Listen to the Groaning – Johnny Go, SJ

Matthew 13:24-43, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul uses an intriguing description to refer to the sound of the Spirit praying in us: “The Spirit himself intercedes with “inexpressible groanings.” There’s a reason why the Apostle didn’t liken it to something more conventional and even appealing. Like why not, for instance, a beautiful song”?


First of all, the word rendered here as groaning occurs in several episodes in the Gospel. In the raising of Lazarus, in John 11:33 and 38, Jesus himself is reported to have “groaned”–first, when he is “deeply moved in spirit,” seeing Mary and the Jews weeping over the death of Lazarus, and a second time just a little later, when he stands before the grave of his friend. The original word–literally, “to snort, as of horses” (!)–is also used in several other occasions in the New Testament to express other emotions, but the one thing they have in common is the intensity of the emotions that leads to the groaning.

Those who have experienced deep prayer knows what St. Paul is talking about. They will from their memory recognize the sound of the Spirit groaning in them. Today’s Gospel reading sheds light on this “inexpressible groaning” of the Spirit within us. Imagine the human heart as a vast open field with weeds growing amongst the wheat. When the Spirit blows across that field, indeed the sound of that wind will not quite be like a song. The sound of the Spirit hovering over our wheat and weeds will be a groaning, expressing the Spirit’s deep desire for us to do whatever sorting we can do.

This sorting of wheat and weeds is called discernment. Discernment also entails groaning because when we discern, we dive deep into ourselves and sort out not only our feelings, but also the needs that lie beneath them. Psychologists tell us that our feelings are usually the result of our needs being met or unmet. Our pleasant feelings (like joy) are produced when our meets are met, while our unpleasant feelings–like anger, sadness, and fear–are the result of unmet needs. Sorting out our needs can be quite uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s not easy determining which of our needs are wheat and which are weeds and actually deciding what to do with them.

But discern we must, and groan we must as we ask: Which of them are healthy life-giving instincts that we may continue to follow? And which ones have morphed into harmful self-diminishing attachments that we must learn to manage lest they end up managing us?

Today let us pray for the gift of discernment. Let us pray that the Lord may send His Spirit over us, and that we may join the Spirit’s inexpressible groaning within us.

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