Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 64(65):10-14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23.
The word of God is like the rain and the snow that fall on the earth water and nourish the plants. Before the water evaporates back, it leaves its effect on those who have received it, producing different fruits and flowers.
The word of God is like the seed sown by the sower. There is an abundance in the sowing and the sower is not careful to place all his seeds in fertile ground. God’s word falls on different types of soil. Some surfaces are too hard to let the seed take root, others have no depth, and the word dries out quickly, while in other places there are too many weeds that choke the new growth. When the word falls on fertile soil, open to accept it, it does produces an abundance of fruit.
Like the dedicated sower, Joseph De Piro dedicated himself to spreading the good news. He did this in a number of ways. Today we will consider his preaching ministry. In this homily delivered on the Third Sunday of Lent, he reflected on the person’s disposition when listening to God’s word.
It is easy to discuss De Piro’s preaching ministry because, as in other areas of his life, he was meticulous in the way he filed them. Two hundred and thirteen of De Piro’s homilies have survived; some are fully developed, others are in note form. Studying these homilies, one notices that there are other homilies that are missing, while others are incomplete.
Joseph De Piro filed his homilies by theme. At the top of the sermon he often noted where, when, and to whom the sermon had been delivered. While the text is in Italian, De Piro often included, in brackets, words and phrases in Maltese, indicating that while his preferred language was Italian, he actually preached in Maltese.
De Piro’s preaching was very pastoral; he wanted to help those listening to him to get closer to God. His homilies tended to be simple, yet based on sound biblical and theological foundations.
The following sermon speaks about the person’s dispositions when listening to the Word of God:
Scripture; Gospels – Homilies
To the Franciscan Sisters at Fra Diegu Orphanage
The Divine Will
The listener’s disposition during homilies
“… Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28)
At the beginning of his public life, wherever he went, throughout the towns and villages of Judea and Palestine, Jesus performed great miracles: restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute and, with just a simple gesture, called the dead back to life.
Moreover, through his way of life, he gave an example of holiness. The humble among the people recognised him as the Messiah, showing him respect and worshipping him as their saviour. The Pharisees, consumed by envy and hate, ridiculed Jesus, accused him falsely, looked for ways to condemn him and misjudged even the holiest of his works. In today’s gospel, when the Pharisees saw Jesus perform this great miracle, they accused him of freeing the mute man from an evil spirit through the power of Beelzebub, prince of darkness. Wicked people envy those who do good and try their utmost to ruin them. Jesus disregards the hatred of the Pharisees and continues to teach. Today we will reflect on the concluding words of the gospel reading: “… Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Lk 11:28)
Let us meditate this phrase and consider the appropriate attitudes that can assist us to listen better to God’s word.
Last Sunday, the Second Sunday in Lent, we reflected about the ‘beatific’ glory awaiting us when we die; today we will speak about one of the ways that can lead us to this glory. Jesus himself tells us that this is a ‘blessed’ way! This is certainly a powerful way. When we listen to a sermon, God’s word inspires our spirit. It is therefore important to reflect on these attitudes.
1: Let us come to listen to the homily drawn with a strong desire to learn, and not attend simply because it is customary or mandatory for us to do so. Let us approach like one who goes to dinner with a great appetite; our hunger for God’s word is a sign of holiness and of our positive attitude. Hunger for God’s word benefits our soul. Moreover, while loss of appetite is a sign of sickness, one who is not willing to listen to God’s word, demonstrates that he is spiritually unhealthy. The person who loves God, desires God’s word; like the parents who love their children, and are pleased to hear about them. St John says: “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” (Jn 8:47)
2: Let us not attend simply out of curiosity, drawn by the preacher’s oratory; let us pay attention to the message of the homily. Let us not be like the sick person in need of surgery who, rather than submitting to the surgical operation, satisfies himself with admiring the excellence of the surgical instruments! People who do not listen carefully to the message are like a sieve that lets go of the wheat and the fine flour and retains straw and husk. The author of the book of Nehemiah, narrates that when Ezra the scribe was speaking to the people about God’s law, the listeners were so overcome with emotion and were crying so loudly that the Levites had to carry him to the middle of the crowd and place him on a platform, so that all could hear him. (Cf Neh 8:1-12) We too need to listen attentively to the homily, evaluating our actions against the preacher’s message.
3: Let us go to listen to ordinary things, reflect on them with humility, and understand them better; let us not go to listen to extraordinary and new things. St Paul wrote to the Philippians: “To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard” (Ph 3:1b). Paul, who had been caught up to the third heaven (cf 2Co 12:2) certainly knew and could talk about new and extraordinary things!
4: Let us take care to apply what we hear to ourselves, and not waste time speaking about others. Let us not look at the speck in our neighbour’s eye (cf Mt 7:3-5). Let us be like friends, happy to sit together at table, and not gossip about our sisters and brothers. The book of Ecclesiasticus says that the prudent person applies to himself everything he hears, the evil person discards everything over his shoulders. (cf Si 21:15)
5: “Before judgment comes, examine yourself;…” (Si 18:20a). The book of Ecclesiasticus teaches us that we need to work to shun our failings and not to ignore them.
6: Let us apply to ourselves what we hear being spoken of in general, “… and obey it” (Lk 11:28b). The person who cannot digest the food he eats, indicates that he is unhealthy.
St Augustine says that the word of God is like a river. St James writes “… be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (Jam 1:22). Many people, even sinners, are in the heavenly glory because have they listened to God’s word with humility and treasured it.
The Jesuit priest Paolo Segneri writes about Moses, a murderer who lived in Egypt. Even though this man did not believe in God, after listening attentively to a homily about hell, converted and became a holy monk.
In his youth, St John of God ran away from home and lived as a tramp. On two occasions he served as a soldier and was condemned to death for deserting. By chance once he attended a homily and, having listened to the message with humility and compassion, was moved and enlightened. Throwing himself on the ground, he publicly confessed his sins and decided to become a saint.
We too ….
“… Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28).