July 14, 2023

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe third and last section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of the first reading for Mass this weekend. This passage was composed when pious Jews easily could have become disillusioned and uncertain in their devotion to God.

For decades, Jews exiled in Babylon, capital and center of the once powerful Babylonian Empire, longed to leave the pagan environment of this great city located in what is now Iraq and return to their own homeland.

At last, as ancient political fortunes changed, these Jews were allowed to go back to their ancestors’ homes. Upon returning, however, they found no “land flowing with milk and honey.” Life was hard. Difficulties were many. For so long they had dreamt of leaving Babylon for security, order and peace in Israel, yet they instead found destitution and misery. God had spared them, but for what?

Certainly, many were angry with God. The author of this third section of Isaiah was likely one of several prophets who reminded them that God’s work must be their own. God had freed them, but they had to create a society of justice and prosperity.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. Written to the Christians of Rome about two generations after Jesus, Paul refers to their “sufferings” (Rom 8:18). The legal and political systems in the empire were turning against Christianity.

The law aside, the culture of the Roman Empire in the first century stood directly opposite the Gospel. The Apostle consoled and challenged the Roman Christians, reminding them that sin enslaves humans, demeaning them and robbing them of freedom. Sin disorders creation itself, so creation “groans” in agony (Rom 8:22).

Jesus is the Redeemer. He gives true freedom to people. This freedom opens the way to peace and eternal life, despite any hostility or chaos all around.

St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the familiar parable of the farmer who sowed seed in different places, some conducive to growth, others not. Similar passages occur in Mark and in Luke.

A great crowd awaited Jesus. As are people everywhere, at any time, these people thirsted for the truth and insight that only God gives. Almost certainly, everyone was Galilean, and therefore of rural backgrounds and circumstances. The imagery of a farmer sowing seed was easily understood.

Agriculture still often is a game of chance. It was more so when Jesus preached in Galilee. Hot days easily scorched seeds that fell on shallow soil. Birds and pests were everywhere. So were weeds. Here and there was good soil, able to receive the seeds and produce a yield.

The message is clear. God sows the seeds in our heart. We must be humble enough to receive God’s word.

As an aside, here again in the Gospels the disciples had privileged access to Jesus. They question the Lord about the technique of speaking in parables. Jesus explains that parables assist in understanding great mysteries. Jesus explains this parable. He prepares them for their future role.


We celebrate liberty. In the Pledge of Allegiance, we proclaim “liberty and justice for all.” Our coins bear the word, “Liberty.” Americans have fought wars to preserve their freedom.

St. Paul dealt with Christians entrapped by fear. Hardly free, they were gripped by worry and faced genuine peril. But the greatest threat to their personal freedom was within themselves, the effects of their sins.

Paul urged them to turn to Christ, listen to him and follow him if they were to be set free from all that enslaved them.

An old hymn about the English Catholic martyrs during the Reformation says, “Chained in prisons dark, they still were in heart and conscience free.” Indeed, they were. †

The Criterion will not have an issue next week due to its summer schedule. The reflection of Msgr. Campion for Sunday, July 9, will be posted at www.archindy.org/campion.

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