A wonderful man died earlier this week. I was privileged to give the homily at his funeral this morning.
|The Sower, by Vincent van Gogh (1888)|
Our Gospel passage recalls the parable of the sower, where Jesus teaches us that those who hear the Word of God and embrace it with a generous and good heart will bear abundant fruit. God’s Word, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, can be summed up in just one word – love. As our second reading tells us, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4: 16) So “God’s love for us is the source of our power to love.” Love is dynamic, not static. It has to move. So if we embrace God’s love with a good and generous heart, we won’t be able to hold it in. Like the sower, we’ll scatter the seeds of love far and wide. We will, ourselves, become sowers of the seeds of God’s love. And we will produce abundant fruit.
That’s our challenge from today’s readings – to embrace God’s Word; to embrace God’s love and share it with others. I’m told that there’s a saying hanging on a bulletin board in John’s classroom that goes something like this: “God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.” Now, in light of John’s illness and death, we might be tempted to think that God gave John his battle with cancer. But that’s not true. God can’t harm us or hurt us. It’s inconsistent with his very being, which is love. In fact, God already conquered death through the passion, death and resurrection of his only Son. God won that battle. We’re celebrating Christ’s victory over death and his gift of eternal life in this Mass today. No, God’s toughest battle is convincing us to receive his boundless love and to share it with each other. That’s the battle that God gave to John. That’s the battle God gives to all of us. And God gave us the only weapon we need to win it – love. So the only question that remains, then, is whether we’re willing to take on that battle – whether we’re willing to sow the seeds of God’s love.
John was. It took Debbie and me all of 5 minutes to choose today’s readings because sacred scripture spoke so vividly to us of John. John lived a scriptural life. He embraced the Word of God, he embraced God’s love with his good and generous heart, and he sowed the seeds of that love among us. John wasn’t boisterous or preachy about his faith, like me. John, like Elijah in our first reading, found God in the “tiny whispering sound.”
+ John sowed the seeds of God’s love playing that organ for us every Sunday in his beaten up, band aid-bound shoes;
+ John sowed the seeds of God’s love by sharing his love for God with his students and colleagues at Pius X High School;
+ John sowed the seeds of love perfecting his “Crater Cakes” recipe for Katie and never missing a performance or recital; and
+ John sowed the seeds of God’s love loving Debbie, even when, in her words, she wasn't very lovable.
One of John’s students captured him perfectly when she said, “I love the way love shines in you.” John was a strong soldier, a generous sower, and a great example for us.
So I return to our challenge: Will we embrace God’s Word with good and generous hearts? Will we sow the seeds of God’s love like John did? Well, I already know the answer to that question . . . because I've seen it happening.
+ John’s family and friends sowed the seeds of God’s love by offering prayer, food and support during John’s difficult illness;
+ The students and staff at Pius X sowed the seeds of God’s love in the cards and messages you sent John that brightened his days and moved him to tears;
+ Katie: You sowed the seeds of God’s love by loving those “Crater Cakes” more than the Spinning Wheel Diner’s pancakes (or at least pretending to), but most importantly by sharing your triumphs and your challenges with him and making him so proud of all that you do; and
+ Debbie: you sowed the seeds of God’s love by loving John in sickness and in health, and even when he extended his summer vacation to a vacation from showering and shaving.
“In Christianity, love is the reason, the means, and the end of life. God is love, and love is life’s driving force. God created out of love, has sent his son into the world out of love, and in the end that Love and all that Love has loved return to the Creator to live eternally.” John loved, so I have no doubt that he lives in perfect health and happiness in the comforting embrace of the one who is perfect love because “love never dies.” (1 Corinthians 13: 8)
I don’t remember when I first met John. We knew each other as fellow parishioners who exchanged pleasant greetings on Sundays; later as brothers in ministry who collaborated at Mass; and finally, by the grace of God, as friends. I came to know John best in his darkest hour, and what a gift that time with John was for me. We shared our hopes and fears. We had deep theological discussions, and we chatted about the weather. We mused about why he loved to watch golf on TV but couldn't understand what people found so entertaining about soccer. But most of all, we talked about love. He told me that Debbie and Katie were the loves of his life. He told me how much he loved all of you. He told me how deeply he felt your love for him and how your love carried him through his illness. And he told me that he truly believed that God loved him more than he could imagine. Even in dying, John sowed the seeds of God’s love. You gotta love John Burns.
Readings: 1 Kings 19: 4-9a, 11-15a; 1 John 4: 7-16; Luke 8: 4-10a, 11b-15