15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful …so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth. [Isaiah 55: 10-11]
Why is it that the Word of God produces fruit in some people to whom it is addressed, while it elicits rejection or indifference in others? This is not a trivial question, since what is at stake here is nothing less than Eternal Life. To attain Eternal Life, as Jesus warns at the end of His Sermon on the Mount, we must not only hear his words, but we must put them into action. Then and only then will we be like the ” wise man who built his house on rock.” And again Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” God addresses His word, his commandments, to us to bring us to salvation. Therefore, we must readily receive His Word and put it into action if it is to bear fruit in us, the fruit of Eternal Life.
Why then do some people accept that Word and the salvation it brings, while others turn a deaf ear to that Word and the salvation it can bring them? Our Lord answers this question in the parable of the Sower, which is recounted for us in today’s Gospel. This magnificently crafted parable teaches us, first of all, that if there is a failure to produce fruit, it is never the fault of the seed, the Word, itself, which is all-powerful, as we see in Isaiah 55:
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful,giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats,so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it [55:10-11]
In short, God’s Word is always good seed that can always bear fruit, but only if it is sown in good soil where the necessary conditions for it’s nourishment and growth are present.
Most importantly, then, we learn fron Scripture that a failure to receive the Word of God and bear the fruit of salvation is never, ever God’s fault. His seed is always good, and moreover the soil that God Himself creates, every human soul, is always capable of receiving His Saving Word if it is open to it. Indeed, these two facts are so true that we see His Word, the seed that produces the fruit of Eternal Life, even bearing fruit in very unfavorable conditions, so long as these conditions are not willed by the soil, the soul that receives God’s Word.
Like the farmer’s soil, human beings do not exist in an ideal world, where all the external conditions are perfect for God’s Word to take root in us. We may live in rocky terrain, and there may well be thorns that can grow up around us and choke the Word that we receive from God. And worse, human enemies can try to destroy or carry off that Word from our hearts, but they succeed only if we allow them to do so.
Our faith teaches us that the human soul is created by God precisely to receive God’s Word and thusly to receive God. Every human soul has great depth and potentiality for holiness, and that great potentiality is realized by three divine gifts: God’s love, God’s truth and God’s grace. We can even say that the soul has spiritual instincts for these gifts even on the natural level, for every human soul is naturally inclined to love, to know the truth and to receive gifts from God.
However, we also know by faith that these natural instincts, which are the natural foundation for receiving God’s supernatural gifts of Charity, Divine Revelation and Grace, have unfortunately been wounded by Original Sin and by our own personal sin. And yet, because of the resiliency of God’s creative act, these batural instincts or inclinations are never totally destroyed – that is precisely why even the worst of sinners has hope and can be saved by the grace of God.
The soil of man’s soul is from the beginning wounded by Original Sin, but not made totally infertile. In our personal life, it is what happens to that soil between the innocence of early childhood, free from personal sin, and the time when that person first hears the Word of God that really determines the spiritual fertility of the soul, its spiritual PH or whatever, and it’s openness to receive the Word of God and act upon it.
But how is the soil with its natural instincts to be cultivated so that the soul expands and deepens to receive the Word of God and bear fruit? Or, contrarily, how do these natural inclinations become contracted where the soul can be cut off from that saving word and God’s grace?
Regarding the first gift, the natural inclination to love is contracted by egoism and self-centeredness caused by sin, and that process can start very early in life. For the self-centered soul, the world exists for him or her, people exist for him, and so on, and that makes receptivity to God’s love diminish.
Secondly, the natural inclination to know the truth can be contracted and even substantially closed down by personal sin. The soul doesn’t want to hear God’s word because that Word judges its actions to be evil (John 3). So one perhaps stops going to Church in order to avoid the Word troubling one’s conscience.
And regarding the git of God’s grace, a person may become so engrossed in the world and its attractions – and this can happen very early in life – that the soul has no time for prayer or worship, or again,interest in God’s Word. Spiritual things seem so less attractive than material things, things that stimulate the senses and entertain. Either way, one’s spiritual instincts become dulled and this can easily lead to a loss of interest in God’s truth and openness to God’s grace in the face of troubles, persecution, opposition or simply pure worldliness.
In sum, because we are all sinners, our spiritual instincts, like are bodily appetites and instincts are disordered by sin, Original Sin and even more by personal sin, and thus we all need the healing grace of Jesus Christ to restore those natural instincts of the soul to seek love and truth, and thus be open to the gifts of Charity and Faith. Our souls need to be healed, made more fertile and receptive to the seed of God’s word, God’s truth, God’s love.
To repeat, the greatness of the human soul, as created by God, is seen in the fact that it can always be healed by God’s grace, along with an effort on our part. The soul has a great resiliency, a capacity to be healed and restored if only it is touched by God’s grace, and we begin to work at cultivating its inborn spiritual instincts. The dead soul is like soil that has been left uncultivated, but still has some potential to be brought back to fertility by the farmer, who applies fertilizers and works hard to cultivate it back to health. The fertilizer in the case of the damaged soul is God’s actual graces of healing, and the effort to cultivate is our effort to cooperate with that grace and come back to spiritual health.
This restoration to spiritual health usually begins with prayer and adoration and then moves to confession. Adoration begins to restore the souls capacity for truth and love. I recognize God as my Creator and redeemer and I no longer see myself as the center of the universe. God’s Word teaches me the deepest truth about myself, that I am but a creature and owe my very existence to God. That truth in turn enables me to love God, and perhaps begin to truly love others who are equally his creatures.
Confession is also critical for this renewal of the soul and its instincts. I confess the truth about myself, that I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy, and I again recognize the truth of God’s Word that judges me a sinner, but also heals me. Confession also nourishes the instinct to love God and neighbor because I see that I am the object of God’s generous mercy. In this state of grace, I may begin to hunger for God’s word, actually desire and look forward to giving God my worship and adoration every Sunday.
Regular Mass attendance and confession will stimulate those spiritual instincts and help me develop a prayer life. And a regular prayer life will keep me from being too attached to the world and its sensual allurements. It will inevitably lead to self-discipline, the ability to subordinate my attachments to the world and worldly needs to my spiritual life, the needs of my soul.
This is all simple, basic Christian spirituality, not some hard to understand spiritual program. Its basic Christianity 101. But if it is simple to understand, it is not so simple to carry out. The farmer cannot simply spread the fertilizer and stand back and watch the soil produce. It takes a lot more hard work, basic farm work but hard work for all that.
So also with us, because spiritual things are no longer a matter of pure instinct, due to sin, we have to work hard at developing and maturing our spiritual instincts. But this hard work will pay off for sure if we but persevere and cooperate with God’s manifold graces. No sinner is so great that God’s grace cannot restore his soul dead in sin. God can resurrect that soul, bring it alive once again and nourish it. But this nourishment also requires our willingness to work and cooperate with our Sacing God.
We have so many witnesses among the saints to this truth that even the terrible sinner has the potential of soul, with God’s grace and a lot of work, to become a great Saint, like Mary Magdalene and even the great St. Augustine! They give us hope, that as bad as we may be or may have been, and as weak as we are even now, if we turn to God’s mercy and grace, and begin to work with God, we too can produce 30, 60 and 100 fold. May it be so for each of us. May it truly be so.