Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: To be Sowers like Christ

With the invitation to be like Christ sowers of the Word with a love that always respects freedom.

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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A –  July 12th, 2020

Roman rite

Is 55.10 to 11; Ps 65; Rom 8,18-23; Mt 13.1-23

Ambrosian rite

5th Sunday after Pentecost

Gen 11.31.32b-12.5b; Ps 104; Heb 11.1-2.8-16b; Lk 9.57-62


1) Outgoing sowers.

Going out is the movement of love. Commenting on Psalm 64, Saint Augustine of Hippo says: “Those who begin to love, begin to go out (Incipit exire qui incipit amare)”. Those who love go out, do not worry about their tranquility, are not self-referential, and know that they are not self-sufficient. They go towards others to make sure that everyone can experience God’s mercy listening to the Word of life and truth: Jesus Christ. Without bothering to judge, those who love sow with abundance and trust because they are aware that the whole of humanity yearns for Christ, the Word made flesh.

With the Redeemer, let us carry out our vocation as sowers “throwing” into the world the seed of the Word, which alone gives life. Although and unfortunately often, man finds difficult to perceive the need for God, in each of us there is a need for life; we need consolation and hope, things that only the Lord is able to give. The sowing of Christ, and ours with Him, is to put the divine seed of life in the earthly heart of man, increasing the awareness that God lives and wants us to live. God is glorified when man lives and when there is a positive and rich experience in our life. God is not glorified when man is mortified, when man dies. God is glorified when man lives. “I  came that they might have life – says Jesus – and that they might have it more abundantly”. This is why the Redeemer sows life in us and calls us to do the same for our brothers and sisters.

The seed, the Son of man, which descends into the heart of the earth and into the heart of man, at a certain point finds a soil that is propitious,  good, and fertile. In us, in each human being, each heart has at least one area of ​​good and beautiful soil to receive the seed. Every heart has the possibility of generating the Son, that Son who belongs to God but that is also rightly called Son of man.  As we read in the final of chapter 12, 49-50 of the Gospel of Matthew, this happens because we are given to be brothers and sisters of Jesus but also mother to him, because we can welcome him in the Word and generate him in the flesh.

When Jesus sows and seems to be experiencing difficulties and to make unnecessary efforts, he knows that his sowing will produce one hundred percent or, at least, thirty to one. So, instead of being discouraged, he takes into account the difficulties, knows how to look beyond the cross, and sees the glory. He is not stopped by fatigue because he knows that there will be an abundant harvest. On the part of Jesus, it is truly an act of trust in God the Father and in the power of the Word. He invites each of us to this trust, and he involves us in this “work” of sowers.

Going to meet others without judgments and distinctions, as Pope Francis testifies and urges the church to do, is to sow following the style of the parable, the evangelical style of simplicity and gratuitousness

2) The words of the Word that must be seeded.

The parable of today’s Roman Rite liturgy speaks of Jesus, our Savior, who wants to introduce his mission and the sense of his presence among us using the comparison of the sower.

In an earlier passage, the Evangelist St. Matthew writes: “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (9:35). Jesus sees himself as the one who is sent to “preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.” When Jesus begins his public ministry, he refers himself to a text from the prophet Isaiah that says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … He has anointed me to proclaim glad tidings to the poor … to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:17-19). Jesus says that these prophetic words come true in Him: He was sent “to announce a beautiful and happy news”and to “preach the acceptable time.” This is the deep meaning of this “autobiographical parable” (Benedict XVI). As the sower goes out to plant the seed, so Jesus exits the house of Nazareth to sow in all men the good news that God saves humanity.

When Pope Francis speaks of a Church which goes forth (Evangelii gaudium 24), he is inspired by the Sower who, without succumbing to fatigue, runs through the field of the world to the places of its fragility, its worthlessness, its weaknesses, and its contradictions, even up to the point of blasphemy against Him. The Sower never ceases to throw the good seed. We might think that he throws the seed at random[1]. However, I think that we can interpret this way of sowing as the teaching of Jesus on the way to be missionaries. Mission is not about strategy or a particular activity to add to our daily existence. Mission is, above all, a matter of spreading a word full of a Presence and nourished daily by an experience of fraternity that once again, every day and to every single human being, asks the questions “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and, especially, “Where am I going and why?”

Unavoidably, from these questions it emerges that the world of planning, of the exact calculation and experiment that is the knowledge of science, though important for the human life, is not enough. We need not only material bread but we need love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, and a solid ground that helps us to live with an authentic sense even in crisis, in darkness, and in our daily difficulties and problems. We need to believe and to look at life with the eyes of faith.

Faith is not a mere intellectual assent of man to some particular truths of God. It is an act by which I entrust myself freely in a God who is our Father and loves me. It is adherence to a “You” that gives me hope, trust, and love without measure.

Faith is to believe in this love of God that never fails in front of the wickedness of man, evil or death but is capable of transforming all forms of slavery giving the possibility of salvation.

To have faith, then, is to meet the “You,” God, who sustains us and gives us an indestructible love that not only tends to but gives eternity. It is trust in God with the attitude of a child, who knows that all his difficulties and all his problems are safely in the “you” of his mother. This possibility of salvation through faith is a gift that God gives to all men.

I think that in our daily life -characterized by problems and situations at times dramatic- we should meditate more often the Word of God sown in us. This will allow us to understand that believing in a Cristian way means to abandon ourselves with trust to the deep meaning that sustains us and the world, the meaning that we are not able to give to ourselves but only to receive as a gift and that is the foundation on which we can live without fear. We must welcome this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith to announce the Word with our words and to testify it with our life as Christians.

