Wenski: The world is the field of evangelization —every soul can be good soil for planting…
(CUSA) –There are so many stony hearts that they need to be softened before we can plant. Your energy and creativity is what makes the difference.
The alternative is decay and stagnation. —Ed.
MIAMI ARCHBISHOP THOMAS WENSKI
January 27, 2016
Today’s gospel presents us with Mark’s version of the parable of the sower. One of the better known of Jesus’ parables – it is found in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel as well – it might be better described as the “parable of the four soils” or four types of ground. There is the soil found along the wayside – this is ground hardened by heavy traffic.
Today, you wouldn’t find anything growing the middle of a busy road. And that would be true of Jesus’ time as well. There is also stony ground or soil – likewise not a favorable environment for anything to grow.Farmers would know first to remove the rocks and stones from any field before planting; the same would be true for thorny ground, or a field that is too kind to weeds. The seed of the gospel takes root in good soil.
What Jesus is doing here is describing different reactions to the gospel. As he explains to his disciples, there are those who hear without understanding; there are those whose first enthusiasm wanes in the face of difficulties because the word had not taken root in them; there are those who hear the word, but later are overcome with a litany of distractions and lose it. And finally there are those who hear the word and understand it, who take it to heart and make it their own and yield a great harvest.
The world is the field that the Church is sent to cultivate by sowing the Word, the good news of the gospel. And every soul is potentially “good soil” for the gospel to take root. Weeds can spring up anywhere but for the seed, the wheat of the gospel, to take root, the soil must be prepared. The farmer or gardener has to water the dry, hard ground. Hearts must be softened; the stony ground of stubborn hearts must be tilled to prepare it to receive the seed of the gospel.
In other words, evangelization is hard work – just as a farmer if he is going to realize a good harvest cannot take shortcuts, neither can we in our efforts to plant the gospel in “good soil”. If we are to sow in good soil, we have to tame the wild ground: in other words, just as a farmer before he plants has to prepare the soil, the soil of the human heart, the soil of the culture in which we live, needs some serious preparation: what missiologists would call “pre-evangelization”.
We have to first remove those barriers to belief that exist today in our culture if we are to awaken the desire for God and his Church in those who do not know nor accept either God or his Church. Pre-evangelization prepares the soil to receive the seed of the Kerygma, a seed that will grow through catechesis to producing a bountiful harvest.
If the seed does not take root, the problem lies not with the seed but with the soil. The soil in which we live, the culture which shapes the way we see reality, the way we think, presents profound challenges. St. John Paul II called for a New Evangelization – not new in its context for Jesus Christ “is the same, yesterday, today and forever” but new in its methods, in its ardor. And, when we survey the landscape –the increasing numbers who identify themselves as “none’s” – that’s spelled n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s – who can say that we do need new methods of evangelize.
In the last 50 years, since the Second Vatican Council, each Pope has successively addressed the need for this New Evangelization that can respond to the new circumstances in which we live. We can talk, as Blessed Paul VI did, about the ascendant secularism of our culture, the mistaken sense of tolerance that is intolerant of the gospel especially when the gospel seemingly “judges” one’s lifestyle choices; we can reference, as John Paul II did, the growing indifferentism – a religious relativism that holds the every religion is as good as the other and thus stifles missionary fervor; we can speak about what Benedict called the “dictatorship of relativism” or what Pope Francis decries as the “globalization of indifference” in our throw-away cultures.
In the spiritual deserts of our post-modern culture created by relativism and other secularist ideologies, we have to prepare the human heart and the culture that forms it by showing it that our basic human desires for security, for love and for acceptance find their fulfillment inGod. We need to re-propose to people the fundamental questions of life such as: Why do I exist? Where does everything come from? Why is the world the way it is? What is my purpose in this world?
What is certain is that we cannot continue with the same premises as in the past when the larger culture was friendlier to religious faith. For example, in the past, many young people would abandon the practice of the faith when they left the home to go off college; but they would come back to Church once they got married and had kids. That is an assumption we no longer can entertain.
However, all is not lost. While we do see decay, stagnation and complacency in the Church, we also see signs of renewed vitality, new energy and a new creativity. The ground is being prepared for a new Springtime of Faith. St. John Paul II did much to renew catechesis – the Catechism of the Catholic Church was a great achievement – among so many others – of his pontificate. Benedict XVI in his profound writings and homilies have helped translate the ancient Kerygma of the Church into a new idiom. And, how many people of other faiths or of no faith have told you, “I like this Pope”?
The “pre-evangelization”, I spoke about, takes into account what might be required to gain a hearing from those who think they have heard the message and rejected it as irrelevant or even contrary to their happiness. And this precisely what Pope Francis has done – and is doing. In reaching out to men of good will he engages contemporary society on points of common concern to believers and non-believers alike. As the Bishops of Vatican II said in Gaudium et Spes, the same hopes, joys, grief and anguish are shared by the people of the world and the followers of Christ.
In fact he cited this passage when he met with the Bishops of Latin America during World Youth Day in Brazil implying that the plan for his entire pontificate could be understood in terms of it. “Here we find the basis for our dialogue with the contemporary world,” he said then.
Thus, Pope Francis takes as a common point of reference those Gospel values that non-believers and “indifferent Christians” of good will accept even if unconsciously. These values emphasize concern for the poor and the oppressed. Concern for the poor brings out a natural religious sense because such concern conforms to the transcendent character of the human person.
The pope’s obvious concern for the refugees at Lampedusa, his visits to prisons, his outreach to the homeless around St. Peter’s are concrete instances of a “pre-evangelization” that can break open soil hardened by cynicism to receive the good seed of the gospel. The Pope’s humility, his eschewing signs of power and status stands as an antidote to the consumerist culture that has people focusing inwardly on themselves.
Jesus spoke his parables in first century Palestine, a land that always presented challenges to farmers. And those who have visited the Holy Land in recent years can marvel on how the Israelis have reclaimed what was barren desserts, transforming wastelands into orchards. Perhaps, this itself is a modern day parable of how our modern day spiritual desserts can be irrigated by God’s grace and the spade work of truly “missionary disciples” and made into the rich soil of the “ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”