Sunday Sermon for July 10, 2011, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23

In the second reading St. Paul tells us that creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord, but by Him Who once subjected it. In our day we can understand this concept more than ever. If you buy a new computer or cell phone today, it will be outdated within a few months. Our Grandparents had things that they used for decades, but our “dinosaurs” are one a few years old. We see that these old things are futile and we rush to get something new. Unfortunately, that new thing will become old and its futility will be recognized quite quickly.

The sad thing is that we do not see the futility of things at the time they are new. We think something is of great value because it is the latest and the greatest, because it is the most recent fad or just because it is “cool.” It is not only the novel and the contemporary that are subject to futility; St. Paul speaks about all of creation being thus subject. That includes us.

It is not that we are futile as persons; indeed, we have immense dignity as persons. What is futile is our earthly way of life (Qoheleth understood this well). But St. Paul talks about the hope that creation would be set free from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. This means that for Christian people, life itself has a different meaning; it is not futile.

Even so, St. Paul still says that we ourselves, with the rest of creation, are groaning as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. We are then raised above the general futility because know the Lord and are able to live our lives for Him by seeking to do His will. We will still have to die and be buried, with the body undergoing corruption, but we have hope and confidence in what lies ahead in Heaven. This also allows us to see everything in the context of God, redemption and eternal life, we can more readily recognize its value or its futility.

The problem for those who do not know the Lord is that they can find hope and joy only in the passing things of this world. They cannot see beyond themselves and their need for immediate gratification. Their focus is only on the things of material creation because they have no frame of reference to grasp anything spiritual or beyond the senses.

This helps to explain our Lord’s words in the Gospel when He says that He speaks to these people only in parables because “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” He then goes on to quote Isaiah who talks about the grossness of the hearts of the people, the inability to hear with their ears and the fact that they have closed their eyes. It sounds as if the Lord does not want these people to hear the Word of God and convert.

In the first reading the Lord says through Isaiah that His Word will not return to Him void, but will do His will, achieving the end for which He sent it. Does this mean that it is not God’s will for these people to hear His Word? Certainly not. However, if the people are like Herod who only wanted to be entertained by the Lord, or like the crowds who came after Jesus because they had eaten their fill of bread, then the Lord is not going to give in to their selfishness.

The Word of God is present for anyone and everyone. As our Lord makes clear in the Gospel, we have to work the soil of our souls if we want that Word to bear fruit, otherwise the things of this world will choke it off. If anyone really desires to know and love the Lord, His words will touch their hearts and they will seek the deeper, more spiritual meaning which will enflame their souls. If, on the other hand, we want to immerse ourselves in the things of this world, our Lord’s words will appear to us as being futile while the latest gadget will be given immense value in our minds.

In God’s loving mercy, He has made very clear the dichotomy between what is worldly, material, and futile on one hand and what is spiritual, eternal, and of great dignity on the other. As Christian people we need to focus on what is not futile: persons, God’s will, and eternal life. We also need to prepare our souls so that the Word of God will achieve in us the end for which it was sent: to be planted deeply within us and bear fruit for the Lord.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit