Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 17, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 11
June 17, 2018
Parable of Spiritual Growth

            In many ways, nature reflects the spiritual life; hence, Jesus often uses nature in his parables to talk about our relationship with God. Let’s dive deeper into the parable to understand how we are to live as disciples of the living God.
            First, let’s talk about the seed. Both parables talk about growth, but growth has to start somewhere. Our start is when God reaches out to us. A lot of times we start by talking about our relationship with God, but we’re not the ones who initiated it! It was Him Who reached out to us, both in history and in our personal lives. In fact, that’s one major difference between Christianity and other religions – other religions are man’s search for God, while Christianity is God’s search for man! The human race was lost, unable to discover Who God is, so God took on flesh so we could hear and see Him, and died on a Cross to reveal the loving Heart of the Father.
            But God doesn’t just initiate a relationship in history. He also does so in our personal lives. St. Thomas Aquinas said that there are three ways God reaches out to us – truth, beauty, and goodness (also called the three transcendentals). He gets our attention and speaks to our souls in one of these three ways.
            For some people, it’s through truth. In the 1930s in Germany, a young Jewish philosophy professor named Edith Stein found some time during the summer to read a book that had been recommended to her – the autobiography of a great saint, St. Theresa of Avila. When she had finished reading the powerful life of the sixteenth-century mystic, she put the book down and declared, “This is the truth!” It was truth that led her to embrace the Catholic faith, become a nun, and eventually die a martyr in the concentration camps – and she is now known as St. Edith Stein. Truth was the avenue through which she encountered God.
            For others, it is beauty. George Harne, president of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic College in New Hampshire, was not Catholic when he and his wife were invited to attend a Eucharistic procession at a local church. He was struck by the beauty of it – the smell of the incense, the chanting of hymns, the vestments and the monstrance. Without really thinking about it, he realized that Jesus Christ must be truly present in the Eucharist – and he and his wife are now fervent Catholics. He was converted by beauty, not by any logical arguments.
            Finally, some people encounter God through goodness. The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge – a self-described cynic and skeptic – was given the assignment of producing a documentary on Mother Teresa. Reluctantly – and perhaps a bit curious – he accepted, and struck up an unlikely friendship with the future saint. Twenty years after they first met, Malcolm became a Catholic because of the influence of Mother Teresa – he saw goodness and holiness reflected in her life, and realized that God must be real if she could kiss lepers and care for maggot-infested dying people. It was goodness that brought him to God.
            So, I encourage you to consider – how has God been trying to get your attention and plant the seed of His love within you? Once our relationship with the Lord is established – the seed is planted, so to speak – then it must grow.
            In nature, plants either grow or they die. If something stops growing, you know it’s just a matter of time until it dies and rots. The same is true in the spiritual life – if we are not growing closer to the Lord, then we are losing our friendship with Him.
            So how does a plant grow? A farmer waters it, fertilizes it, prunes it. In this case, the farmer is Christ through His Church. The Church waters our soul through prayer and through the Church’s teachings; fertilizes our soul through the Eucharist; prunes our soul through Confession. All of the conditions for healthy spiritual growth are already here – but are you taking advantage of them? Unlike plants, we human beings can make the choice of whether or not to grow.
            Sometimes we neglect the Sacrament of Confession, and wonder why we have no peace; we skip Mass and feel our relationship with the Lord weakening. We feel like we’re stuck in a rut, but that’s because we don’t develop a solid prayer life or read the Lives of the Saints or the Catechism. The farmer – Christ and His Church – want very much for your soul to grow and develop and become holy. But we must take advantage of the opportunities that our Church provides us with!
            And ultimately, why should we even be concerned about spiritual growth? Because our joy, our peace, our love, our virtue is directly proportional to our intimate friendship with the Lord. If we are close to the Lord, we find ourselves filled with peace and joy and hope and love. If we are far from Him, we find ourselves lacking these things. God wants us to fill us with Himself – but it’s up to us to open ourselves to Him!
Consider this analogy: imagine a shot glass and a bucket, both filled up to the top with water. Which one is more full? Well, actually they are both completely full. But which one holds more water? The bucket, obviously. God wants to fill you with His very divine life, but your vessel is too small to hold much of Him! Increase the size of your bucket by increasing your spiritual life, and you will be filled with more of Him!
So, two takeaways from this homily; two things to ponder, if you will. First: how does God reach out to you, personally? Is it through truth, beauty, or goodness? Consider which one resonates more with you, and be aware of how God might be initiating a friendship through it. Second: are you growing closer to the Lord in your spiritual life? Are you closer with the Lord, with deeper faith and trust and love than you were one year ago? Do you have greater virtue, a deeper prayer life? More love and patience with others? If not, and you are not growing in your spiritual life, how can you begin to do so?
I leave you with these questions to ponder. Abundant life in God awaits for those who are willing to grow!