The parables of the seeds in today’s Gospel by which Jesus teaches and challenges us are recognizable to us here in South Dakota especially in this time of year when we see after spring planting the early signs of growth in the fields. We can envision the corn and sunflowers and soybeans and other crops as they will grow in the months ahead. Yet all start small, like a mustard seed.
Seeds grow imperceptibly. If we watch a seed from hour to hour no change can be seen. But when we compare it to last week or last month, growth is apparent. But growth does require patient waiting which can be a challenge and requires attentive watching for weeds and other destructive forces that can interfere even destroy what the planting anticipated.
Someone related to me this week that there was a dust storm up north in the Aberdeen area which has been so dry for so long. It is said that some could even see the seeds recently planted being uprooted by the 50 miles an hour and more gales of wind. We also know of the damage that hail can cause. Planting of seeds does not assure a flourishing product.
And so it is with faith. The fact is in farming and in faith God does not work on our timetable or based on our will alone. Sometimes it takes a while to see the changes happening in our lives. We will experience no change of course unless we accept our role to nourish our faith, to open our hearts to Christ and to seek to more fully love the Lord with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves even in the midst of storms, or perhaps especially in the midst of storms which come into all of our lives. What we know about storms is that the come and move on. We can endure them but we also need not be overwhelmed by them.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading encourages us to “walk by faith and not by sight.” We must both humbly accept that we are worthy of God’s love for he created us and humbly accept our need for him and then trustingly place ourselves in his hands.
The first reading from Ezekiel, which was written in the dark days of the Babylonian exile when the Israelites were enslaved, ought to encourage us. The prophet declares, even in the darkest of times God will plant a tender shoot which over time will restore freedom if faithfulness is maintained.
Like the planting of the seed which requires man’s active involvement, we must be willing partakers for there to be spiritual growth. The ultimate result depends on our openness to God’s presence. Transformation takes place within us without our knowing it when we nourish it through Christ’s Church, her sacraments, Sacred Scripture and prayer. But like destructive attacks on healthy crops, our human frailty, secular distractions and attacks by the evil one can spoil our growth toward greater holiness.
Anna Marie Schwartz grew up in a quiet town in what was then Czechoslovakia during the horrors of World War II. Her life was disturbed when the Nazi’s arrived. It was decreed that villagers had to get off the sidewalk when a German soldier was on it. She resisted. A soldier knocked her down and kicked her relentlessly with his pointed boots. She suffered broken ribs and fractures of her arm and leg. She became bitterly angry and felt hatred. As time went on her arm grew black and there was discussion of the need to amputate. Her heart was even blacker. She was a changed person not for the better. Her priest told her that she had to forgive if she was to heal. She said she could not and would not forgive. Then one day she saw the soldier again. He threw her a menacing glare. Suddenly she found herself praying: “Lord Jesus in your mercy, send your power so my heart might be healed.” The soldier walked toward her, towering over her, his arm raised to strike’ Then Anna Marie cried out, “I forgive you, please forgive me,” and gave him a hug. He stood there stunned as she ran away with a healed heart. Eventually her health healed as well. When we turn ourselves over to God, cry out in our need, Lord Jesus in your mercy, our seeds of faith can grow.
How often do parents lament the fact that some of their children have fallen away from the faith. What did I do wrong is often asked. Nothing is the answer. The seeds were planted by example, and by instruction they were nourished. The growth is not in parents hands. We do need to pray for those who have wandered away and invite them back. We also ought to offer an invitation to know Christ to those who do not. Sadly for many the seeds of faith only germinate out of tragedy and crisis, sickness or loss. Yet there are so many beautiful true stories that attest to the possibility that with repentance healing of soul occurs. I am a witness to that truth.
Some years ago I read the moving story of a Catholic nun who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wrote, “The whirl of appointments and tests was overwhelming. Within weeks I would face the stark reality of not only my mortality, but many other little deaths: I was to give up my job, my hair, feeling well, and last but not least my breast . . . I have worked so hard for you, I told God, how dare you allow this to happen.” That is an understandable reaction. But over time her faith planted which led to her religious vocation grew stronger. She continued, “When I committed myself 19 years ago to following Jesus Christ, how could I have known that confronting this evil – for cancer is that, make no mistake about it – would constitute an invitation to die and rise with him. I can honestly say to God: I want to live in the present moment; help me to do so.” Her seed of faith grew taller that day. She placed herself and her need in the hands of God. So can we.
From little seeds large trees can grow and so can we spiritually grow if we walk by faith and not by sight. Or as St. Augustine put it: “work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.” Lord Jesus send us the faith that we might grow in our love for you and therefore the experience the fruit of joy and peace even in the midst of the storms of life. Lord Jesus in your mercy, walk with me.