Sown on Rich Soil
By Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC (Jul 31, 2011)
On Sunday, July 10, 2011, the newly ordained Fr. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at his home parish, St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. Father Angelo became a parishioner of St. Peter Chanel in 2003, and he says he is indebted to the priests of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary who run the parish for helping him to fall in love with the priesthood. The Mass of Thanksgiving was concelebrated by some of the Oblate priests, including Fr. Lawrence Darnell, OMV; Fr. Edward Broom, OMV; Fr. Craig MacMahon, OMV; and Fr. Jeremy Paulin, OMV. Father James Cervantes, MIC, the other Marian priest who was also recently ordained, was another concelebrant. The following is the homily delivered by Fr. Angelo during the Mass.
This time last Sunday, after I celebrated my first Mass at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., Fr. James Cervantes and I were interviewed for an article in an upcoming issue of Marian Helper magazine. Father James talked about our years of formation together in the seminary in Washington, D.C. He shared how those of us in the seminary were like seeds in a nursery that had been sown alongside each other on good soil.
And now that Fr. James and I have finished these long years of preparation for the priesthood, we're being uprooted and planted on new soil. Father James will return to the Philippines and be a missionary priest there, and I'll be moving to the Midwest to begin my new parish assignment.
I share this because I think it fits well with today's gospel reading about sowing the seed on rich soil. Any vocation, whether it's to the married life, the single life, the religious life, or the priesthood, is like a seed that needs to be sown on rich soil in order to bear fruit.
Someone who's truly a model of this in her vocation is the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of her receptivity and openness to God. That's why at the Annunciation, she was able to say to the angel Gabriel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to Your word" (Lk 1:38). We call that her fiat, her full "yes" to God. Mary is the seed sown on rich soil, who hears the word of God and understands it, who bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Using Mary and her fiat, her "yes" to the Lord, as our model, let's take a closer look at the four different kinds of seed that's sown in today's gospel reading. The first is the seed sown on the path. This is the one who hears the word of God without understanding it, and then the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.
This is the type of person who says "yes" to God without trying to understand what he's saying to. It's having a superficial faith. It's a faith based on convenience and so the person doesn't take the time to understand what he is suppose to believe in.
Perhaps this is why almost half of all Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — in the Holy Eucharist. That's why only 30 to 40 percent of Catholics attend Sunday Mass. And maybe that's also why half of Catholics are divided when it comes to moral issues like abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.
It's easy to be a Catholic in name only and not understand what the Church teaches on Jesus' Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, the importance of attending Sunday Mass, and the Church's stance on certain moral issues. I can identify with that because I was also a Catholic in name only up until I went through a conversion experience 10 years ago.
I knew I should to go to Mass on Sunday but I didn't know why. So I just went to Mass if it was convenient. I was also the type of person who always arrived late for Mass as the gospel was being read and then left early before the final blessing. At some point, I had stopped believing in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and I was easily swayed by popular opinion when it came to moral issues.
I was ignorant when it came to my Catholic faith, and so I encourage you read up on the Catechism of the Catholic Church so you can understand your faith. Because if you don't, it just makes it easier for the devil to come and steal what's been already sown in your heart.
The second type of seed is the seed sown on rocky ground. This is the person who hears the word of God and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and only lasts for a time. And so when some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.
This person says "yes" to God but on their own terms. Often their words don't match their actions. It's easy to love God and say "yes" to Him when everything is going well. But the real test of our faith comes during the times of struggle and trials.
Prior to my conversion, I'd try to bargain with God. Anytime I was going through a great trial, I'd pray and ask God for His help and then promise Him that I'd change my life. But after God helped me, I'd just go back to my old way of life. You can't bargain with the Lord. That's why Jesus says, "Let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and your 'no' mean 'no'" (Mt 5:37). He wants us to be accountable and men and women of our word.
The third type of seed is the seed sown among thorns. It's the one who hears the word of God, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. This is the person who is filled with pride and who always wants to be in control of everything. Rather than saying, "Not my will, but Your will be done," he says instead, "Not Your will, but my will be done."
They like to think that the world revolves around them and their problems. They're always anxious about everything. They have a great love of the world and what can make them happy, like a new car or a new home. Because they're self-centered and have so much self-love, they lose sight of God and their neighbor. They don't want to help anyone because they're too busy helping themselves. It's the mentality of always looking out for number one — only myself.
The fourth kind of seed is the seed sown on rich soil. It's the person who hears the word of God and understands it. They are the ones who bear fruit and yield a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. This is the person who gives their total fiat, their total "yes" to God, like the Blessed Virgin Mary did.
They don't hold anything back from God because their only desire is to do His will in their lives. That's why Jesus kept saying that His only mission was to do the will of the Father. It's the key to holiness and to becoming a saint. For example, in one of the pages of the Diary of St. Faustina, she crossed out her own will and wrote, "From today on, my own will does not exist. ... I do the will of God everywhere always, and in everything."
