“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 13:24–43:
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: “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.”’”
He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“Just as 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 who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Today, I’m going to offer a little bit of a diversion in the usual reflection. For the last few days, I have been away on a silent retreat — disconnected from phones, Internet, and any friends and family. (I’m writing this on Thursday, just before I left for the retreat.) This is my third year on this particular retreat, and the experiences the first two years have been amazing, but it has always stirred up very mixed emotions for me — not least because I have never been terribly comfortable with silence, but also because of the highly-connected state in which I usually live and operate.
The retreat itself takes place in an idyllic lakefront property, quiet and peaceful, far off the beaten path. Jesuits facilitate the retreat, which is based on the Ignatian discipline, although greatly accelerated (an Ignatian retreat is normally 30 days, or at least a full week). We have conferences in which we study and pray with one of the priests, and hold daily Mass. One hour each day we can socialize and chat, but for the rest of the time we must remain silent in an attempt to empty ourselves of distractions and draw closer to God.
That sounds easy, but the disconnecting process is akin to withdrawal. The first day of my first retreat, I thought I might go insane, and started fantasizing about breaking into my car (in the locked garage!) to get my cell phone and check my e-mail. That’s an addiction. Fortunately, after 24 hours, the panic began to subside. On my second trip, it just took a couple of hours. I’m hoping to greet the opportunity with joy immediately upon arrival this year, but a little skeptical that I’ve managed my addiction down to that level over the past year.
One reason for that skepticism: I began to notice a couple of weeks ago that I was looking for an excuse to cancel. A medical issue with a friend may have necessitated it, but her transplant was scheduled afterward. A minor injury and inflammation of my own flared up, but went away quickly enough. A business opportunity for one day popped up. Each time these temptations to cancel arose and then deflated, I could feel disappointment. I finally began discussing it openly with family and friends, and realized that it was dread of disconnection, and the lack of trust I wanted to put in God in making myself totally open to the Holy Spirit on this retreat.
The daily Gospel reading today (Thursday) reminded me of what I had forgotten in that dread and panic. From Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Sometimes, the most difficult thing to do is to lay down one’s labor and burden. I love my job and enjoy engaging in social media, so burden might not really be the right word in that sense. On the other hand, if I cannot walk away from it for just a handful of days a year to spend time communing with the Lord, then it has become a burden on my path to salvation, and an addiction that I need to at least reduce to a rational level within my life. Ignatian spirituality stresses the concept of indifference to worldly goods and matters, and perspective with salvation as the end point. To the extent any of the world’s goods helps us to salvation, then we should use them for that purpose; to the extent that they hinder us, we should dispense with them, and take an attitude of indifference to them otherwise.
The extent to which I resist a long-planned spiritual retreat may indicate the success or failure of my ability to achieve that indifference. And if so … I have a lot of work to do.
In today’s readings and also last week’s Gospel, Jesus spoke to us in parables, which I discussed last week. After reflecting on my struggles the last couple of weeks, parables have taken on another dimension for me. Parables force us to engage in the argument, to pay attention — to stop and think. Jesus required more from his pupils and disciples than just taking orders and becoming automatons. He wanted us to actively engage, to ponder and meditate on His words, and to take them into our hearts. Even more today than ever, that requires us to set aside time for that purpose — the Sabbath, certainly, but also each day in prayer, and occasionally on a retreat. Without that, we may as well be on Twitter the rest of our lives, reacting to the momentary and missing out on the eternal.
I’ll be pondering that this weekend, and praying for all of you as well. Keep me in your prayers, and I’ll be back tomorrow.