There is a decidedly agricultural flavor to our readings this week. The first reading from Isaiah, the psalm and the parable of the seed in the Gospel specifically speak about sowing and producing fruit or failure to do so. It seems appropriate on this July day on the prairie where the corn and beans are showing significant growth and personal gardens are beginning to bear fruit and vegetables. It is a wonderful time of year. Sadly though we also note that in some areas lack of moisture has limited that growth and threatened crops and livelihoods. Let us pray for rain and for support for those each year who face the uncertainty of natural forces that raise up but can also wear down. Jesus is with us through the droughts of our lives and rejoices with us in the times of blessing.
There is inherent in planting the virtue of hope. The seed is planted, we hope it will grow and grow abundantly, but we cannot see the end product at the time. We water and wait. Experience tells us that there is life in the tiny seed we hold in our hands and plant. When we nurture it with patience we can anticipate new life. And so it is in the spiritual gardens within us. But we must first plant the seed with unseen hope.
It is said that one of the founders of our country, Benjamin Franklin received a broom made in India and discovered a few small seeds on it. He took them and planted them. They produced what has been called “broom corn” which he then shared with others. It resulted in establishment of the broom manufacturing industry in the United States. He never knew that but he had planted the seeds and shared the fruit.
St Paul proclaims, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains . . . we who have the first fruits of the Spirit – those born in baptism, we also groan within ourselves as we wait the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” He speaks confidently of the life to come and it colors how he views the fact that creation groans for a while knowing that new life is assured for those who remain faithful during our spiritual growing season which is our entire life. We need to nurture and nourish that creation with prayer, reflecting on Scripture, confessing our sins and especially by receiving the Holy Eucharist in which Our Lord is present body and blood, soul and divinity.
Through the parable of the seed Jesus reminds us that we choose the garden into which the word, Jesus himself, is planted. One commentator summarized the four ways in which we might receive Jesus as those who are resistant, those who are thrill seekers, those who are compromisers and those who are truly open to Christ.
His word Jesus himself sometimes falls on the path that it is hard to penetrate because the hearer is so caught up in routines or so focused in on himself. Those who resist. His word sometimes falls on rocky ground, where there is potential; the hearer is excited at first but is quickly distracted. Those who are thrill-seekers. His word sometimes falls among thorns where the hearer does not have the strength to withstand the forces of doubt or worldly lures of the evil one. Those who are compromisers. But then Jesus reassures us that it is possible for the word to fall on rich soil, where the hearer is open and aching to understand, to feel the presence of God. Those we are truly open to Christ.
We are all these spiritual soils at points in our lives; at least I know I have been over the years. The beauty of the parable is the reassurance that the seed continues to be sown; His word is ever offered to us, He is ever present to us. It is in how we respond, how we nourish the seed of faith that matters. With patience, hope and humility, all of us can become rich soil, open to his presence and emboldened by it to be people of hope. The Blessed Mother, the model of rich soil, can show us the way.
We can evaluate what is our spiritual soil by reflecting on how we deal with the challenges of life. There is so much that is beyond our control. Often parents ask where they went wrong when their children brought up in the faith have wandered away into lifestyles of question or simply stop going to Church. They did not go wrong; they planted the seed of faith; their kids remain children of God. Don’t give up on your kids, pray for them and continue to witness the faith for them.
A man was injured by a drunken driver at the age of 15 which resulted in the amputation of his leg. Instead of turning in on himself he accepted his situation grounded in Jesus and decided to use it to be present to others who faced similar losses. He sought to establish a pen-pal relationship with someone who was disabled more severely than was he. He wrote to a fellow who had suffered a sporting accident at the age of nine which paralyzed him. Surely he could lift the spirit of this poor man, he thought. He wrote to him and was pleased to receive a letter back which he assumed was dictated. When he read the letter he was deeply moved. The man had written, “I thank God that I’m able to write my own letters by holding the pen in my mouth.” Here was a man of hope, where the Word landed on rich soil despite the groans of creation.
There are many such heroic persons among us. Such as those who served our country and were injured in recent military conflicts. Wounded warriors. By their courage and strength they inspire us who are wounded by the ravages of sin and selfishness. Their families inspire us as well. We determine how deeply the grace of God will touch us and how we react to the inevitable challenges of life as Paul reminds us are so real.
Our psalm response reassures us, “the seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest”. Let us humbly and gratefully seek to be good ground, even rich ground to receive the word, Our Lord, and therefore able to produce the fruit of hope in life eternal that will be free from the groins of creation and that encourages others.