Why is this Sunday called Sexagesima?
The word Sexagesima means sixty. According to the First Council of Orleans, in the year A.D. 545, many pious ecclesiastics and lay persons of the primitive Church used to fast seventy days before Easter, their fast was called, Septuagesima (seventy), a name which was afterwards retained to distinguish this Sunday from others. The same was the case with the three following Sundays; many Christians beginning their fast sixty days before Easter, hence the name Sexagesima; others fifty days, whence Quinquagesima; others forty days, whence Quadragesima.
The Introit of the Mass is taken from the forty-third psalm: “Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, and cast us not off to the end; Why turnest thou face away? and forgettest our want and our trouble? For our soul is humbled down to the dust: our belly cleaveth to the earth; Arise, O Lord, help us and redeem us for thy name’s sake. (Psalms 43:23-26) We have heard, O God, with our ears: our fathers have declared to us…” (Psalms 43:2) Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
O God, Who sees that we confide in no action of our own, grant, in Your mercy, that we may be defended from all evils by the protection of the Doctor of the gentiles. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
My dearest Sisters and Brothers, You gladly suffer the foolish: whereas you yourselves are wise. Because you suffer if a man brings you into captivity, if a man tortures you, if a man steals from you, if a man is lifted up, if a man strikes you on the face. I speak of dishonour, as if we have been weak in this part. So if a man dares (I speak foolishly) I will also dare: they are Hebrews, so am I: they are Israelites, so am I: they are the seed of Abraham, so am I: they are the ministers of Christ (I speak as one less wise), I am more: in many more labours: in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in death soften. Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own nation, in perils from the gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren: in labour and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness.
Besides those things which are without: my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalised, and I am not on fire? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity. The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ,Who is blessed forever, knows that I do not lie. At Damascus, the governor of the nation under Aretas Philopatris the king of the Nabataeans guarded the city of the Damascenes to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and so escaped his hands.
If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed), but I will come to the visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not, God knows), such a one rapt even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows) that he was caught up into paradise: and heard secret words which are not granted to man to utter. For such a one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing, but in my infirmities.
For though I should have a mind toward glory, I will not be foolish: for I will tell the truth: but I refrain, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees in me, or anything he hears from me. And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me: and He said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
By this example of St. Paul the Church would incite us to work out our salvation by cooperating faithfully with the grace of God. Therefore let us emulate this great apostle, by not being irritated by temptations, but firmly combat and overcome them with the help of divine grace.
Grant me, O God, Your grace, that I may in these evil days keep steadily to Your holy doctrine, and never be enticed from obeying it, either by the charms and fascinations of the world, or the rebukes of the wicked. Amen.
GOSPEL. Luke 8:4-15.
At that time: When a very great multitude was gathered together, and hastened out of the cities unto him, he spoke by a similitude. The sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And other some fell upon a rock: and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it, choked it. And other some fell upon good ground; and being sprung up, yielded fruit a hundredfold. Saying these things, he cried out: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him what this parable might be. To whom he said: To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to the rest in parables, that seeing they may not see, and hearing may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. And they by the way side are they that hear; then the devil cometh, and taketh the word out of their heart, lest believing they should be saved. Now they upon the rock, are they who when they hear, receive the word with joy: and these have no roots; for they believe for a while, and in time of temptation, they fall away. And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. But that on the good ground, are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.
Why is the word of God compared to a seed here?
Because as good fruits spring from good seed, so do good works from the word of God; and as it is impossible for any soil not sown to produce good fruits, so neither can men produce the fruits of the Spirit without the seed of the divine Word.
Why did Our Saviour cry out, « He that hath ears to hear, let him hear? »
To declare the necessity of heeding the word of God, since without the instruction in our holy religion which we derive from that word we cannot know what we must do to please God, and save our souls.
How, then, does it happen that, in spite of the excellence of the divine word, there are so many bad Christians?
The fault lies within men, who, although hearing the word of God, hear, read, and meditate superficially. The divine seed finds no moisture or root within their hearts; they are overgrown with the piercing thorns of cares, riches, and sensual lusts, so that the seed of the divine word is smothered, and cannot grow or bear any fruit.
What are the effects of the word of God when we heed them?
To wash away sin, implant virtue, and create the world anew. Jeremias says: « Are not my words as a fire, saith the Lord: and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? » (Jeremiah 23:29) which bursts out from within, consuming the vapours of sin, drying up the marshes of vice, and killing the deep roots of bad habits? Again, it is « a hammer,” breaking in pieces the rocks of hardened hearts. St. Paul says: « For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’’ (Hebrews 4:12) — that is, cutting away from the spirit sensual lusts. St. James says « For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass » [mirror] (James 1:23) and seeing his own sins he feels ashamed, and tries to free himself from them. It is, finally, the good seed, which, falling upon good ground, yields fruit a hundredfold.
What must we do before a sermon?
St. Chrysostom asks, « Who pours a precious liquid into an unclean vessel, before he has washed it? » We should, therefore, cleanse our hearts before a sermon through an act of contrition, “for wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins.” (Wisdom 1:4). As the ground we wish to sow must be prepared first, in the same manner our hearts be cleansed, and made ready by a holy desire to learn that which is good.
What must we do during a sermon?
We must listen attentively and respectfully, for it is God Who speaks to us through the preacher: “He that heareth you, heareth me…” (Luke 10:16). If an ambassador reading the letters of his king is listened to with great attention, quiet, and respect, says St. John Chrysostom, how much greater veneration should we not pay to the minister of God announcing His holy will? Be careful, therefore, not to show contempt for the preacher, for that will reach back to God, Who has said, « he that despiseth you, despiseth me…” (Luke 10:16). Be careful not to apply what is said in the sermon to others, but rather « Take heed to thyself and to doctrine: be earnest in them. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee. » (1 Timothy 4:16). If you are free from those sins which the sermon points out, thank God, and pray that you may not fall into them.
What must we do after a sermon?
We must endeavour to practise what we have heard; « For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. » (Romans 2:13). In order to practise what we hear in the sermon it is necessary, in the first place, to keep it in our minds, to ponder it carefully and remember it. Christ, said: « blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it » (Luke 11:28). The seed cannot bring forth fruit if not well covered with good and fertile soil, warmed by the sun, moistened by the rain and dew, and cared for in other ways. Finally, pray often to God, that He may keep alive in you the divine truths which you have heard today.
O my God, I am consumed with shame, because the seed of Your divine word, which You have so abundantly sown in my heart, has brought forth so little fruit. Have mercy, O Lord, and alter my heart, that it may become good soil, in which Your word can take root, flourish, grow, blossom, and finally bring forth the fruit of salvation, which You require of me. Amen.
A plan for us to follow in our spiritual life, let us produce at least sixty-fold, that is, receiving the word of God with a cleansed and perfect heart, let us endeavour to make it bear fruit with our perseverance so that He, who laboured throughout His life disseminating His holy teaching among the souls of the world, “et in mundo conversatus, sparso verbi semine, sui moras incolatus”  and who carries on the same work by his apostles and His Church, may bestow upon us the reward promised to those who persevere in the generous practice of their faith.