We can learn from Mary's example how to be the kind of seed that's sown on rich soil. A popular devotion in the Marians of the Immaculate Conception is to meditate on Our Lady's 10 Evangelical Virtues. We need to cultivate these virtues in our own lives so that we can also bear much fruit in whatever vocation God has called us to.
Here are Mary's 10 Evangelical Virtues. She is most pure, most prudent, most humble, most faithful, most devout, most obedient, most poor, most patient, most merciful, and most sorrowful.
First and foremost, it's Our Lady's humility that crowns all of her other virtues. The word "humility" comes from the Latin word humilitas. It's a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as "humble," but also as "grounded," "from the earth," or "low," since it's derived from humus, meaning soil. The best definition of humility I ever heard came from my novice master who said that humility means having true knowledge of yourself by accepting both your strengths and your weaknesses.
And so I'd like to talk about three ways of how we can cultivate humility in our lives. The first way is prayer and having a prayer life. Prayer is a conversation with God but the problem is sometimes we do all the talking and we never let God get a word in edgewise. God often speaks in the silence of our hearts and so we sometimes need just to shut up and take the time to listen to Him.
As the saying goes, silence is golden. Unfortunately, the idea of silence has been lost in our society. There's constant noise everywhere. The TV or the computer is always on. We're constantly listening to the radio or music on our MP3 players or cell phones. We don't know how to be quiet anymore and that's why we can't hear God speaking to us. It's hard for us just to be alone with Him. And so let's take the attitude of Mary who always pondered the things of God in her heart. It's the same attitude we need to take in our prayer life with God.
The second way of how to cultivate humility is by learning how to trust God in all areas of our lives, like Mary did. Trust, after all, is what's at the heart of the Divine Mercy message and devotion. That's why Jesus asked St. Faustina to have painted at the bottom of the Divine Mercy message the signature, "Jesus, I trust in you."
Those are the words I live by, and it's what's gotten me through these long years of formation. The most recent example of the Lord asking me to live out these words was when I took my comprehensive exams in May, so I could graduate and receive a Masters of Divinity degree in theology.
I was overwhelmed with the massive amount of information that I had to recall for the exams. Again, Jesus was teaching me, "Angelo, just trust in Me." And so I said to the Lord, "If You want me to pass, great! If You want me to fail, great! Not my will, but Your will be done."
I did my part by studying, but I had to leave the results in God's hands. I had to be totally dependent on Him. After I took the oral part of the exam, I really felt like I had failed. And so I was pleasantly surprised to find out later that I had passed.
In these last 10 years of following the Lord closely, the most important lesson I've learned in times of trial and difficulty is to just surrender everything to God and to trust in His Divine Providence. I know that He's always with me and that He'll see me through everything. I've learned how to be totally dependent on God, like a little child who's totally dependent on his or her parents. It's the key to the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux, and it's exactly how the Blessed Virgin Mary lived her life.
The third way of how to cultivate humility is by practicing the corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, and burying the dead, and also the spiritual works of mercy, such as instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, forgiving offenses willingly, and praying for the living and the dead. Blessed Pope John Paul II once said that mercy is a bilateral reality. As you give mercy, you receive mercy in return.
I'd like to especially address one particular spiritual work of mercy and that is to forgive offenses willingly. The saying goes that "to err is human, to forgive is divine." We can't buy our own human power forgive someone who has offended us. That's why God needs to step in. We have to ask Him for His help in forgiving another person.
Let's face it, there's too much unforgiveness in our world. Not to forgive and to get even is what the world teaches us but it's not what Christ teaches us who says to forgive your brother seventy times seven. Life's too short to hold on to grudges and not forgive offenses.
And so if you're holding a grudge against someone right now and don't want to forgive them, ask God to help you to forgive that person. And if you have offended someone, ask God to help you in asking that person to forgive you. I once heard a story of someone who was so angry at a person who hurt him that he said, "I'd rather go to hell than ever forgive that person for hurting me." Let's hope that it's not the kind of person we'd like to become.
As I was ordained to the priesthood on July 2, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the day after the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I recognized more than ever the need to always have a humble heart, like the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
In this last week, I've just been humbled by the love and reverence people have shown me as a newly ordained priest. Because when I look in the mirror, I still see me. I still see Angelo, with all my weaknesses, sinfulness, and imperfections.
But I've discovered that people love meeting a new priest because they want to encounter Jesus Christ. After all, it's through the hands of a priest that mere bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. It's through a priest that a person's sins are forgiven in the confessional. At ordination, a priest receives an indelible mark on his soul. Even if he should decide to leave the priesthood, he is a priest forever.
As I enter into my priestly ministry, I continue to be totally dependent on God for everything and can only hope that He will make me a humble and holy priest. I don't want people just to see me, to see Angelo but to see Jesus Christ living within me. That's my desire, so I can say along with St. John the Baptist, "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).