How Healthy Is My Spiritual Soil?

Homily for July 16, 2017 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23

When I was a child, snow meant sledding and a possible day off from school. Since I have become an adult, however, snow has tended to mean shoveling and potential travel interruptions.  In a similar vein, even though I’ve often heard the saying that “April showers bring May flowers,” it isn’t such a comfort when we’ve been in the middle of what seems to be an endless stretch of cool, wet and grey spring days, as we did during parts of this past spring.

A couple of weeks ago on a drive from Chicago to St. Louis, I saw the abundant fruits of those gloomy days in April and May.  As I drove on I-55 I was almost overwhelmed by…corn.  I felt almost like a Midwestern Moses crossing a Green Sea with walls of stalks already 4-5 feet high to my right and to my left, as far as the eye could see.   The rains from heaven had accomplished their purpose.

Over 2500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah used the image of rains and crops to illustrate the power and purpose of God’s word.  As we heard in our first reading, like the rains that come from the heavens, God’s word would accomplish the life-giving task for which it was created and sent.  Our responsorial psalm picked up on this agrarian theme by reminding us that “The seed that fell on good ground will yield a bountiful harvest.”  In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul assured the church that their sufferings were the seeds of something greater, just as labor pains presage the coming of new life.

When he preached from a boat to the large crowds on the shore, Jesus modeled the farmer in the parable we heard in the gospel, sowing the seed of the word by broadcasting or generously scattering it.  The quality and size of the harvest, however, would determined by the quality of the soil.  It was and is a powerful metaphor for our reception of what God gives us in the Bible, the teachings of the Church and what we may experience in our daily lives.  Healthy soil leads to a healthy harvest, while poor soil results in little or no yield.

This begs the question: “How healthy is my spiritual soil?”  In his parable, Jesus recalls several forms of spiritual blight or poison:  ignorance or indifference, superficiality, and distracting materialism.  To remove them or keep them at bay, there’s no alternative to the regular and occasionally difficult task of working the soil.  We need to know the Scriptures and our Catholic faith; to develop the spiritual and emotional depth required to withstand the heat of trials and dry periods; and to focus on the things that really matter.  When we work our spiritual soil, the rains and snows that life brings may not always be pleasant but they can be the very things that give us life. +