Note: Thomas Aquinas College Head Chaplain Rev. Joseph Illo delivered the following homily at Sunday Mass during the this past weekend’s Great Books Summer Seminar.
“My Word will not return to me empty.” The readings today promise that no one will leave this Mass without some degree of transformation through the Word of God. This weekend, those of us in the Seminar have studied Genesis 1-3, along with the commentaries of St. Augustine and St. Thomas on these chapters. God declares that this word, “that goes forth from my mouth, shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” It’s been inspiring to enter into these truths about man’s original goodness, his original sin, and God’s promise of redemption with you all. Not one of us can return from this weekend unchanged, because “my word shall not return to me void.”
Reading the Word
St. John Paul II gives the Church her marching orders for the 21st Century in his 2001 apostolic exhortation Novo Millennio Ineunte. We build Christ’s Civilization of Love, he says, in three steps: by reading, by praying, and by teaching God’s Word. The first step is to read; or in today’s parable of the Sower, to receive this “seed.” Not a few in our weekend seminars have asked why Jesus speaks in parables in the first place; why is the Bible so hard to understand? I think God speaks sometimes cryptically — or at least on many levels — in order to reach the many layers of our human experience. Think of how JRR Tolkien’s many-layered tales speak truth to such a broad spectrum of people precisely because of their multivalent imagery. Infinitely more is this true of the Bible, but we must stay with Scripture; we must make the effort to receive what is infinite; we must be lifelong students of God’s word. Think of the rewards each of us received this weekend because we persisted with those first chapters of Genesis, working through Scripture and the commentaries line by line.
Praying the Word
The second step in building Christ’s kingdom is to pray the Word of God. Last week I attended a conference on the Catholic ministry of exorcism. One infallible principle we learned is that “Prayers do what one asks them to do” — you get what you pray for. If you pray for humility, you will get it. If you consistently and sincerely pray the Our Father, you will get your daily bread, you will attain the capacity to forgive others, and you will be delivered from evil. If we pray the prayer to St. Michael as the Popes have asked us, we will be protected from the demon. If we pray the Rosary, Our Lady will be with us at the hour of our death, and we will not dread it. If we pray to our guardian angels, they will protect us. Authentic Catholic prayers work because they are the word of God, living and effective.
Speaking the Word
And finally, we must teach others this Word of God. Some of the Sower’s “seed” fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred grains for every seed sown. God casts the seed liberally, knowing that not every grain will land in rich soil. Some of it will fall on hard or rocky or thorn-infested ground, and produce nothing. The seed falling on the hard path is snatched up by the Evil One; the seed falling among rocks is rendered sterile by the weakness of the flesh; the seed falling among thorns is chocked by worldly anxieties. Thus the three enemies of the Word of God: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Still, the sower casts his seed. So after we’ve carefully read this word, and prayed this word, we must speak it, even if some will not receive it. The increase is God’s, but it is for us to cast the seed.
Thomas Aquinas College
And this, it seems to me, is the history of Thomas Aquinas College. Dr. Ron McArthur and his friends, all laypeople, founded a college where young people could read, pray, and eventually teach the Word of God. They knew that not all of their students would receive what they had to give. But it was worth the trouble for those who would bear the fruit of a Catholic great books program.
Thomas Aquinas College is an inspirational success story, but more than success, it is a story of fidelity. None of the founders knew if or how this project would work, but they were faithful to Christ who had told them to sow his words of truth. Truth Matters, and is worth the risk of failure.
So it is also in our personal lives — among our families, friends, and colleagues. Let us emulate, with Our Lady’s help, these founders of our College, and stay with the Word of God: reading it studiously, praying it sincerely, and speaking it charitably. We will not become discouraged if some, or even many, do not receive the Word. It is for us to speak the eternal and glorious truths of God’s Word, and for Him to grant the increase.
Fr. Illo says grace before the Saturday-night dinner at last week’s Great Books Summer Seminar weekend.
“In our classroom discussions, we are not only given free rein to speak, but free rein to think. No question is off the table. Anything that can bring a more full understanding of the truth is welcomed and encouraged.”
– Christopher Sebastian (’13)
“I am grateful to Thomas Aquinas College for educating new leaders for our Church, leaders who are grounded in their personal relationship and commitment to Jesus Christ.”
– Most. Rev. George Niederauer
Archbishop of San Francisco