Fighting Relationally – WLR Homilies
Last November, my mom, a cousin of mine, a close friend, and I ran the Shiner Half-marathon. I know I don’t look like a runner…its because I’m not! I’ve never been particularly athletic. But encouraged by others for the sake of my health, I try to work out regularly. I’ve found that having a goal helps me be able to choose to workout. Because I recognize the value of the goal, I’m willing to sacrifice something in the present, to achieve something in the future.
You have had similar experiences yourself, I am sure, in your lives. In work, school, with your family, it’s a mark of maturity to sacrifice something good in the present (or in other words to endure suffering) to permit a greater future good to come about.
Perhaps the most salient human example of this is the work of raising children. Parents know that the work of raising a child from conception to maturity is often demanding. The process has its joys to be sure; however, sorrows, heartbreaks, difficulties, and sacrifices abound in the life of a parent. But rejoicing in the child come to full maturity or seeing virtue flourish in the child after so many difficulties make it worth it. Because you have the goal in mind, you are willing to sacrifice for your children.
This fact holds true for our spiritual life as well. If we recognize the end for which we strive, we will be capable of sacrificing to achieve it. We groan for freedom even as we find ourselves in a valley of tears. This earthly existence remains a prelude – to the full symphony to be revealed in the fulfillment of the ages. Heaven remains the end for which we strive.
Nevertheless, though it is not perfect, eternal life has already begun in us brothers and sisters. Consider: At your baptism, you received this life. If the life of God has died in us through mortal sin, he draws us back to him through the Sacrament of Confession – giving us the grace of repentance! God nourishes the life within us through the Eucharist – the foretaste of heaven, bread of angels, and pledge of future glory.
St. Catherine of Sienna a 14th Century lay Dominican renowned for her holiness, remarked, “All the way to heaven, is heaven, for Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’” Her genius was to recognize that heaven means communion with the Lord.
This is the strange and beautiful paradox of Christianity: We are a people who are already with the Lord, but not yet free of suffering. Yet even as Christ always remained with his Father – even in the darkest moments – so also, we remain with him in our greatest sufferings. Our communion will be perfected on the day of the final judgment. Nevertheless, already we have died and risen with Christ, and the life we live is no longer our own but Christ’s.
As Christians, if heaven is our goal, we must remove any impediments which prevent this life of Christ from flourishing and bearing fruit in us. We want to cooperate to become good soil where the Sower’s seed can bear fruit. What does becoming good soil involve?
To make the soil suitable for planting, first, we must plow it. From the soil’s perspective, this is a somewhat violent act. Thus Christ’s first warning is against the hard indifference borne of pride. We sometimes choose to be hardened soil to refuse the plowing of the sower. Hearing we do not hear and seeing we do not see because we believe in our self-sufficiency. If your heart or mine has become hardened or indifferent to the knowledge and love of God, if we think we are self-sufficient, we need to repent. We must allow God to break into our hardened hearts. May He plow the soil of our hearts and implant within us once again the fit of his own life.
Once we have plowed, we then must remove the stones, fertilize the soil, and water it even as the seeds are planted. This is necessary because the soil supports the seed’s life only through having nutrients within it to give. Christ’s second warning is thus against sloth – which is sorrow at spiritual good, which God wishes to give us. Sloth occurs when we know we should do something about loving God, we know we ought to love, that we ought to want to be virtuous, but we refuse to complete what love demands. We become lax about prayer and virtuous living – refusing to fertilize and water the soil of our soul. Or perhaps we refuse to remove the stones in our lives, preferring to ignore them. These stones are the things that often lead us to sin. When this happens, our hearts become “gross” and “rocky” weighed down by all the million and one other things that appear to us more important than the love of God. Eventually, we lose our love for God entirely because we have been a gross rocky ground where the word cannot grow to maturity.
Once the seed germinates, we still must work against the weeds which spring up around the seedlings if we wish to bear fruit. These weeds and thorns are vices, which, if not removed from the garden of our soul, will choke the life of grace from our souls. Vices of lust, greed, wrath, and gluttony all represent habitually disordered dispositions towards things which of themselves are good. For example, gluttony is a disordered desire for food and drink. Food and drink are necessary to live. But if we love them more than the people around us or the God who created all, they become idols and can choke the life from us.
All of this is hard work, but let us keep the end in mind, and recognize that it is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit in us. As Christ himself bore fruit through his sacrifice, so also as mature Christians, the Spirit bears fruit in and through us. In us, grace will multiply. If we offer our suffering with the Lord (even if we have brought it upon ourselves) with God’s help, we will continue to grow in all the virtues and especially in charity – “to him that has, more will be given, and he will grow rich.” Through us, even more magnificently, our actions can and will bear fruit in others as well. We will become conduits of grace through which others may come into a deeper relationship with God.
God calls us to bear great fruit in as Christ himself did! To the extent that we repent, run to the Lord, and offer him the sacrifice of our lives, the soil of our soul will bear fruit. May we imitate his example and bear much fruit. 30x, 60x, 100x.