For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
Then the disciples came and asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: 'You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn-and I would heal them.'
"But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
As a former teacher, I'm often surprised at what some past-pupils remember. It would be less embarrassing on occasions if they conveniently forgot. "I remember you saying one time. .." and out it comes, if not word for word, at least in its general thrust as they heard it. Even merely spoken words can have an extraordinary life-span. Sometimes we remember things our parents said, long after they are gone; their words are not dead so long as we are alive and recall them.
What's true of the ordinary word is even more true of God's. That's what's stressed in today's readings. It's put in the strongest of terms in the reading from Isaiah 55:10-11: "So it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled, or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do." The only defence against God's word is inadvertent or deliberate deafness. And being deaf or hard of hearing is something today's Gospel does not recommend. In fact, it urges us to hive our ears cocked. But it conveys that message in a different image. It urges us to let the Word fall into good soil, so that it can yield a rich harvest in our lives.
Even though we're meant to have our ears cocked in church, and even though there's no substitute for hearing God's word as a worshipping community, the richest soil in any parish has to be in the home. The home, more than any place else, is a good place for growth. If space is made for God in the home, if parents pray with their children from an early age, if parents treat one another well, if the relationships within the home are basically sound, if Mass, as Christ's memorial, is seen to matter to the older people, then there is a fair old chance that in the hearts and minds of the children, the seed will take root and grow! It doesn't always happen, but on balance, if we do the best we can, there's a fair old chance that it will! In a sense, education is what remains when you have forgotten the texts themselves. We forget so easily what was said in church or school. We never forget what happens in the home. The hate and the tension and the fighting, or the hope and the love and the peace. I knew a cole once who used to get up every night and do a Holy Hour for one of their children who was sick. Wasn't that extraordinary? What family could ever forget that? What family could fail to be influenced by it? But in a sense it's a bad example because it's so exceptional. It's the ordinary things that make the impact on most of us, the daily effort, the daily drudgery, the repeated efforts a father or mother make separately or together to think of us and to remind us of God. It's only when somebody dies and people start looking back that the ordinary daily sacrifices take on a heroic pattern, and people say, "God, she was a great woman" or "he was a great man." If we receive God's word every day in our lives and try to live it, then we are scattering the seed ourselves for the younger generation and generations to come.
I wouldn't like to give the impression that it's only parents or older people who are expected to receive God's word and live it! I think God's call comes to us at its most personal and urgent when we are young. That's when most of us felt called to our particular vocations. That's when I felt the call to be a priest! God's word has fresh soil and a great future when it falls in a young heart. So if you are young, be generous with God. Be truthful and just and caring and good-living. Be faithful to your Sunday Eucharist and give it continued life throughout the week in the great commandment of love. One of the greatest saints the Church has ever produced, St Thérèse of Lisieux, "the little flower," was only twenty-four when she died. What use she made of her youth! She had one great objective: At the heart of the Church, my mother," she said, "I shall be love." Make that your own. Make it your personal resolution, your greatest objective, your life-long ambition! At the heart of the Church, my mother, I shall be love."