Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sow What?

I think our growth in faith and holiness is largely a result of using our existing knowledge and talents, coupled with inspiration from God. Just using our own talents and efforts won’t get us much progress without God’s help --- there are many very intelligent people who, we can see, “just don’t get it”. Similarly, there seem to be many people who we perceive as being blessed by God, yet they don’t seem particularly holy either --- they’re not working at it, and God can’t or won’t do it alone; He won’t force anyone into heaven. Now certainly there were some saints who, like Saul, God struck down to open their eyes, but there were many more who grew in holiness by learning of God and His ways and being open to His will, so that when inspiration came, as with Augustine, they were able to accept it as being from Him, and their eyes were opened.

Last night I read how John Henry Newman, in his book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, looked back at his life and his gradual conversion to Catholicism. He saw himself “slowly advancing and led on by God’s hand blindly, not knowing whither He was taking me”. But looking back he saw how stubborn he was in analyzing his beloved Anglican faith, and while growing slowing more Catholic in his reasoning: “I determined to be guided not by my imagination, but by my reason. And this I said over and over again in the years which followed, both in conversation and in private letters. Had it not been for this severe resolve, I should have been a Catholic sooner than I was.” John Henry admitted that he had a good education, talent and a resolve to grow in holiness, but he was not as open as he could have been to the inspiration of God, and this he later regretted.

And so it was perhaps with these thoughts in mind that I glanced at the readings before mass this morning, and suddenly I found new insight in old words, and I recognized it as such. Looking at the end of the Parable of the Sower reading, I became aware of the mathematics (one of my talents) in the parable, and new insights flashed in my mind. Old knowledge, even recently acquired knowledge like that of Newman’s faith walk, coupled with the new insight I gained this morning, and I saw a reinforcement on how to live my life in a better way. I see things such as this as growths in my holiness walk and a good thing. A major advance or a small one, or maybe just a brake to prevent me from falling back, I don’t know, but I felt it to be a good thing.

The verse I focused on this morning was Jesus’ explanation of the parable:
Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. (Mt 13:18-23)

What struck me were the four results from the sower’s effort: on the path, on rocky ground, in thorns, and in good soil. Only one of the four seemed good. And I realized how much we tend to focus on the three bad results, and bad results seem such a big thing in our and others’ efforts. Look at all the focus on Fr. Corapi and his efforts. We worry about failings, and we focus on the need to see results, now--- or we judge efforts as a failure. We see; we judge. Even though Jesus explained the parable clearly, we forget His explanation or do not fully understand it, for we do not hear it with faith, and we do not apply it with faith.

The parable says that one seed will yield a hundred-fold harvest. The parable should be seen not as that only one seed in four is successful, it should be seen that the four seeds will yield one hundred, eventually, if you have faith. The parable tells us that we must sow, and continue to sow, and have faith in the harvest, and not focus on failures or unseen success. It is He who will create the fertile soil in some, and have it waiting there for our seeds. It is He who will bring the rains to make the seed sprout. It is He who will tend and nourish the fruits, so the bountiful harvest will be spread. It is He, not us.

But we so often look at our sowing (and that of others) and want to judge the immediate success, or failure. Even the parable tells us that we can’t do that, for some of the immediate results are deceitful, for we see that three of the four seeds actually do sprout. We can see immediate results in three of the four cases, and we might judge our efforts as successful. But eternal success cannot be judged by man, and we would be fools in our quick judgments.

And we are so quick to judge.

We are sad when our spouse doesn’t appreciate a little kindness we did for him; we are sad that our child didn’t heed our warnings and perhaps soiled his clothes; we are sad that our friends are divorcing. Seeds we have sown --- wasted, we think. And it gives us deep sadness. And we are discouraged: “Is there any good soil?” we seem to wonder.

I think we overestimate our value as sowers. We sow seed and desire, no expect, that we will see sprouting of new life, and we will nourish and water and we will see a great harvest for our good efforts. That is our desire when we do good, but it is a desire which will rarely be fulfilled because we do not do all those things. He does. We just sow seeds. A better expectation of our results might be if we imagined if we perceived we are sowing rocks. By themselves, nothing much will happen to the rocks we scatter. By themselves, they cannot create life no matter how much we wish it. We set ourselves up for disappointment with our optimism of results.

Only one in four seeds yields a great harvest, the parable notes, and even then the results are not immediate. Only one in four, and those are only odds, not a certainty. So like a coin that could be flipped to sometimes yield “heads” ten flips in a row --- despite the 50/50 odds of each flip --- so our sowing efforts could yield dozens of failures in a row before they result in a single success. It is not something in our control. We only spread the seed, we do not make it grow. That is His work. And as for ourselves, our growth, we need to prepare our soil, to make it good soil, by doing what we can to grow in knowledge of God, His ways, and using the talents He gave us, so that when a seed comes our way it will sprout, and perhaps yield a great harvest in us, and we might grow in holiness.

Even Jesus, God, spread twelve seeds and one of them yielded no fruit, but look at the billion Catholics in the world today. From the twelve seeds Jesus could have focused on Judas --- “I failed”. Or He could have looked at the eleven and said: “I succeeded”. But could He, as a man, have seen the billion? As a man, like us, I think not. But He did have faith. And with faith He sowed, and trusted the growth and the harvest to God the Father. That is the new insight I see in the Parable of the Sower: I must stop worrying about and focusing on my self-perceived failures. I must stop worrying about any failures I see in the work of others. Just live my life, trying to grow in wisdom, effectively using the talents I was blessed with, and being open to God’s inspiration. And then, while continuing to do my best, trust the watering of my efforts and the harvest to Him.

I like the optimistic note in which the Sower Parable ends: a hundred-fold yield. Don’t focus on the three failures, focus on the total yield of our efforts --- and His efforts. And in all these things: Do Not Be Anxious.

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