GOD IN OUR MIDST
The Heart of the Sower
By Joyce Rupp

“A sower went out to sow— (Mark 4:3). Parables, like dreams, have many layers of meaning. They teach us and stretch us into further growth. In one parable Jesus describes how a sower scatters seeds in hope of a harvest, but only the seed that lands on good soil thrives. The rest withers or does not even sprout because it falls on rocks, grows in weedy soil, is trampled upon or is quickly devoured by hungry birds. Jesus explains how this is a metaphor for accepting, or not accepting, the Word of God in his listeners— lives.

We are told what happens to the seeds. But what happens to the sower? What does the sower experience when many of the seeds, strewn with hope, do not grow into fullness? I lived on a farm. I have a sense of what a farmer feels when a springtime field is ready for planting. There—s an expectant eagerness, a readiness to spend long hours of hard work planting seeds because each seed holds a promise of growth.

When seeds are poor and grow weakly, when hail or windstorms come and destroy the growing crop, when strong sun and lack of rain wither it, the farmer often grows discouraged. Did Jesus, the Divine Sower, also have this feeling when he served and taught the people? Did he feel pained and disheartened when he saw how little effect his message had on their lives, or did he maintain hope in spite of the mixed results he received from his efforts?

The gospels tell us that Jesus did feel disheartened at the lack of receptivity and the failure of his message to change people—s lives, but the Scriptures also remind us that Jesus never gave up. He continued to believe in the possibility of change and growth in every individual. Jesus did not withhold his love and his openness to the —seeds— that fell on the wayside, or on rocky, weedy soil.

Untested Soil

We are also sowers of the seed. Each of us spreads the gospel message of faith and love by the way we choose to live our lives. Being a sower of God—s goodness can be joyful when we see the positive results from the seeds we have planted. Happiness floods our hearts and a sense of great satisfaction flows through us when the seeds grow well.

Like Jesus, we can also meet with defeat as we go about planting the seeds of his message. Faith-filled parents with dedicated love for their children see them choosing a life of drugs, violence and moral disaster. Pastoral teams experience the apathy or disinterest of parishioners when faith-formation programs are promoted. The seeds of faithfulness in marriage partners are destroyed by the rocky soil of adultery or the arid refusal to communicate. Teachers who promote honesty and integrity find their efforts falling on the stony indifference and hostile behavior of their students. Men and women trying to plant seeds of peace and harmony in their workplace and society watch the seeds fail to develop. All of us who plant seeds of goodness may experience those seeds being received with hostility or disregard.

Hope in the Harvest

Like the Divine Sower, we can feel great disappointment when the seeds we have strewn with good intent fail to take root or wither in their early greening. It takes much faith and relentless hope to be a sower of the Word of God, to be consistent in our untiring attitude of accepting others and caring about them. It requires undying resolve and continuous returning to prayer. Like Jesus, we may not see the harvest in our lifetime but we cannot give up trying to live in the Kingdom of God as faithful and compassionate human beings. Steadfast hope is a vital component of a true sower—s heart.

As we live in the spirit of the Divine Sower this Lent, let us keep on sowing the seeds of our good works without giving in to discouragement. Let us sow with confidence and detachment, letting go of our expectations for immediate and perceptible results. Let us trust that the Word of God will take deeper root in our own hearts as well as in those with whom we live and work.

Joyce Rupp, a Servite Sister, international speaker and retreat director, describes herself as a “spiritual midwife.” She is the author of numerous books and articles. Her latest book is Rest Your Dreams on a Little Twig (Sorin Books).

Next: The Good Samaritan

Questions for Reflection:

•Who has sown the seeds of faith in your life? Why were they able to take root?

•How do you sow God's word in the fields around you—at home, work or school?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from “God in Our Midst.”

FAMILY CORNER
Tilling the Soil
By Judith Dunlap

In the parable of the sower, it is Jesus who generously scatters the seeds (the word of God). Many never bear fruit. They fall on the pathway and are eaten by birds. They fall on rocky soil or among thorns. Only the seeds planted in good soil will grow abundantly. This parable has much to say to parents and religious educators about faith formation.

In my early years as a parish director of religious education I often told parents how important it was that they support their child—s catechist or Catholic school teacher. As the years went by I realized that I had things reversed. It is the catechist or teacher who is in the supportive role. What children learn or don—t learn in their religion classes depends to a great degree on what they are learning at home, where the soil is tilled.

Parents and parish work together to prepare that soil, but parents have the primary role. Parents turn pathways into fertile fields by living lives that promote gospel values, by bringing to light the good in the world and exposing and uprooting the evil. Parents cultivate and water rocky soil by providing a home where hope is encouraged and faith and love are shared. Parents hack away at the thorns of a secular society—including self-gratifying consumerism and the violence and voyeurism called entertainment—by diligently supervising and actively participating in their child—s free time.

The seed of faith was planted in the heart of your child at Baptism. But it is up to you, the parent—with the help of the parish—to cultivate an environment so that faith can grow abundantly.

For Family Response:

Ask each family member to talk about who/what gives him or her hope when the world around seems dark and scary.

