Word of God-St. Hildegard of Bengen

HOMILY WEEK 24 06 – Week II

On Being Rich Soil for the Word of God:

Optional Memorial of St. Hildegard of Bingen

(1 Cor 15:35-50; Ps 56; Lk 8:4-15)


Regnum Dei Intra Vos” is Latin for “the kingdom of heaven is among you.” That is my episcopal motto as an archbishop, taken from Luke 17:21, and the only place in the new Testament where Jesus not only indicates that the kingdom is near, or one is not far from that kingdom, but that the kingdom is within us and among us.

This phrase also captures the message of today’s liturgy: the powerful Word of God is intended to transform us and lead us into experiencing the kingdom of heaven right here and now.

The Psalm could not be clearer along that line – we are to walk in the presence of God “with the light of the living,” or as it is sometimes put, “in the land of the living.” Heaven is not just a future reality – it is meant to be a reality lived in the present. According to St. Catherine of Sienna, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven because Jesus said he was the Way.”

In the first reading, St. Paul, probably responding to questions presented to him by his Corinthians about the after-life, struggles to reason with them and explain, using rather complicated categories of what is spiritual and what is not spiritual.

Jesus does much better dealing with this mystery in the gospel, relying on the right-brain approach of sharing a parable, rather than on Paul’s attempt to explain such a mystery rationally. So, Jesus twigs our imagination with the parable of the sower.

What comes to my mind immediately is the “power to live” present in a seed that spent the winter in our compost bin enduring minus 40-degree weather. In the spring, it suddenly came to life, sprouted and when planted, grew into a twenty-foot long pumpkin plant that produced huge pumpkins. Now that is an image of the kingdom of heaven that speaks to my gardener’s heart!

Along that line of prodigality, one spiritual writer dares to suggest that the focus of this parable should not be on the different kinds of soil or people, but on the unlimited, extravagant generosity of the sower, God, who brazenly continually throws out the seed, God’s love, seemingly unconcerned as to how it will be received or not – just always hoping it will find rich soil.

In the parable, Jesus describes four different kinds of soil. Some people are like a hard path – they might hear the Word being read or spoken, but it has no impact on them at all. It is just as if they never heard it. Others are like rocky soil – they hear the word and might think about it for a moment, but like a seed sprouting in water with no roots, it also makes no impact upon them.

Others are like seed that falls among thorns. They actually pay attention to it at first, perhaps have some kind of a spiritual experience like a Cursillo weekend, but then get busy with their usual activities and the Word that was so promising just fades away and has no long-lasting impact on them either.

I would like to add one more category – no soil or garden at all. These are the people who might even call themselves Catholic, but are non-practicing, never attend Church, and at home don’t even have a bible, so they actually never even get to hear the Word of God. There isn’t even a path upon with the seed can fall, and how unfortunate that is.

Finally, Jesus speaks of the ideal – rich, moist, damp, warm soil in which the seed can fall, sprout, take root, grow and produce in great quantities. I think of the crabapple tree in our backyard that every two years had us going to the food bank three times a week taking along large white plastic pails filled to the brim with crabapples.

These are the persons who listen carefully to the Word of God when it is proclaimed, who explore its meaning in bible study groups, who ponder the Word like Mary and meditate upon its meaning, who try to apply it to their lives. I especially feel like that rich soil when I enter into contemplative prayer, relying only on a simple mantra and trying to be still, receptive, dark, damp, warm rich soil for the Word of God to unleash its transformative power within me.

For that is the goal of our life in Christ – theosis, divinization, transformation, becoming Christ-like and entering into an ever more intimate communion with the Trinity. David Hassell S.J. in his book Dark Intimacy uses the term com-penetration with the three divine persons of the Trinity. For him, what is important is the centrality of the divine Word through all of history as the dynamic pattern for the evolving universe. Christ’s central presence as the Word turns the world into a home rather than an exile.

For the cover of my latest book Still Green and Growing, Novalis chose a fresh green shoot pushing its way up out of a tree stump – colorful, striking, appropriate and very fitting for the readings today. The book is about personal growth, inner healing and human development from a second half of life perspective. Today’s liturgy seems to confirm my intuition in writing the book.

Today we honor St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 19th century Benedictine mystic and visionary who was truly rich soil. Hildegard founded several abbeys, wrote extensively, composed liturgical music, and counted popes and archbishops among her correspondents. In her writings, Hildegard dedicated herself to explaining divine revelation and making God known in the clarity of God’s love. Her main writings are the Scivias, the Liber Vitae Meritorum and the Liber Divinorum Operum. She also wrote botanical treatises and is considered an early pioneer in natural history. Much of her liturgical music survives and is performed to this day. She is widely seen as one of the most important women of the Middle Ages. In 2012 Hildegard was declared a Doctor of the Church, and an optional memorial was added to the universal calendar in 2021.

The Eucharist nourishes us first at the Table of the Word, and then with an intimate communion with the Word made flesh. May our celebration help us be rich soil in which the Word of God can take root, transform us into greater Christlikeness, and empower us to produce the fruit of loving others as Christ has loved us, as did St. Hildegard of Bingen.


Updated: September 17, 2022 — 3:20 am

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