17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Stove and hearth in Carrowcullen: The Old Farmhouse, Co Sligo, Ireland.

This Sunday’s Gospel is a theme familiar to most of house, ‘a treasure hunt.’

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out, separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’” (Mt. 13: 44 – 45)

Once upon a time there was a tailor who lived in a small village on the outskirts of a large city. He made only a meagre living from his business.

One night he had a dream in which a voice said to him, ‘If you go to the city and dig behind a certain tree in the emperor’s castle, you will find a great treasure.’
The poor man placed great trust in dreams, so, the very next day, he set out for the city.

However, when he got to there, he found that the castle was guarded.
Unable to cross the bridge that led to the castle, he lived under the bridge for a while.

While there he became friends with the captain of the guard.

One day he shared his story with the captain.

He said, ‘I had a dream that if I got into the castle grounds, and went to a certain tree and dug there, I would find a treasure.’

The captain of the guard gave a hearty laugh. ‘You’re a very foolish man,’ he said. ‘You shouldn’t believe that sort of thing. I have dreams myself. Once I had a dream that in a small village there lived a poor tailor, not unlike you. I dreamt that if I went to his house, and dug behind his stove, I would find a treasure that somebody had buried there many years ago. Of course, I dismissed it as foolishness.

The tailor thanked the captain of the guard, went back home, dug behind his own hearth, and found the treasure.

Open a vein – thoughts on preaching

Until this morning, I had never heard of “Red” Smith!

Now I know that he is Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith ( 1905 – 1982) and that he was an American sportswriter. Smith’s journalistic career spans over five decades and his work influenced an entire generation of writers. Smith became the second sports columnist ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1976.

In a book he wrote titled, “To Absent Friends”, Smith wrote, “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein”.

As a fellow writer, the author, Frederick Buechner, comments on the quote, and as I read Buechner’s comments I kept thinking about preaching!

Below is Buechner’s thoughts; I have interpolated the word “preach” following the word write,

Write [preach]about what you really care about is what he is saying.

Write [preach] about what truly matters to you—not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing[preaching] about them.

Write [preach] not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion.

Then the things that your books [homilies] make happen will be things worth happening —things that make the people who read [hear] them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human.

I believe that those are the best things that books [sermons].

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Schindler’s List was a screen adaptation of a novel by the Australian author Thomas Keneally. The original novel was published under the title Schindler’s’ Ark.

The book, and subsequent film, tell the story of the German industrialist, Oskar Schindler. The story centres around Schindler’s efforts to save over a thousand Polish Jews from the concentration camps during World War II.

Schindler was certainly no saint. He was a man riddled with contradictions. He certainly knew how to enjoy the so-called good life – cigars, drink, women.
He was a Catholic, though in name only.

He was also a member of the Nazi party, and his avowed aim was to end the war with ‘two trunks full of money’.

He exploited the Jews as a source of cheap labour.

However, anyone who has read the book and/or seen the film becomes aware that Schindler has about him a basic goodness, and in spite of his many lapses, he returns to this better side, his basic goodness.

As the war progressed, Schindler became appalled at the horrors of what was known as the “final solution.”

At considerable personal risk (he was twice arrested by the Nazi), he protected his workers from the death camps.

Oskar Schindler was no angel; he was a human being, an essentially good human being, even though seriously flawed.

I know, for myself, and perhaps you dare reflect, that part of the story’s attraction is that it tells mine!

I am no saint or angel; I understand I am a human being – essentially good yet with serious flaws.

Using the imagery from today’s Gospel ( Mt. 13: 24 – 33) I am indeed a landscape of healthy, ripening wheat, with a fair smattering of darnel.

While growing, to the untrained eye, wheat and darnel look very much alike; when ripe, wheat will appear brown, whereas darnel is black. The farmer needs to work with each growing healthily until they are fully ripe, and then their difference becomes apparent. Weeding too soon and too abruptly may be disastrous – what I or another thought darnel may have proved to be wheat.

Patience and leniency are needed towards ourselves and towards others.

Throughout the Gospel story, the darnel and wheat don’t seem to mind sharing the same plot of land.

What makes the angst between them is a judgement from the outside.

The author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his book, “The Gulag Archipelago” writes, “Even in hearts that are overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And in the best of all hearts, there remains an uprooted small corner of evil.” (From The Gulag Archipelago, Part 4, Chapter 1, “The Ascent”.)

The illustration is the cover a book titled “Embracing the Shadow” by Daniela Migliari.

15th Week of Ordinary Time

“The Parable of the Sower” is the title given in the Bible I use (The New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, NRSV).

The Gospel ( Matt 13: 1 – 23) also includes the purpose of parables, and the parable of the Sower explained.

Consequently, our attention is captured by the diversity of ground the seed falls on, and as a result which part of me is rocky, shallow, full of thorns and the like. What has happened is that I have become the focus of attention!

I suggest reading verses 1 – 9 because the story’s focus is now on the Sower.

The illustration “Sower at Sunset”, 1888 is kept in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890), was particularly interested in Sowers throughout his artistic career.

He made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme, and my focus is the painting “The Sower at Sunset”.

This painting was completed by Van Gogh in 1888 in Arles, Provence, during his somewhat intense and turbulent friendship with the French artist Paul Gauguin in the Yellow House.

The Yellow House also features in Van Gogh’s paintings.

The picture shows, somewhat obviously, a person out in a field scattering seeds.

When I look at the action of the person sowing, the word “indiscriminate” comes to mind.

I picture the flow of the hand and arm from the seed bag to the ground – backwards and forwards, the seed is flung, which is the intention of the one sowing.

Freely and with gay abandon, the seed is spread.

The striking aspect of this painting is that the ripe corn can still be seen behind the Sower, who sows the cultivated land with a broad arm gesture.

However, the Sower is not walking among the fertility of what has been sown ( and grown); instead, the Sower is walking on the cultivated soil – the what might be – and indeed, the Sower and the ploughed land share the same colour.

Principally, the question I am left with for reflecting is might I find my God more in what is to come; the ploughed field, rather than in what has been; the fertile field of corn?