequence.

July 24, 2019 - The Fruit Bearers - A Reflection on Matthew 13:1-9 

One can really understand this parable through these reflections. They go out to thousands of people via Youtube, e-mail, and social media. But the effect they have differs from person to person. Not everyone responds the same way. Let us, for deeper understanding, consider the reflections of the past two days, which were on freedom and slavery. I spoke about how, although Jesus had secured freedom for us, many of us still chose to live in slavery, because despite the pain it always causes, sin tends to be very appealing.

Now, not all who receive these reflections bother to read them (or watch them). Even if it appears in their WhatsApp or e-mail apps (because they have subscribed to them), they ignore them. Ditto if they appear on social media. These are the seeds that fall on the path. The birds come and eat them. They don’t have a chance to germinate, much less grow and bear fruit.

Then, there are those who read the reflections, are sufficiently impressed with them to put them into practice. They hide their vodka or whiskey bottles, tell their latest lover they can’t see them any longer, promise themselves they won’t pay bribes to gain business, etc. etc., but then a couple of days pass, and the depression, or the loneliness, or the fear strikes again and the bottle is out, the lover is back, and the wallet is extracted from the pocket. They are not rooted in Christ.

Then, there are those who read the reflections, but get angry and upset by what they read because it acts like a reflection — revealing spots, blemishes, and all — and they don’t like what they see. So, instead of being humble and trying to correct what is wrong, they get aggressive, and hate the reflections and the person who puts them out.  It’s like breaking a mirror because you have a pimple on your nose. How is it the mirrors fault? These are the thorns Jesus speaks about.

And, then, there are those who read the reflections and realize they might provide a true description of their nature. Wanting to change, they turn to God in repentance asking for his mercy and grace to become better people. And God, in turn,  heals them, nurtures them, nourishes them, and helps them to grow. And grow they do.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it and see. You will bear much fruit.

July 23, 2019 - Freedom or Slavery - 2 - A Reflection on Matthew 12:46-50

Yesterday, we reflected upon how we need to “hate what is evil (and) love what is good” (Romans 12:9). In effect, how we look at good and evil decides whether we choose to be free, or to remain slaves to the devil. Paul puts this beautifully in his letter to the Galatians.  “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:13-15).

And then he continues (I paraphrase): “If you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. And the acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (cf. Galatians 5:13-21).

In today’s reading we find Jesus saying that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister” (Matthew 12:50). So, we can see that in order to be a brother or sister of Jesus, we need to obey the will of God. In order to obey the will of God, we must stop gratifying the desires of the flesh. For us not to gratify the flesh we need to walk by the Spirit.

And, if you needed more validation, walking by the Spirit is a true sign that we are children of God. In his letter to the Romans — we’re doing a lot of Scripture today — Paul wrote: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” And then he speaks again about slavery and freedom. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship” (Romans 8:14).

So, in a continuation of yesterday’s reflection, let us ask ourselves the question again: do we want freedom or slavery? It is baffling that people might actually choose slavery, especially those who claim to know Christ, but many do. Why? Because what panders to the flesh is appealing. To drink so as to abandon control of the senses; to do drugs and fabricate an alternative reality; to be promiscuous and enjoy sexual gratification — it’s all very appealing. But the appeal is short lived, and we know it. There is always pain at the end.

Freedom or slavery? Or, to be more accurate, life or death? You decide.

July 22, 2019 - Freedom or Slavery? - A Reflection on John 20:1-2,11-18 - Feast of Mary Magdalene

The story of Mary Magdalene is a story of great hope and courage for every person who has lived a sinful and troubled life. Which, if we are honest, is most of us. I have yet to meet a person who is not messed up in one way or another; it is only a matter of degree. So we can all be inspired by her story.

I have already spoken about Mary Magdalene at length in two previous reflection (see April 23: The Magdalene; December 27, 2018 - Why Are You Weeping?). I explained that there was a strong case to be made for her being the same woman described: 1)  as the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus at a Pharisees house (see Luke 7:36-50); 2) the sister of Martha and Lazarus (see Luke 10:38-52); and, 3) the woman who had seven demons cast out of her.

Regardless of whether we accept this as the story of three separate women, or just one, the transforming power of forgiveness and grace is clearly evident. Mary Magdalene leaves her sinful ways and follows Jesus, yoked to him for the rest of her life. Many years ago, there was a man named David who stopped doing things that were “evil” in God’s sight and turned to a life of holiness. He became permanently yoked to God thereafter. They are both heroes today.

What it takes to change is heartfelt remorse. If we are not truly sorry for the evil that we do, and constantly justify our actions, nothing changes. We will continue to engage in sexual immorality, continue to get stoned on alcohol or drugs, continue to use and abuse other people, and remain the pitiful slaves to the devil that we have always been. Mary Magdalene was a slave to seven such demons. But Jesus freed her, as he will free anybody who desires freedom.

But freedom is a choice. We can choose to be free. Or we can choose to be slaves. And the choice is really simple. Paul exhorts: “Hate what is evil. Love what is good” (Romans 12:9). If we love what is evil, we choose slavery. If we hate evil and love good, we choose freedom. And then, not only will God set us free, he will elevate us to great heights in his eyes. He ended up calling David a man after his own heart. And he chose to appear to Mary Magdalene first after his resurrection. What an honor.

Let us hate what is evil and love what is good. And God will honor us too.

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