The Fine Line between Religion and Superstition.

The Sixteenth Friday of Ordinary Time.

Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• Exodus 20: 1-17.
• Psalm 19: 8-11.
• Matthew 13: 18-23.

The Third Class Feast of Saints Nazarius & Celsus, Martyrs, Saint Victor I, Pope & Martyr, and, Saint Innocent I, Pope & Martyr.*

First lesson from the proper, the rest from the common "Intret…" of Many Martyrs, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• Wisdom 10: 17-20.
[Gradual] Exodus 15: 11, 6.
• Luke 21: 9-19.

The Seventh Friday after Pentecost; the Feast of the Holy Apostles & Deacons Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon & Parmenas; and, the Feast of Our Blessed Mother Alphonsa Muttathupadathus of Kerala.

Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:

• I Corinthians 11: 8-22.
• Matthew 17: 10-18.

9:48 AM 7/28/2017 — We’ve referenced the parable of the sower before when speaking of all the different things that can distract us from prayer and the things of God; and, today that parable serves as our Gospel lesson, giving us the opportunity to look at it in more detail. That should be easy, especially since our Lord explains the parable for us. The sower is Himself, the seed he sows is the word of God, and the earth into which the seed falls is us; the message of the parable being that the word of God will only take root and bare fruit in us if we are prepared to receive it with a generous and well disposed heart. And our Lord even enumerates some of the things that can prevent that from happening: greed, lust, preoccupation with worldly things, and so forth.
     A lot of us, sometimes, tend to view the Sacraments of the Church as some kind of magic, forgetting that grace needs a fertile soil in which to grow—even the grace of the Sacraments. A sacrament given to someone without faith is like a seed which is given no water or sunlight. It doesn’t grow just because you put it in the dirt; without these other necessary conditions, it just sits there and rots.
     The is especially true of the Blessed Eucharist. You can drag someone into church and make them march up to receive Communion, but if they don’t believe, they receive no grace. The Eucharist is real, certainly; but, the grace the Eucharist promises us does not activate, because there is no faith to feed it. The same is true for someone who is not in the state of grace or free from serious sin;—someone who is in an invalid marriage for example, or some other situation which excludes them from the sacraments—these people are not being excluded from the sacraments because they’re being punished for something, but because the state of their souls makes it impossible for the grace contained in those sacraments to have any effect. And such people will sometimes go to a church where they’re not known to receive Communion, because they think the Eucharist is a magic charm which will do something for them, or because they are focused simply on the social aspect of “fellowship” to which they have reduced the Eucharist in their minds; but, the condition of their souls makes the transmission of grace from the Blessed Sacrament impossible. Holy Communion, then, becomes a purely symbolic act with nothing but therapeutic effects, not really a sacrament at all. The only thing that can bring such a person closer to God is to resolve the state of his soul, so that the grace of the sacraments can become active again.
     Every day the Lord sows His seed in our lives. When we come to Holy Mass, He sows the seed of his grace in His word and in the Holy Mystery of his Body and Blood. Whether that grace does us any good depends entirely on what kind of soil we have provided in our hearts and in our lives.
     But what is true regarding our relationship to the Sacraments of the Church is also true regarding our relationship to God in prayer. Back when I was working as a hospital chaplain in a large, secular medical center here in New Jersey, there was a movement going on at the time that claimed to be “spiritual"; and, there were a lot of articles in the medical journals announcing that even the secular hospitals were now realizing the need to care for the “spiritual” needs of the patient; but, what these articles meant by “spiritual” had nothing to do with faith. And, unfortunately, this idea is becoming alarmingly popular: there are more and more people who don’t even believe in God who are claiming that they are “spiritual”. We should have no need for a spirituality that has nothing to do with faith. We are not here, after all, to contemplate our navels and get in touch with our inner child; we are here to worship God. And we worship God not because it satisfies us or heals us emotionally to do so, but because it is our duty to do so: because God deserves our worship whether we feel like it or not.
     As popular as this secular notion of spirituality is today (and I don’t pretend to know a lot about it), the fact is that spirituality without religion is not spirituality at all. Spirituality without religion is nothing more than mysticism, and mysticism is just one step shy of circus side show magic. True spirituality has less to do with mysticism and more to do with asceticism. Asceticism does not deal with things like meditation, breathing techniques, getting in touch with our inner child, inventorying our emotions, or anything like that; it has to do with morality: how we live our lives, how we purge from our lives all the things that can and do distract us from God, how we nourish our relationship with God through authentic forms of prayer, like the Holy Rosary, and frequent recourse to the sacraments of the Church.
     And this is exactly what our Lord is talking about in the parable. The seed is good. The soil is us. And the seed of faith, in order to grow, not only has to fall into good soil, but must then be watered and cultivated with care every day. Growing in our relationship with God is a daily effort. The seed must be watered with prayer and grace, and the plant that grows must be frequently pruned and trimmed with sacrifice and mortification so that it will grow strong and tall.

* Nazarius and Celsus were two Milanese martyrs who were beheaded in AD 67.
  The successor of Pope St. Eleutherius, Pope St. Victor was martyred under Septimus Severus in AD 199.
  Like his contemporaries, St. Jerome and St. Augustine, the successor of Pope St. Anastasius, Pope St. Innocent I, fought with his pen and pulpit against the heresies of the day, dying in the year 417.