15th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Bible Sunday:
Gospel – Mt13:1-23

" Build Human Relationships in order to build Relationship with God "


Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 3rd July 2011

I could very easily say to you, “Let us have 10 minutes of silence and just take today’s Gospel passage and let the Holy Spirit inspire you with the Truth, since Jesus has already presented to you His homilyon the parable.  This is because in the parable, Jesus not only tells us how different soil produces different results, but also explains for us why each soil produces what it produces.   If I had done so, this would sound more like an excuse on my part to take an easy way out for not preparing my homily.  So, I resisted the temptation and prepared something for my homily.

Jesus’ explanation of the parable is very clear.  Let me briefly say that for the first type of soil on the “edge,” Jesus is referring to those of us who are not open to the God’s Truth and challenges.  We rather continue to live the moral lifestyle and behave the way we do.  So, homilies that are challenging are often perceived as the priest “scolding” us, instead of helping us to grow in God’s love and ways.  So, Jesus says, “Without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what is sown in the heart.

The second soil on the “rock,” refers to those of us who prefer to live superficial lives that everyone around us live: we continue to be as materialistic and secular as those who do not know Christ.  So, Jesus says, “While we welcome the Word with joy it has no root and depth and does not last.  Once trials come we fall away.”

The third soil on the “thorns” refer to those of us who are so busy doing so many things in our daily lives that we do not make clear distinctions between what are essential and what are non-essentials in life.  Thus, we can take a piano lesson or our social appointments, while good in themselves as more important than coming to Mass.  So, Jesus says, “The worries and lures of this world coke the Word and produces nothing.”


Finally, the “rich” soil refers to those of us, hopefully most of us, who are open to the challenges of the Holy Spirit to grow in our faith.  They are those of us who are filled with sincerity and are striving to live in God’s love and ways, regardless of how imperfect, weak and sinful we may be.  What matters is that we sincerely seek to grow into becoming what God wants us to become and also try to live a more reflective and discerning life that God Wills of us – producing a harvest of thirty, sixty or hundred fold.

I don’t intend to illustrate further what each of the soil mean as I believe if each of us were to ponder on today’s Gospel, we would surely discover the truth of what Jesus wants to proclaim to us, as its meaning is very clear.  However, in today’s globalised IT world, especially in a first world city like Singapore, I would like us to reflect on how our lifestyle in general have direct effects on whether we become the soil that falls on the “edge,” “rock,” among “thorns” or rich soil. 

For this I have asked a parishioner; let us call her “Marian”; not her real name, to share her thoughts and reflection on what it is like to live in today’s globalised IT world.  Marian is a young mother of four children aged 2 ½ to 11 and also a catechist in our Parish community.   I find her reflection to be most insightful and very relevant to what and how many of us live daily.  Marian shares profoundly on how to have a meaningful relationship with God we must first learn to develop meaningful human relationships.  But, how do we develop meaningful and deep human relationships in today’s IT world of gadgets?  This is where the basic challenge is and it is very relevant that we reflect on our lifestyles and not assume that all our relationships are healthy and wholesome as God Wills of us.

Thus, this is what Marian has to share with us; adapted according to the needs of this homily.   She says, “Our children (as we do too) seek relationships with real people, particularly so in this age where virtual reality (VR) has invaded our lives. I feel the urgent need to connect IN REALITY with our children and young people who are increasingly disconnected with real life.Because of their youth and inexperience, they find it hard to differentiate between reality and VR, and are often shocked, scared or discouraged when they have to face the real challenges of life.

This is because in real life, unlike Virtual Reality, you cannot click on a 'play again' button.  Instead, in real life, when we have to face the challenges of making sacrifices and making responsible decisions to love and respect one another, we cannot run away from them, if we want togrow and matureas a person.   The experience of God starts first with our experience of loving human relationships.

