Earlier this month we celebrated the 100th anniversary of a remarkable saint. She had a deep love for Jesus whom at age 10 she received in Communion. The following year, three month before her twelfth birthday, a neighbor named Alessandro Serenelli tried to force himself on her. When Maria resisted, Alessandro stabbed her repeatedly with a knife.* She died the following day, July 6, 1902, after forgiving her assailant. "Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him...and I want him to be with me in Paradise."
Filled with shame, denial and bitterness, Alessandro was condemned to prison. However, the seed Maria planted gradually bore fruit. He experienced a profound conversion. Released after twenty-seven years, he went immediately to ask pardon of Maria's mother. Accompanying her to Christmas Mass, he spoke before the hushed congregation, acknowledging his sin and asking God's forgiveness and the pardon of the community. He testified in the cause for beatification and on June 24, 1950 stood in St. Peter’s Square when Pope Pius XII declared St. Maria Goretti a saint. Alessandro Serenelli died on May 6, 1970 in the Capuchin convent where he worked as a gardener.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about the seed which yields an enormous harvest. He is referring to the forgiveness of sins, the divine mercy that falls from heaven like gentle rain. (Is 55:10) The Sower casts that seed with abandon, even though he knows it will encounter opposition, resentment, even bitterness.
A recently published book titled Triumph describes how Jesus’ teaching has taken root during two thousand years of history. H.W. Crocker gives it that title not because the human beings who make up the Church are so glorious, but because God’s grace has done marvelous things.
For example, Crocker tells about Ambrose of Milan confronting the Emperor Theodosius the Great. Returning from a victory in Greece (390 A.D.), he expected the bishop to warmly receive him. But Ambrose had heard that the Emperor murdered innocent civilians in Thessalonica. He barred entrance to the Cathedral, asking Theodosius, “How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre?”
Rather than striking the bishop, the Emperor recognized his sin. He invoked the example of King David whom God forgave after a time of penance. Ambrose waited eight months, then required Theodosius to prove his sincerity by rescinding unjust decrees and “that when sentence of death or of proscription has been signed against anyone, thirty days are to elapse before execution, and on the expiration of that time the case is to be brought again before you, for your resentment will then be calmed and you can justly decide the issue.” The Emperor agreed and Ambrose loosed his bonds.
This striking instance of repentance and reconciliation shows how Jesus’ teaching bore good fruit not only in individual lives, but also in the transformation of society.
Even after two thousand years of Christian history, much remains to do - and, unfortunately, we humans keep inventing new ways to frustrate God’s purpose for us. Why that is, I will try to explain next week. Still, as today’s parable indicates, God does not withdraw his grace. Rather, with what appears to us like relentlessness, he keeps pouring it forth. And when it lands on good soil – a repentant heart – it bears fruit a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
*For Serenelli's written testimony see PornNoMore.com
From Archives (for Fifteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
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Bulletin (Staff Changes, RCIA & RCIC, Hidden Gospels)
The Catholic Difference by George Weigel
The Collapsed Catholic by Fr. George William Rutler (Excellent Article!)
Pictures from Vacation Bible School (June 24-28, 2002)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
Pictures from Peru
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru