Sexagesima Sunday

The Name. We are in Septuagesima season, which began last week, with Septuagesima Sunday — the name comes from the word for seventy. It’s about seventy days before Easter. Today is Sexagesima Sunday: about 60 days until Easter.

The Gospel. The Gospel today is the parable of the sower. We have the privilege of reading not only Our Lord’s words in the parable, but also his own exegesis of it, which he gave in private to the Apostles. These words in secret to the Apostles give us some insights into Our Lord’s teaching. And they may surprise us, for they sound harsh:

“To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to the rest in parables, that seeing they may not see, and hearing may not understand.” What means this? “To you it is given….” — that’s clear enough. It shows that knowledge of the kingdom of God has to come from God, not from mere human prudence or opinion. This echoes Our Lord’s words to St. Peter: “Flesh and blood have not…”

But then we have this confusing business about seeing and not seeing and hearing and not understanding. It may come as a surprise, but while they often made things more easily understood, sometimes, the parables were obscure and deliberately so. Our Lord hid things on purpose. The parallel passage in MK 4 adds something more alarming: “to them that are without, all things are done in parables… that seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

What is this? Did Our Lord not want their sins forgiven?

Our Lord was hearkening to the Prophet Isaias: “Go, and thou shalt say to this people: Hearing, hear, and understand not: and see the vision, and know it not. Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.”

Upset at this, Isaias says to God: “How long, O Lord? And he said: Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land shall be left desolate. And the Lord shall remove men far away, and she shall be multiplied that was left in the midst of the earth. And there shall be still a tithing therein, and she shall turn, and shall be made a show as a turpentine tree, and as an oak that spreadeth its branches: that which shall stand therein, shall be a holy seed.” It’s the Gentile Church which will rise out of the devastation of Israelite obstinacy — sicut quercus, as an Oak Tree that spreadeth its branches.

Returning now to those Our Lord was preaching to, their lack of knowledge is in part a punishment for their sins. What sins? This, among others: Before, when Our Lord was speaking more plainly, they did not want to hear him. Therefore, He did not keep giving them holy doctrine.

Nevertheless, there were probably Jews of good will there. They could profit from the parables and derive something from them, and later learn what they meant from the Apostles, who had the key. And that’s the important part. Our Lord said to the Apostles: “To YOU it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.” Our Lord gave his HIERARCHY, his MAGISTERIM, his CHURCH, his APOSTLES the key so that they could teach after him, so that even those who refused to hear our Lord could come to a better will later and hear the Apostles, as many did on the day of Pentecost. Our Lord said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me.” Later, in acts of the Apostles, St. Luke speaks of people believing the “doctrine of the Apostles.” Their doctrine was not their own, either, but His who sent them. The Father sends His Beloved Son and Jesus sends the Apostles, under the headship of Peter, who is given the keys. That is where we must go to get God’s saving doctrine. And note, that doctrine is necessary for salvation, for without this doctrine, their sins will not be forgiven them, as St. Mark says: “that seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” And here in St. Luke, our Lord affirms that the devil takes the seed out of men’s hearts “lest believing they should be saved.”

What I would like to focus on in the doctrine of Jesus is the last part of his explanation of the parable: “And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit.”

The people in this category believe. They have not rejected God’s word. They may even boast to be good, traditional Catholics. But their disordered anxieties for human achievement and the goods of this world, their lust for pleasure, their prurient desire to scratch every itch and satisfy every urge brings them to adulterate the word of God in their very own hearts. They believe, but they are conflicted; and they are profoundly unhappy because of it. They become sterile, useless, no good, dead weight. Like the olive tree that bore no fruit, they will be cursed if they do not change and bear fruit. As St. James said: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”

Does this describe you? Then, by prayer, penance, frequent confession and Holy Communion, rigorous commitment to the duties of your state in life, and humility of heart, seek to be better. Beg God to make your heart good and perfect. But first, acknowledge what you are so you can change. Lent is coming. It’s time to do penance.

In the final verse, we have a picture of the ideal to aim at: “But that on the good ground, are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.” These people not only believe, but they suffer for their faith. They endure. They persevere. Suffering with Christ, they remain branches on his Vine and thus they bear fruit. They abide in him and he abides in them ever in a constant communion so that their hearts are “good and perfect” like the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Epistle. In St. Paul, we get a snapshot of a patient, persevering, fruit-bearing Apostle who kept the word and bore fruit in patience. Today, he is defending himself against the false claims of the Judaizers, who pushed for the continued observance of the Mosaic Law. He tells the Corinthians of all his sufferings for them and how he has not been bested by these false preachers, but has endured great hardships for the Gospel. He went “through fire and water” like a real-life Gandalf. He suffered shipwreck, scourging, hunger, thirst, cold, and treachery from enemies and even from friends; he was taken up to paradise to hear secret words and then given a hellish devil to punish him. In short, he moved about, as it were, through earth, heaven, and hell for love of God and love of neighbor. By patience, his good and perfect heart brought forth ample fruits of conversion and holiness in himself and in others. All the while, he knew it was God’s doing and not his own. God had told him, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for power is made perfect in infirmity.” For that reason, he was glad to glory in his infirmities, that the power of God would dwell in him.