        

What is happening to us daily?  We are constantly plugged into the communications network (email, sms, Facebook, Twitter) but these are brief exchanges, using a non-human interface. So we train ourselves to have short, superficial exchanges with other humans, ignoring the truth that human relationships require time to develop depth.  Short exchanges cannot build trust.  Even successful internet romances finally end with both parties meeting face to face before living 'happily ever after'. We must use modern technology to further our purposes in ways e.g. efficient administration, quick communications but we must be on our guard and not to allow it to become our PRIMARY means of communication.

Especially for children, they must learn to communicate deeply with human beings before this skill becomes beyond their acquisition, which is the danger I feel they are in today. Our children as young as 8 years old have phones and other gadgets. Children then train themselves to communicate in snippets, but this habit leads to the degeneration of basic communication skills. On the one hand, we give our kids the phones "so you can sms me if your class is dismissed late." On the other hand, we send them for these very supplementary classes or tuition on "why can't my kids string a decent paragraph together?  We are an English speaking family, yet he's failing his composition!"

The reality is that our children are living in a world where they have a shortage of real face to face communication of any depth or time.  Children need to interact with other children to learn peer relationships. In our very small families, some children will only have the benefit of have one other sibling "to fight with", some none at all.

Children need to interact with good adult role models. Our Singaporean children's lives are so highly scheduled (tuition, enrichment, piano etc) that they have little time to "chill out" even with mum, dad and other family members, much less with other people. There is little interaction during classes as the objective is skill-acquisition (e.g. maths, science, sport) and so interaction between the children is discouraged,because then the parents may feel the children are "wasting time and money and not concentrating".

Adult interaction with mum & dad occurs in the car when they are being driven to and from these classes. Mum & dad are sometimes poor role models too. The adult is often only physically present, but absorbed in answering sms or email. I am often guilty of this.

All parents rejoice when our baby learns to walk, give him encouragement, hold his hand, tell him "slowly, slowly" and cheer him on however long it takes. We know it takes a long time to learn how to walk and we're willing to let baby take his time to acquire this skill. We are patient. It takes an even longer time to acquire and form the skills of human communication. Yet we parents have forgotten that - we give them gadgets to make our parenting duties more efficient (they can be in touch while they play games or watch TV) but at the same time we're short circuiting the process.  And short changing our kids.

We produce what James Stenson, a parenting guru, calls 'technical barbarians'. Humans who function well when using machines to do work but are emotionally unevolved, undeveloped and immature; they find human relationships inexplicable,therefore preferring to run away when faced with the inevitable disagreements and conflicts in life.

I find it amazing that our children are offered sessions at school on 'conflict resolution' 'anger management' 'handling relationships'. Surely these are lessons that should be learnt in the sandbox rather than using a power-point slideshow in a classroom!

Let us, in all of these reflections on the Gospel not forget that today the Church is celebrating “Bible Sunday.”  And so, let us be reminded that for us to overcome all these secular influences of our lives that dries up, divide and destroys human relationships, and thus, possibly our relationship with God, let us take up the challenge to take up the Word of God, the revealed Holy Scriptures, and spend some time each day to reflect on God’s Truth.

This is so that we get in touch with the deeper meaning of our lives once again, and in the process renew our commitment to love God through developing more meaningful and wholesome relationships with our children, our spouses, our families, our Parish community and indeed with the poor and needy of this world who are also God’s precious children.

Let us also make the additional effort to participate more actively in our many Parish Bible programme and learn more about God’s Word.  While our Parish has no shortage ofBible programmes, it is still up to us to make the needed commitment to learn more about God’s Word and to grow in its Truth and live in its Wisdom.

To conclude, let us ask ourselves, “Am I the soil that is on the edge, on the rock, amongst thorns or on rich soil?  And if I am blessed to have a receptive mind and heart to God’s Word, then is my life bearing fruit that is thirty fold, sixty fold or one hundred fold?  How is God challenging me to grow in His Love and Ways?

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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