Seeds and Faith

March 1, 2017

ashes

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of the most basic and foundational truth about mankind: We are created by God. God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed his own life into man. Originally, God ordained that man came from dust but was not meant to return to it. It was the curse of sin that brought about death. As we have heard in numerous places of scripture the choice with which man has ever been presented with is life or death, fire or water–God or nothing. Eve’s “no” as the mother of mankind was a “no” to everything that friendship with God initially meant, particularly, a deathless life. It was a no to the order of right reason, relationship and perfect being. That “no” is the reason why humanity is imperfect, lives imperfectly and eventually dies. Had God decided not to intervene and leave us in this state, life would indeed be meaningless and without hope. The evidence for the God’s great and unending love is, despite Eve’s no and the resulting rejection of God’s order, God did not abandon us.

Lent is derived from a word meaning “Spring.” In the plant world, now is prime time for planting and cultivating seeds. Winter is receding, the days are beginning to lengthen but the ground is still moist with rain. It is a time when the earth is fertile bringing forth new life. And those creatures who have already seen a few winters are waking up from their winter slumber. Trees bud and critters begin to emerge from their dens. God’s wisdom expressed through the Church guided by the Holy Spirit has picked this time for this preparatory season. What do budding trees have to do with God’s people?

spring

You might recall that understanding the courses of nature is crucial for understanding the Gospel of Christ. Sacred Scripture is filled with references to trees, flowers and plants. Man began in a garden paradise. At man’s fall was the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The olive branch was Noah’s sign to disembark. Moses spoke to God in the burning bush. Absalom was caught in a tree, hung “between heaven and earth.” The majority of Jesus’ parables employ the image of some sort of plant to describe the kingdom of God: The mustard seed is used to speak of faith, the flowers the splendor of which outdoes the best of King Solomon to speak of trust in God’s providence, the cursing of the fig tree to teach about the dangers of nominalism. St. Francis rightly speaks of all creation as another kind of book which, if read carefully, also reveals God’s kingdom. Most important of all is the “fruit of the earth” and “fruit of the vine” which through the “work of human hands” becomes the bread and the wine we offer in the Eucharist. And all that is enumerated here is by no means exhaustive of the praises that the plant kingdom sings of God.

The crucial lesson that plants teach us in particular for the Lenten season is that growth takes time, nurturing and protection. By the time Ash Wednesday comes around the Church faithful is called to decide on something to offer up, a sacrifice in praise of God. As simple as it sounds, it is difficult to offer such a sacrifice with pure intentions. There is always the temptation to offer up something easy (like chocolate), or to offer something that ends up helping achieve some other earthly goal (giving up certain foods to lose weight). However, whatever seeds we sow and how much we invest determine the kind of fruits and the abundance we end up reaping. The goal of Lent is to reap salvation for our souls come the harvest of Easter.

Our sacrifices should lead to a slow and steady growth in the spiritual life. Plants, again, are best at representing the process. Jesus himself reminds us that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). In the most apparent sense, Jesus is preparing His disciples for the sacrifice at the end of his week in Jerusalem. However, this is also a spiritual teaching about sacrifice in general. That which we give up in sacrifice becomes the space for change, growth and transformation. A seed barely needs as much space as a spot in an icecube tray. The embryonic plant inside the shell eventually has to break free of its casing and cease to be a seed. As the sprout grows, it eventually has to be planted in a space big enough for its roots. This is the same with the soul if it is to grow in the likeness of God. Anyone who wishes to change must cease to be what they currently are. Then in order to grow in that likeness, the soul needs time free of distractions and worries. It is not a coincidence that the Sunday before Lent begins, the Gospel is about Jesus teaching us not to worry.

So if you’re still having trouble figuring out what to offer up, what to sacrifice for Lent, perhaps the proper motivation will be helpful: make room for God. Or to be more specific, make room for the changes God wishes to make in you. If you give up a food, be it because you realize it is an unhealthy attachment that should be reserved for God and not because it’ll help you fit into your favorite clothing. If you give up social media (but somehow still managed to read this) don’t fill the void with something equally meaningless like binge watching that show everyone is talking about. Instead, use it as an opportunity for spiritual reading, learning a new devotion or reading scripture. It will take time for some of the transformations to take place, but no effort is ever wasted on God. Diligence will be rewarded. Come Easter time you will find that the little seeds of sacrifice planted now will bring forth fruits a hundred, sixty and thirty-fold in the form of graces some visible and some invisible. I pray you have a blessed Lent and an abundant Easter harvest!

harvest-01.jpg

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