Sunday, July 16, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I posted on Facebook about the little garden we had begun in front of our house. It isn’t a large garden. Just a few plants for some extra food throughout the summer.

July 16, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 103

IS 55:10-11

PS 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14

ROM 8:18-23

MT 13:1-23

A couple of weeks ago I posted on Facebook about the little garden we had begun in front of our house.   It isn’t a large garden.  Just a few plants for some extra food throughout the summer.  My daughter and her friend helped me to prepare the area.   We took out any big rocks we found.  Added in some good quality potting soil.   Then we planted our peppers, tomatoes, and squash in the ground followed by a nice, deep watering.  They are doing quite well.  In the right environment, just a few plants can produce a great amount of quality fruit for the harvest.

I found that image to be one that I was meditating on quite a bit on my silent retreat.  Harrowing.   That’s a theme that I wrote about last week.   It also applies very appropriately to today's readings.  Jesus in his parable talks about soil.  It’s easy for us to place ourselves into one or more of these categories.  Especially those of us who go to church on a weekly basis, live a life of attempted piety, and really strive to be in a relationship with Christ and his body.   We want to be that rich, nutrient rich soil that he speaks of as having received the word and nourishing it into great fruit.   We want to be one of the 30, 60, or 100 fold producers in the garden of the Lord.

I think we have to be careful though.   Yes, we must go through a cleaning process to remove the stones and rocks.  We need to make sure the environment inside our soul is open and receptive to the Lord’s Word.  That means making an examination and finding out what is helping and what is hindering.  The thing about the little garden I planted is that not only are the plants I want to grow nourished and growing, all the little seeds and particulates that the birds drop in, and any left over seeds in the soil from before are also thriving.   Each day, as I walk by, I find myself having to stoop down, discern what is a plant for food and what is a weed, and then removing the ones that I don’t want in my garden.   I don’t want them choking out the good plants, nor do I want them stealing the nutrients my fruit need to survive.

Our spiritual life is much the same.  It’s not enough to simply prepare the soil and hope the Word sticks.   We have to spend time examining our lives daily.   Asking ourselves is this thing in my life helping them to grow?   Are the seeds being planted by the music I listen to, the television I watch, the games and social media I involve myself with on the internet; are all of these things drawing me deeper into a relationship with Christ?  Or are they hindering?  It’s so easy to fall back into old habits.  The problem is that when we have freed up our time from those things which distract, when we fall back into the old we seem to fall back even harder and deeper than before.  The weeds tend to grow faster than the fruit.  That is often the most frustrating part.  

Isaiah speaks of the rain and snow coming down to the ground to water it.  Water means life.  We have to make sure that our soul is watered by the water of Baptism, and renewed constantly with the nutrients and moisture that it needs to nourish the seeds which God wants to grow in us.  That means spending time in the Sacraments.   Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, cleaning out the new weeds and rocks in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and for those of us who are married, clinging to the grace we receive through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to produce fruit in our lives with our spouses.  As a man whose primary vocation is marriage, it’s not just my garden I must work with.  My primary goal is to help my wife get to heaven.   That means I must also make sure that like the birds who frequent my garden, I have to make sure the seeds I present to her are seeds that will bear fruit for her soul and not weeds that can choke out her spiritual life.

All too often it's the ones we are closest too that we bring down with us.  In the world where the mindset of Luther has been watered down into a “personal relationship only” with Christ, we often forget that our actions do matter.   Not only do we hurt God with our sins, but we hurt each other.   That’s why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the first place.  It’s not just to make things right with God, it’s to reach out to the community we are damaging by bringing sin into our lives and saying I am sorry, I want to be a part of that community again.   We also have to look at our relationships, especially with those we spend the most of our time with.   Am I influencing them to be better producers of fruit?  Am I introducing them to holy activities that will draw them closer to God?  Or are my actions dragging them down?  Introducing foreign contaminants into the garden that might choke or damage the fruit that is growing there?

While we have experienced salvation, we are still being saved, and hope to be saved.  Our flesh fights against our soul to try and satisfy all its needs and desires.   Those needs and desires are not a bad thing.  God created them in us.  The problem is our flesh doesn’t care how they are met, just that they are met.   When looking for release or comfort, it isn’t too picky about how we get it.  It’s not concerned with the fruit of the moment, let alone the fruit of eternity.   All it wants is to have its desires met.    That’s why we must spend time in the Scripture, time in the teachings of the Church fathers, and time in prayer with Jesus that we can learn how to direct those desires and passions to their true fulfillment.  

St. Paul calls it the glorious freedom of the children of God.  Some would say that we aren’t free.   That all this work we have to do to make sure our fleshly garden is clean of debris is even more bondage.   Yet others would claim that you don’t even have to watch what you do or guard your tongue or gird your loins, but simply declare your faith and believe.  The freedom we have is one that requires effort.   It’s a freedom that allows us to choose holiness over sinfulness.  Righteousness over immorality.  If you’ve ever watched someone, or you yourself have suffered from addiction, you know what I am speaking about.  It’s a horrible sensation to not have a choice.   To have to do the thing your flesh desires even when your mind and soul scream for something better, something pure.   That is the freedom that Christ offers us as the Word of God.

It’s a freedom that starts first and foremost with a choice.  Choosing to work toward your salvation.  Not because you can earn it.  Salvation comes by grace and grace alone.   The thing is we have to apply it.   Jesus on the cross gave us everything we need to get to Heaven.   He gave us a church born out of his side in blood and water.   He gave us, the beloved disciples, a spiritual Mother, the ultimate example of what it means to be a disciple, Mary most holy.   He gave us his death that we might have life everlasting.   Just like a bucket of paint given to you for free must needs be dipped into with a brush, so too must the Sacraments be received with a prepared heart and willing mind.  True freedom is not without effort, it's realizing that you have a choice to participate with God who will never over power your free will, but will continually ask you as He asked Mary, “Do you want to be a part of my plan?”

It’s time for us to get serious about our gardening.   If we aren’t making a daily examination a part of our lives?   It’s a good place to start.    Frequent confession?  Yes, please.   Daily communion for those who can, a holy hour at lunch, or even just some serious prayer time to help grow towards God.   Spend some time in scripture.   Pray the Liturgy of the Hours.   It’s a powerful and beautiful way to pray the Psalms.   St. Ambrose called the Psalms a gymnasium of the soul, as it includes all the emotions of the human experience.  The ups and the downs, the sadness and the joy, the fear and the confidence.   Find a way to make the Word a part of your daily life, and then safeguard it with all joy.

St. Francis, when he would find a scrap of parchment strewn about containing some snippet of scripture, would take that paper and put it in a safe and holy place.   Even the smallest hand written scrap of paper was sacred to him if it contained the Word of God.   How much we could learn from this little gesture, we who often throw our reprinted bible verses in the recycling, and leave our bibles on the shelf collecting dust.   It is time to remove all things that prevent us from becoming what Christ has called us to be.   That means making time for Him, daily.  Not just time, but making sure that all of our time... No matter what it is we are doing, or where we are, a prayer to him.  Offering up our lives as a pleasing and sacred aroma, by offering a contrite heart to the Lord and allowing Him to tend our garden through the Church he established to do so.