Ampleforth Abbey

25 February 2018

Homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (2017)

Homily preached by Fr Kevin Hayden OSB at Conventual Mass in the Abbey Church on 16th July 2017 (the anniversary of his ordination).

Readings of Year A: Isaiah 55:10-11, Psalm 64:10-14, Romans 8:18-23, Matthew 13:1-23


It is important to set the scene for today’s gospel. That is done for us in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah where God speaks of his word and its effectiveness, telling us that it does not return to him without accomplishing what it was sent to do, that it is fruitful, gives growth, accomplishes his will.

Then in the second reading St Paul tells us that all creation is longing and waiting for one thing to happen – for the children of God to recognise the full import of God’s word, to realise who they really are and to wake up to the freedom and glory to which they are called as God’s children.

Come closer to picture the immediate setting of the gospel – it is a large crowd, gathered around a master on the shore of a lake, a sea, which as they look out at Jesus in the boat, stretches out to the horizon. Eagerly listening to what this person has to say, sensing somehow that life is there beckoning to them, that there is a new horizon opening up before them, marking out the possibility of a new path. This crowd gathers with a sense of hope, on the edge of the water, the edge of a new life, gathered to hear the word that has the power to change everything, to transform their lives.

But how will they hear it? How will they respond to it? Will they really hear it, really receive it, really let it bear fruit, allow it to bring about in their lives what it has the power to bring about? This is the question.

Will they let it penetrate, allow themselves to really hear what it is saying, allow insight to emerge, allow it to really speak to, even judge, their lives? Or will their engagement be superficial, a quick mining to see if there is anything there for me that is easy to take away? Will they remain “on the edge” on shallow ground where nothing can penetrate too deeply, where they can remain fundamentally unaffected, unchanged? Is that how they will walk away – fundamentally no different.

Perhaps they will sense, recognise, the truth in his words. Perhaps his words will strike a deep and answering chord. “Who is there here who longs for life?” [cf. Rule of St Benedict, Prologue; Ps 33] and they say “I do.” How often we say the same thing, our hunger, our hope is awakened … “Oh, if only…”. But … then it fades away again; we give it a try for a while and then forget again; or it seems too difficult, and so we let it recede into the background again. We never seem to really get started, to really give ourselves the chance to live the life we long to live.

Or perhaps it will get drowned out. It will never really get a chance to bear fruit. There are so many things to do, so many duties and jobs, so many attractive things to want, to hanker and to chase after. It demands a discipline, a choice. There is so much demanding our attention and energy, so much that is urgent, important or too attractive to ignore. It’s easy to end up postponing the essential until one day we realise we have spent a lot of our lives doing just that – postponing what is most important of all and gradually losing sight of it.

Or perhaps they will really hear it and recognise the opportunity it presents them with, they will really choose it, they will stick with it and let it unfold in its full richness, letting it gradually penetrate into their lives, sink into them and become part of them and the way they live, let it gradually transform them, so that their lives become a journey of discovery – of discovering all that it promises as it bears fruit thirty, sixty, a hundredfold.

What about us?

“I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.”

How will we respond?