What can I do to nurture the Word of God in my heart?
One might think that February is too early to start thinking about gardening, but as I look at the calendar and start counting weeks I realize it is time to start planting some seeds. Although we still face cold here in Virginia for a few more weeks, if I want to get a head start on the growing season I need to start some seeds indoors.
Last year was my first attempt at spring seed starting. I did not know that there was an entire industry dedicated to this part of vegetable gardening! To start seeds effectively, you need good seed starting soil. There is a special soil just to start the seeds; once they sprout, you transplant them to special seedling soil. There are small pots for seedings in various sizes and materials. (I discovered the hard way that some should not be transplanted directly in the ground.) A grow light is necessary to ensure adequate light each day. You may also choose a heating mat to put under the seedlings to keep them cozy at the proper temperature. Once the seeds start growing, careful attention is required to make sure they do not get over or under-watered.
There was something almost nerve-wracking about caring for seedlings. There are a limited number of them, which increases the stress of potential losses. It was dramatically different than the seedlings that appeared in the ground after I sowed seeds across the garden bed. One assumed that not every seed would germinate. Some plants would grow well; others would not. But in the natural process of sowing the seeds, watering the ground, and watching the plants grow as God created them to do, one did not experience the sense of stress at the potential loss of a seedling that I experienced starting seeds indoors.
The Gospel passage today at Mass was the parable of the sower from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And when a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.1
Before Advent, I wrote a reflection on preparing the soil. It referenced the parable of the sower and the seed from the Gospel of St. Mark.2 Hopefully you have been busy this winter preparing the soil of your heart!
We are currently in the traditional season of pre-Lent, with Ash Wednesday coming in several weeks. Lent is a penitential season like Advent, to prepare us for a great feast day. Once Lent begins, it is “game on”—traditionally, forty days of fasting and abstinence from meat before Easter. But the Church traditionally gave us the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima—several weeks to “get your mind right” before game time.3 Are there some seeds we can start in our hearts now to give them a chance to grow roots before Lent arrives?
Jesus tells us explicitly that the seed in the parable is the Word of God. We do not need to be passive ground, however, waiting for seed to fall on us from the sky! There are so many resources available to “sow seeds” into the soil of our hearts. We still have easy access to the Bible, whether in print or online. There are many excellent spiritual books written by saints and orthodox believers also available in print or free online. We can find good preaching in our churches or online. There is really no excuse for not sowing the seed of the Word of God in our heart every day.
Of course, sowing seed is only the beginning of the process. At the end of the parable, Jesus tells the disciples, “And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Yes, patience is required to bring forth fruit—patience as we put forth effort to tend the garden of our soul. We can nurture our seeds with the warmth of friends of faith. We can water our seeds with daily mental prayer. We can pull up weeds with a good examination of conscience and confession. We can spend time before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Eucharistic Adoration, letting the Divine Light shine on us like a grow light. Suffering borne with faith, hope and patience is also meritorious, uniting our sufferings to Jesus and fertilizing our seeds.
St. Gregory the Great, on this same liturgical Sunday in the year 591, pointed this out in his preaching on this Gospel passage:
“Thus, according to the word of the Lord, the good earth has yielded its fruit by patience, and plowed by the pledge of the effort, it has reached the harvest of the reward.”4
Our goal is to reach the reward—the final harvest is eternal life in Heaven. As our Lord explains in this parable, this is not a passive process on our part. Effort is required. As we approach the forty days of Lent to prepare ourselves for the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ at Easter, we should ask ourselves:
What can I do to sow and nurture the seed of the Word of God in my heart today?
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I know I am mixing my gardening and football metaphors, but today is Super Bowl Sunday.
St. Gregory the Great, Homily 15 on the Gospels, Pronounced before the people in the basilica of St. Paul, apostle, Sunday of Sexagesime, February 18, 591.