I recently attended a lecture by a theologian and writer whom I had previously heard about three years ago. At that time I thought he was decent but not great. This time I thought he was inspiring, challenging and had a sense of humor that I hadn’t noticed. The question I had to ask myself was did he change or did I change?


This is similar to how people hear homilies. Sometimes people hear a message quite different than what I said.   Formerly,  I thought they didn’t understand. Now I believe someone may get more out of the message than I do.

This is not a case of hearing what you want to (which does happen), nor is it that each one makes up one’s own truth,  but it is hearing what you are able to hear at this time, depending on the level of your awareness.


We know that there are stages in the development of our awareness level that can be charted in various ways. One scheme sees us being ego-centric at first: the world revolves around me and I interpret everything according to my needs and my visions. Some never get beyond this.  Then there is an ethno-centric  level in which my tribe, my nation, my religion is the best one or only true one. Some people stay there. Levels above these broaden a vision to be more universal, comprehensive, inclusive, and you know you are one with all including God. The problem is one is incapable of understanding a higher level until one breaks through into a new awareness. On the other hand, coming to a higher level of awareness does not do away with the lower.  “Transcend and include.” The sure sign of a higher level of awareness is that one does not look down at anyone on a lower level. A person who has achieved a higher, more universal vision still has ego and ethno needs.


None of this is new. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Whatever is received is received in the manner of the receiver.”


And, I believe, this is the key to understanding Jesus’ parable of the seed and the sower. God puts forth his word and it is received on different levels – rocky ground, among thorns, on a busy pathway, or on rich soil. Some people are too preoccupied with themselves, or live on a purely superficial level, or are easily distracted by all the stimuli around them to let the word sink in. They may get excited after reading a book, or hearing a sermon, or having a good conversation, seeing a movie, but it doesn’t last. They are stuck at a certain level of awareness. And someone who has reached a higher level of awareness and represents rich soil can fall back at times into rocky, thorny, busy life but is capable of recognizing the fall and recover.


Jesus’ first message in his public preaching was a call to repentance. This was not just a call to live a good, moral life and not hurt anyone, but to go deeper into one’s humanity and live in good relationship with God, the world, others, and self. One way to say this is that Jesus called us not just to clean up, but to grow up and wake up. Come to a deeper understanding of life in which you really know your oneness with all peoples, your responsibility for the earth and all its peoples, and the mystical insight of seeing God in all people and all things. Saint Paul says today that all creation is groaning for redemption. If we are one with creation we feel this, we are filled with compassion, and are moved to action. Our separate self is a false self and is an illusion.


How can we come to a deeper level of awareness and live more fully, more deeply? Often it is a dramatic event of love or suffering that pushes open our hearts and minds. Some form of enlightenment, an “aha” moment, hits us. But there are some things we can do to prepare for the upgrading. Here are some:


-      Feed the imagination and get past simplistic, fundamentalist visions of reality. Indulge in beauty, art, music, poetry, a good novel. Jesus spoke in parables to stretch our imaginations. The Bible teaches mainly through stories.

-      Learn from nature. Henry David Thoreau, whose 200th birthday was celebrated this past week, counseled people to live one day deliberately in nature. Turn off the phones and computers at times and take a Sabbath.

-      Strive for inwardness through solitude and quiet. Really listen to yourself without external distractions. Develop some form of meditative practice.

-      Do your shadow work, that is discover and name your negativities, your disguises, and let them go. Find your true self and get beyond the false self we all build up.  Twelve step programs and the Enneagram help to disclose the false self.


Sometimes we walk away from a challenging talk, book or movie and we easily say “it was over my head.” We are excusing ourselves and blaming the speaker.

So Jesus says, Repent. Clean up – Grow up – Wake up! There is a lot more to life than we have often been satisfied with.






Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL