[The was originally preached at Sunday mass, 7/13/2014. The readings for that day may be found here: USCCB.]
As the rain falls down it does not return to the heavens until it has accomplished its task. So it is with God's word which he sends down to earth constantly. In our mass this day we receive God's word twice. The first is through Scripture, which teaches us about the history of God's saving work and reveals to us who we are. The second is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. When we receive Him, not just in word but fully, He dwells in us and we in Him.
But consider for a moment how rain falls upon the earth. When it rains it falls on every sort of terrain: fertile soil, dry and cracked earth, grasslands, and forests. While fertile soil receives rain and produces fruit, the other sorts of terrain will produce little more than what they already have. Fertile soil needs to be prepared to receive rain and produce fruit. As you receive God's word this day, how have you prepared yourself to receive it? What will you do once you receive it?
Perhaps this story will aid you in meditating upon these questions:
There were once three neighbors who each had a plot of land behind their houses. The land was set up to be a garden. Because each had many concerns they left their gardens for another time. As time went on wild grass and weeds covered the whole area. One day, each neighbor was inspired to dedicate time to making their garden look as each one desired. After many long hours of toil the land was cleared and prepared. They took many types of seed, planted them, and they quickly grew. But then came trouble:
The first man became distracted by other concerns again. When he saw some of the weeds growing and how they had flowers he assumed that this was what he planted and let them grow. While the seeds he planted indeed grew the weeds and grass also grew up and consumed the whole garden once more.
The second man was more attentive. He made sure to pull weeds and care for the land. He took care of what he had planted diligently. One day, however, he had to leave on urgent business and left the garden unattended for a week. When he returned, his hard work had prevented everything from being lost but his garden was a mess and he lost much of his progress. When he asked his family, “Why did you not care for my garden?” they replied, “You never asked us to help you.”
The third man was as attentive as the second one. He cared for the land with great fervor. When a crisis arose that distracted him he told his family, “I am troubled by what has happened but I also fear that while I am away my garden will be destroyed and overrun. Will you help me care for it?” His family all helped him. When the crisis passed and he was once again able to focus on his garden he found that the many plants he had cultivated had now matured. His family rejoiced with him as the garden produced vegetables, spices, and flowers. He shared his produce with his family and even his neighbors and all praised him for his work.
Are you confused at all, brothers and sisters, as to the meaning of this parable? The garden is our soul and the seeds planted in them is the Word, Jesus Christ, and all he taught. God has also planted in us many kinds of virtues and talents which require diligence and effort. God does not give us anything fully mature, but only as a little seed.
The weeds are the many sinful inclinations each of us have. Some of them are small and can be easily uprooted. Others need to be held with both hands and ripped out. Some grow because we are inattentive. Others grow because they appear good and attractive. Whether big or small, if we are inattentive to our sins and our bad habits, they can overwhelm the good we have and they can set us back.
And how often, brothers and sisters, does work, illness, family issues, and stress take us away from our garden? The second man did not ask for help and when life turned him away from his soul he found that he had sunk back into his old habits. The one who sought help, who asked his loved ones to keep him honest and attentive when he couldn't be, returned to find his soul at peace and in it more mature fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Let us not fool ourselves, however, and say that every good thing we have is the work of our hands. God has given us the seeds and he sends forth the rain, His grace, to aid us in our life. But God has also given us the capacity to work alongside Him, to cultivate and personally own the good He has given us.
He teaches us through Scripture, but we must own Scripture for ourselves too. He has given us the saints to inspire us, but we too are called to be saints through a life of faithful endurance. He has given us the Church to guide and protect us when we falter, but we must also choose to walk with her. And God has given us His only Son and, when we receive Him, do we mean what we say when we say “Amen”?