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Dear Friends in Christ,

Last month, Corpus Christi - the Feast of the Body and the Blood of our Lord - marked the beginning of public Masses and of our Message Series on the Sacraments. Having been without the Sacraments for a long stretch, it was fitting to dwell on the beauty and power of the Sacraments as we began to journey together again. Reception not only of the holy Eucharist, but reconciliation, baptisms, confirmation and anointings had almost completely ceased. Knowing how powerful the Sacraments are in the life of the Church, for a spiritual father it was torture to deprive our people of these divine aids.

For the next five weeks, our readings center around the  Gospel of Matthew chapters 13 & 14, as well as Paul to the  Romans 8 & 9. It would be valuable to make those texts part of our spiritual reading and meditation. This section of Matthew unfolds 8 parables about the Kingdom. So for the next five weeks, our Message Series will focus on the Kingdom and our role as disciples in it. We might ask the question: how are we making fruitful use of the beauty and graces of the Sacraments?

Kingdom language may sound unusual to us, as it's less common today. Still Christ Jesus was seeking to establish a kingdom, and taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done!” Jesus’ kingdom is in this world yet not of this world, a realm stretched between, while also uniting, earth and heaven. Jesus established a kingdom, while also leaving his followers to continue its work, which remains unfinished today. Have you given prayerful consideration to what Maple Shade would look like if it were more like the kingdom of heaven our Lord initiated? I believe that is our parish’s mission - to assist God to usher in the kingdom right here in Maple Shade.

These 8 parables are highly relevant to our mission as a parish family. A parable is a bit of a puzzle that causes the mind of the hearer to ruminate and consider. A good parable arrests the hearer with its vividness and becomes memorable, something to chew on over time. In Hebrew, mashal is the most similar: cryptic statement intended to stimulate thought. Some parables are short saying but others are extended narratives like the one that initiates the series: the sower. Let’s puzzle out together this striking parable.

One can imagine a real sower as Jesus unfolds his parable. Why sow seed on the path or among thorns? Seed is precious and ought only to be planted in soil well-prepared. Then the disciples (inner group) question why Jesus is teaching the crowds (outer group) in parables. Jesus replies: “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them” (Mt 13:15). It is as if the parable itself is meant to prepare the soil, cultivate their hearts so that the word of God may take deeper root in them. But there is still much work to do.

While we would all like to think of ourselves as rich and fertile ground for the word of God, we might ask ourselves how often the Gospel has really changed us. We come to Mass time and again. We may read the scriptures at home. But does it have a lasting effect? Have we heard the word and then said: “From now on, with God’s grace, X will be different!” (X being the part of life in need of conversion.) It is easy, and normal, to come and go, and while the scriptures wash over us, the potency of the word may not sink into the soil of our hearts. In some ways, it is akin to receiving Jesus in the Eucharist week after week without his presence really transforming our hearts.

This first parable challenges its hearers to be that rich soil which bears an abundant harvest, while also assuring us that the Sower is not stingy as he casts. Rather, God is lavish and generously scatters the seed, even on ground that looks less promising. This week we pray for hearts of rich soil to receive and be transformed by his holy Word.

Stay tuned next week for three parables about growth in the Kingdom of Heaven! Blessings be upon you and your family!

Fr. Wilson

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