15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
If the seed is the Word of God – our faith – and the soil is the human person who receives and nurtures the seed, then we can ask ourselves: what kind of soil am I? The essence of this question is fundamental to any examination of conscience. But, let's say, you want to go deeper; you want to explore a way of growing in holiness that goes beyond a quick survey of “how I'm doing.” If that's the case, then the question you want to ask yourself is: how do I become kind of soil I need to be? This question assumes you know what kind of soil you are now, and it prompts you to consider what needs to change in your life and how to make those changes. Keep in mind – the goal here is to become the sort of soil that gives the seed of the Word the best chance of taking root in your life and producing good fruit. What this looks like might not be what the world thinks good soil looks like; or what your family or friends think good soil look like; or even what you think it should look like. That's just part of the surprise and drama of striving for a life of holiness! Sometimes the most disgusting mud grows the most beautiful flowers.
So, you're feeling stuck, thinking that your growth in holiness has stalled. Maybe you are experiencing more anxiety lately. Your prayer life is blah. And God seems farther away everyday. In other words, you are shallow, dry, and thorny soil. It's time to ask yourself: how do I become kind of soil I need to be to nurture the Word and produce good fruit? The first step is a merciless inventory of your sins. Sin is a deliberate act of disobedience; it's a willful, shouted NO! To God that prevents you from receiving His gifts. To be clear: God never stops blessing us. But we can and do stop receiving those blessings. And the principal way we refuse His gifts is through sin. Once that inventory is complete, it's time to head to the confessional and receive His forgiveness through absolution. Think of this step as pulling the weeds from your life, cutting back the thorns, and digging up the stones in your way. If the seed of the Word is going to find a place in your life, it needs space – He needs space. And He's already given you and me everything we need to help us make that space as large and as obstacle-free as we can get it. BUT He's not going to do the work for us. He'll work along with us, but not instead of us.
Once the weeds are pulled and the thorns are burned in the confessional, we can proceed to step two: spreading high-quality fertilizer. What's the best fertilizer for growing in holiness? Small acts of charity, inconspicuous moments where you enact the Good for the Other for no other reason than the Good of the Other. Think of the Widow and her mite. She gives out of her poverty not her surplus. She gives everything she has, not just the little leftover when her bills are paid. These acts of charity don't have to be about money. You can pay attention to someone who's used to being ignored. You can sit with someone who's sick; visit someone who has no one; write letters to prisoners; help out at a homeless shelter or food bank; volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society; tutor kids struggling in school. The object here is to get outside yourself, to move beyond that constantly nagging MeMeMe that demands satisfaction but never seems to be satisfied. It's about coming to see the Christ in yourself by seeing him in others. This is a potent fertilizer for the cultivation of the proper soil of holiness. Every saint in heaven mastered the production and distribution of these small acts of charity, and they are there now, waiting for you and me to call on them for their help.
Now that you've cleared your field and fertilized it with charity, it's time to welcome the Sower and his seeds. Two acts best welcome him: gratitude and surrender. Together these two increase your harvest a hundredfold. Gratitude is an expression of humility. You acknowledge that everything you have and are is a gift from God. Nothing you have or are is truly your own. It all comes from Him. This attitude inoculates you against the spiritual disease of entitlement – “I'm owed. I deserve. My life is about Me.” Surrender is a form of gratitude. It sets the heart and mind to receive God's blessings w/o expectation. To receive the seed of the Word as God Himself sows it. Surrender leaves what is God's in God's hands, and it all belongs to God, including you and me. By turning your life to gratitude and surrender, you open yourself to becoming the richest possible soil for growing in holiness. When you close yourself to gratitude and surrender, you cultivate Pride and nothing grows in the sterile dust of Pride but resentment, anger, envy, and violence. What kind of soil do you need to become to produce good fruit? Soil rich in charity, gratitude, surrender, and hope. Nothing less can nurture God's Word.
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