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7/16/23 Homily: Enemies of the Soul

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]


Have you ever wondered how children from the same household, raised under the same roof, by the same parents, can turn out so differently when it comes to living the Catholic faith as adults?


Our Lord speaks to that dynamic in our gospel passage today in the form of a parable, which serves as somewhat of a microcosm of people in general, in which people are represented as various types of soil, that react to seed sowed indiscriminately; seed which symbolizes the word of God proclaimed freely.


Our passage today also has been used to illustrate dangers to the individual soul. From our classical tradition, the Church recognizes three enemies of the soul. These enemies are: the world, the flesh, and the devil; represented in our parable as: thorns, a rocky path, and birds, respectively.


The seed consumed by the birds is the scenario in which the evil one and his kind steal away the Word of God from the hearts of would-be followers.


Seed stands no chance against birds of the sky. Birds naturally soar among the clouds, and they descend to the earth in order to plunder. Likewise, angels exist on a higher plane of existence than men.


Fallen angels descend into our reality to destroy us like birds descend to consume seed. We are as naturally defenseless against devils as seed are naturally defenseless against the birds that eat them.


But we’re not super-naturally defenseless. When we engage in a life of prayer and sacrament, we’re safeguarded by angels and God himself. We have our guardian angels. And we also have other angels who have been commanded to defend us.


We even know a few of their names: Michael, who cast Satan out of heaven in the beginning, when Satan and his followers rebelled against God; Gabriel, who name literally means, warrior of God, or hero or champion of God; and Raphael, who bound up the demon Asmodeus before he could kill Tobias, as he had killed the other husbands of Sarah on their wedding night, as recorded in the Book of Tobit. These good angels are like other birds of prey that destroy birds that consume seed.


Ultimately, we have our God who protects us from the evil one. We make that appeal to God for our protection whenever we do something as simple as pray the Our Father; as we say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or the evil one)”. Both are legitimate translations of the original Greek: ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.


Through baptism, you and I become Jesus Christ. We become fully the Temple of the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation. We are literally physically made one with Jesus Christ whenever we receive the Eucharist. There’s no room for the evil one’s influence, when we embrace our identity in Christ through the sacraments. Again, they give us super-natural defense against the enemy.


The second enemy of the soul is the flesh, symbolized in our parable as the seed that falls upon rocky ground. There’s no depth to that soil—that’s the issue. Whatever good that is there withers away for lack of root, in the face of tribulation or persecution, and sometimes even just social pressure.


Likewise, we can be in danger for lack of root—a lack in virtue. Our own flesh can work against us. You may have heard of the term, concupiscence. That’s the classical term, referring to the body’s corruption as a consequence of original sin.


A modern equivalent to the word concupiscence might be, addiction. We can have spiritual or physical addictions to power, influence, wealth, food, rest, or anything else that can be abused. These addictions are what we call vices.


The opposite of vice is virtue. Virtue is a habit that attracts us to goodness. Like all habits, virtue needs time to grow, like seed needs time to grow root.


No matter how holy the saint, that person needed time to cultivate a habitual virtuous disposition. Mother Teresa is known for her great love and care for the poorest of the poor. But it all began with care over that very first person. It started small. But that mustard seed eventually blossomed into a life filled with the greatest works of charity.


How do we grow in virtue? How do we break the soul and flesh away from its addictions? One powerful weapon is the practice of fasting. When we fast, we say no to the body and its addictions. If I cannot say no to my body when it comes to a simple pleasure like a certain food or the occasional meal, then I have very little chance against more insidious temptations of the flesh.


The final enemy of the soul, as it appears in our parable, is the world, symbolized by the thorns. Just as thorns compete with good seed, things in the world can compete with the good things that we’re called to embrace; good efforts that bear the fruit of charity, justice, and mercy.


A person can be gifted with great intelligence, passion, energy, creativity, and many other blessings—that’s rich soil. But we can at times devote that soil to grow and cultivate worldly prosperity, just like rich soil giving nutrients to thorny weeds—which kill the good seed.


The remedy to the seduction of worldly riches is the practice of almsgiving; by regularly tithing. We tithe for our sake, not for God’s sake or his Church’s sake. When we intentionally give money away to just causes, we reject wealth’s hold on you and me; and we reject the hold of anything that wealth represents. When we give alms as a habitual practice, we reclaim our true sense of worth, which transcends anything that money can gain.


These disciplines of prayer and sacrament, fasting, and almsgiving strengthen us against the enemies of the soul: namely, temptations from the devil, the flesh, and the world. And they help us to grow in the evangelical counsels of obedience, chastity, and poverty, in that order. But that’s another homily for another day.


Through the grace of the Mass, may God inspire us to embrace the disciplines of prayer in the sacraments, fasting, and almsgiving, so that we all bear fruit, and yield a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold. God bless you.


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