The parable of the sewer, that is, the Lord who sows abundantly helps us to grow in the awareness and commitment to accept the Word of God and using it productively. There are many risks and many situations in which the Word of God bears no fruit, not because of the action of God, who could not be more abundant, but because of our distractions, superficiality and temptations. The sower Jesus plants the seed everywhere (it seems even wasting it), not discarding any soil but considering each one worthy of trust and attention. Thus the Church, through the Bishops, the Priests and all the Faithful, should give the Word to all and should do it tirelessly.

This is the vocation of every Christian. We are all sowers of the Word, from the Pope to the last baptized person. Not all of us are sowers to the same degree and with the same responsibilities, but we are all responsible to bring the Word to the world, knowing that the Word is our life even before being our voice.

Every morning every Christian should leave home not just to earn a material living, but also a spiritual one “going out to sow Christ, wheat that becomes Bread”, without being discouraged if some seeds were to fall on bad ground.

3) The seed and the soil.

The figure of the sower appears at the beginning of today’s parable and then disappears. The protagonists are the seed and the soil and the situation presented by the parable is the one where it seems that all is lost, and the failure of the Kingdom and of the Word is total or excessive. With this parable, Jesus tells us that it is not so. It is true that there are many failures, but it is certain that somewhere there is success. It is a lesson in trust.

In addition, it should be noted that, in this parable, Christ turns his attention to the “soil” of the souls of men and of human conscience, and shows what happens to the Word of God according to the various types of soil that make the field of humanity. Jesus speaks of a seed that was taken away and has not grown in the heart of man because he has succumbed to the evil and did not understand the Word. Then, he talks about the seed that fell on rocky ground, the hard ground where it was not able to put down roots and therefore could not resist the first test. We hear him talk about the seed that fell among thistles and thorns and was choked by them (these thistles and thorns are the illusions of well-being). Finally, He talks about the seed that fell on good fertile soil and bears fruit. Who is this fertile soil? The one who hears the word and understands it. It is not enough just to hear the Gospel of the new and eternal Covenant, which is the word of this Word made flesh. It must be accept with the mind and the heart.

Over the course of two thousand years the earth has already been thoroughly sown with this word. Christ as the Word has made fertile this ground of human history through the redemption with the blood of his cross. In the Word of the Cross his sowing continues initiating “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21: 1). All the sowers of the Word of Christ draw the strength of their service from the unspeakable mystery that has become – once and for all – the union of God the Word to human nature and to every man (such as the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes, 22). The words of the Gospel fall on the soil of the souls of men, but  above all the Eternal Word itself, generated from the Virgin-Mother by the work of the Holy Spirit, has become a source of life for humanity.

May the Virgin Mary help us to be like her, “good soil” where the seed of the Word will bear much fruit.

The consecrated Virgins in the world are among those who have, in a particular way, taken to model the Virgin Mary. Following the example of Mary, their word becomes prayer, gratitude, and gift of love. With this gift of love their word becomes a proclamation of the Word of truth that unites man to the loving life of God. In the virginal gift of self they recognize that Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, is King of Love in whose merciful goodness it is reasonable to have a complete trust. With their lives they prove the truth of the sentences of Saint Ambrose “Your word is kept not in the tomb of the dead, but in the book of the living” (see patristic reading below).


          Patristic Reading

Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340 – 397)

On the Mysteries Nn 1-7

SC 25 bis, 156-158)

We gave a daily instruction on right conduct when the readings were taken from the history of the patriarchs or the maxims of Proverbs. These readings were intended to instruct and train you, so that you might grow accustomed to the ways of our forefathers, entering into their paths and walking in their footsteps, in obedience to God’s commands. Now the season reminds us that we must speak of the mysteries, setting forth the meaning of the sacraments. If we had thought fit to teach these things to those not yet initiated through baptism, we should be considered traitors rather than teachers. Then, too, the light of the mysteries is of itself more effective where people do not know what to expect than where some instruction has been given beforehand. Open then your ears. Enjoy the fragrance of eternal life, breathed on you by means of the sacraments. We explained this to you as we celebrated the mystery of “the opening” when we said: Effetha, that is, be opened. Everyone who was to come for the grace of baptism had to understand what he was to be asked, and must remember what he was to answer. This mystery was celebrated by Christ when he healed the man who was deaf and dumb, in the Gospel which we proclaimed to you. After this, the holy of holies was opened up for you; you entered into the sacred place of regeneration. Recall what you were asked; remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world and its dissipation and sensuality. Your words are recorded, not on a monument to the dead but in the book of the living.There you saw the Levite, you saw the priest, and you saw the high priest. Do not consider their outward form but the grace given by their ministries. You spoke in the presence of angels, as it is written: The lips of a priest guard knowledge, and men seek the law from his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord almighty. There is no room for deception, no room for denial. He is an angel whose message is the kingdom of Christ and eternal life. You must judge him, not by his appearance but by his office. Remember what he handed on to you, weigh up his value, and so acknowledge his standing. You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the east, for one who renounces the devil turns toward Christ and fixes his gaze directly on him.

[1] To  well understand the parable, it should be borne in mind that this is not an incapable sower who sows the seed where it happens. At the time of Christ’s earthly life, the fields were not like the current ones, especially those in the developed world. They were barely polished and not homogeneous soils with stones, brambles etc. So Jesus refers to this type of field, which was not plowed before sowing but after: the seed was spread in all parts of the field, even on the paths that crossed it and in the stony or brambled areas. For this reason a lot of seed was lost (three quarters according to the parable, which intentionally accentuates the situation). But the end result, that is, the yield of the seed that fell on the good earth, compensated for all the losses.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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