More than Words
More than Words

More than Words

Fiftheenth Sunday of the Year. Fr David Rocks preaches on the importance of words and of the Word.

To St Francis of Assisi is attributed the remark: ‘Preach always, and if necessary, use words.’

There were such great crowds on the beach! What was happening there? Perhaps some could see and hear – some just see, some just hear? Perhaps for some it was completely pointless – neither seeing nor hearing? But what about the atmosphere! Being there, in the real moment is priceless, the ‘mystery that is me’, having that special moment, that presence. That cannot be surpassed. Well, it can and it can’t – because it is the reality of each of us.

Jesus used words that day, but they weren’t necessary for his preaching – some heard them, some saw him. Did anyone understand? And that’s the thing about words. They are about relationship, so they only have meaning if they are said, heard, understood. Right? Well, not really. Sometimes words said would be better not; sometimes, words said are heard, but not understood. Sometimes, words heard are not wanted (or meant) to be understood. Jesus was not (and is not) worried about being seen, heard, understood: he is concerned with the atmosphere – the space and place where ‘we can be me’ – where our personal dignity and calling as children of God can be made present. That is what I call the will of God, and the mark of preaching (service) – it happens every moment, but only, if necessary, use words.

The Word of God is different than our understanding of ‘words’. Have you noticed the completely non-judgemental spirit of the parable. The sower spreads the seed liberally in every place – rocky, arid, pathway, thorny, and good. In no place is the seed not sown. In each place, the seed has success, if ultimately it is inhibited or limited. But there is success of some kind everywhere the seed is sown.

When we want to advance, we often start by promoting the good things in our lives: our wealth and ability, our achievement or status. We surmise we should be ‘happy with our lot.’ Maybe, when we try to pray, we become preoccupied with the challenges of life and just ‘leave that for later’ so we can get along with our ambition. There are times when we do have insight, but forsake for disappointment in ourselves and others (and the community!) – and times when we are too tired, too ill, too disenchanted. No chance of understanding – we can’t even see or hear.

Are we meant to understand? If we were, that would have been passed through the generations. We are called to ‘see, and see again’; ‘hear, and hear again’. The great thing about seed is that it has to be sown every year. Maybe understanding is settling for less?

In each of our lives, we see the grace and mercy of God. Many virtues, graces, talents, gifts, opportunities, present themselves to our service. Aren’t we, though, also disappointed by the vices, difficulties, challenges, limitations, mistakes, consequences in our lives? In the middle is the ‘mystery that is me’ – the Creator God whose love has made me, and who wants to redeem and sanctify me. Coming into my deepest reality and making me know his love for me in the middle of that place. And then preaching it – but only using words if necessary.

We live in the world of the soundbite and constant communication. The Word of God is not limited to 164 characters or whatever – it is a seed that is spread liberally. And, while it may not prevail everywhere, it speaks to hard hearts as well as broken, to clear eyes as well as clouded, to minds both troubled and visioned, and to those who listen, if they have ears.

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11 | Romans 8:18-23 | Matthew 13:1-23

Image: Нагорная проповедь (Sermon on the Mount) by Andrei Mironov via Wikimedia

fr David Edward Rocks OP live at the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, and is Chaplain to the Oratory School.

Comments (2)

  • Alejandro Clausse

    I found this homily profound and illuminating. S. Francis’s phrase is certainly provocative: “if necessary, use words”. I bump into this notion once when someone made me notice that apostolate and proselytism have an important difference: in the apostolate, it is God who convinces minds and touches hearts, we merely help in setting the atmosphere.

    Over the years I encountered numerous reasons supporting this fact. For start, the scope of our vision of the causes and circumstances is minuscule, but alas we have this annoyingly persistent tendency to believe (the devil helps with this) that we know the “real deal”. So, we preach accordingly, and that’s how we go. And then it is the stain of arrogance, concealed as self-confidence, that almost inevitably pervades our best intentions. Or if only because our present mood of discontent and insecurity blurs our minds and makes us see exclusively rigid blacks-and-whites. So, I definitely (and arrogantly…) agree with S. Francis and F. David: use words only if necessary. And I would add: afterwards, pray asking God to fix the damage we probably could have left, please.

  • Michael

    Thank you David- it helps me understand the “will of God” a bit more when you locate it in that in between place “the mystery that is me” in “the space and place where “”we can be me””.

    And as I continue to occupy this situation of God’s Will and continue to know the “rocky, arid, pathway thorny and good” and I must add the edge of that pathway especially where it begins to disappear- it is consoling to know the sowing never stops.


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