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
Nicholas Nickelby
By Frank Frost

Charles Dickens is most famous for creating Bob Cratchit, Scrooge and Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. His novel, Nicholas Nickleby, has made it to the movie screen at least four times prior to the newest version. The story is tried and true.

Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam) is a noble young gentleman who finds himself, his mother and sister impoverished upon the early death of his father. He turns for help to his father—s brother, Ralph (Christopher Plummer). From the idyllic pastoral setting of his childhood, Nicholas and his family are unceremoniously thrust into a loud, aggressive, unsettling city—a metaphor for the treatment he will find at the hands of his uncle Ralph.

With delicious moral clarity, the Dickensian world is divided clearly into good, innocent people and the evil people who prey upon them. And Nicholas—s uncle is a prime specimen of the latter. Deviously seeking to destroy the family of his —good— brother under cover of rescuing them, Ralph sends Nicholas away to work as a teacher at a boarding school for abandoned boys.

Soon Nicholas is unable to tolerate the abuse of the boys at the squalid school, especially at the hands of Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent) and his wife (Juliet Stevenson). He rescues a crippled servant from a beating, and they set out together into the world. Nicholas becomes part of a traveling theater group until word comes that his sister, Kate, is in jeopardy.

When he learns of his uncle—s intent to marry off Kate—against her will—to a repugnant suitor for personal financial gain, Nicholas confronts Ralph. But Ralph only intensifies his efforts to crush his blood relatives, and unlike Scrooge, who is converted by ghosts, Ralph Nickleby is intransigent to the bitter end.

Themes of poverty, fairness, social inequity and human dignity come through loud and clear. The entitlement of the wealthy to exploit the simple and na—ve, expressed in the Darwinian terms of survival of the fittest that was common in Dickens—s time, somehow has a modern ring in the era of Enron.

But for all its social commentary, Nicholas Nickleby is first of all good, entertaining storytelling. The melodrama and extraordinary coincidences that drive Dickens—s plots become a pleasure when the characters are rich and well acted in such evocative period settings. Christopher Plummer is excellent as the relentlessly evil plotter, and surely Mrs. Squeers is one of the most sadistic schoolmistresses of all time. The relationships between and among the —good— characters provide a satisfying foil to these evildoers.

Dickens—s 1870 tombstone reads: —He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering and the oppressed.— He would be proud of Nicholas Nickleby, the movie.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Pedro Betancur (?1626-1667)

There is some question about when Pedro de San Jose Betancur was born. There is no question about the depth of his holiness and the extent of the good works he did during his short life. That is why Pope John Paul II canonized the 17th-century missionary in July 2002 in Guatemala, making him Central America—s first saint.

A native of the Canary Islands, Pedro spent his early life working as a shepherd. During those quiet hours in the fields he heard a call to serve as a missionary and a priest in the New World. After a long and difficult journey across the Atlantic, he made his way to Guatemala, arriving in 1651.

Pedro—s hopes to become a priest proved unrealistic; he lacked the educational grounding to do the serious study required. His deep desire to live and work among the people, however, remained intact. He joined the Secular Franciscan Order and began seeking out the poor and needy. Guatemala City offered him countless opportunities.

He helped prostitutes, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick. He opened a shelter for the homeless and established schools for the poor. For his work, and his humble demeanor, he became known as the —St. Francis of the Americas.— He also walked in the wealthy parts of the city, ringing a bell and begging on behalf of the poor. At his canonization ceremony, that same bell was rung again during the reading of his biography.

Pedro—s holy life attracted others who wished to share his life of prayer and penance and devotion to the sick. This was the beginning of the Bethlemite Congregation, which includes Brothers and Sisters who work among the sick poor throughout the world.

St. Pedro de San Jose Betancur—s feast day is April 25.

Sister Adelaide Bocanegra

When Pope John Paul II was in Guatemala City canonizing Pedro de San Jose Betancur last summer, Sister Adelaide Bocanegra was home in Dallas, Texas. She stayed in touch with events via reports from her congregation as well as newspapers and TV. "But God helped me to feel I was there," she told Every Day Catholic.

An estimated 800,000 people came to celebrate the event, Sister Adelaide reported, including major government officials. Many offices were closed. Some people, she continued, traveled on foot from other parts of the country and slept outside the night before the ceremonies. "He's very much alive there, especially among the simple people."

It doesn't take much to get the Colombian-born nun to talk about the saint who founded her religious congregation. A Bethlemite Sister for almost 50 years, she serves as administrator at St. Joseph Residence. The retirement home, located in a Dallas suburb, accommodates 45 middle- and low-income residents. Like St. Pedro, Sister Adelaide seeks "to help people get close to God."

On occasion, she encounters some resistance. She recalls a resident who agreed to come to St. Joseph's "only if he didn't have to go to church." After one visit from a priest, the man was back in the Church. One month later, he was dead.

Even in such instances, Sister Adelaide is patient—slowly, gently, prayerfully helping residents finish their lives in dignity and prepare for heaven. "This is a time when they need to be at peace with God," she believes. And what better model, she says, than St. Pedro, a man of simplicity and humility who "had his mind fixed on God."



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