Preparing the Soil…Spiritual Receptivity

by Angela Lambert

July 16th, 2017; 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:

 “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. “

Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Meditation Reflection:

St. Paul tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  So why does the Word of Christ set some people’s hearts on fire while others pass it by with apathy or disdain?  Does Jesus play favorites with who He invites to understand His message and who He lets go?  How does He choose to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of heaven is granted”?

Jesus’ answers in a surprising way – He is the sower who offers Himself to everyone; whether it takes root depends on us. We are responsible for the extent to which we receive His Word.

It reminds me of my kids’ proverbial complaint that I’m not fair.  Each one is certain that they have more chores than the others, and that they receive less than the others.  I remind them that it only appears that way because they see their work but don’t see the work their siblings do.  Either, because sometimes it occurs when they are not around, or because they just refuse to acknowledge it.  Similarly, the appearance of others receiving more stems from ingratitude and envy rather than a material difference.  It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually as God’s children.  God treats us all fairly, it’s our perception that tends to need adjustment.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the affect that attitude has on our faith.  For God’s Word to be sown in our hearts and transformative, we must be receptive.  Receptivity requires an attitude of gratitude, humility, and love. Resistance undermines the work God can do within us, and the fruit it can bear in our lives.

The seed that falls on the path has no effect because it’s met with apathy or hostility.  Consider the things that deaden our hearts or fuel them with anger towards God.  Certainly secular culture, infused with hedonistic consumerism, dulls our desire for God by distracting us with instant gratifications and claiming that God is irrelevant to society.  When things go wrong or we suffer however, our faith in God’s existence suddenly appears but only to blame Him.  Anger and apathy make relationship impossible with anyone.  Relationships require investment, interest, and openness.  Much like the futility of reasoning with someone who’s already discounted you, if we don’t care about God except to shake our fist at Him, nothing He says or does will be convincing.

The rocky soil illustrates faith rooted only in sentimentality and emotions.  It resembles the infatuation stage of a relationship.  During that time, the couple is enamored with one another and experience strong feelings that say their love will last forever.  Those feelings however, do not, as C.S. Lewis puts it, deliver on their promises.  Feelings, by nature, come and go.  Lasting love is a decision not an emotion.  The infatuation stage in our relationship with God may include powerful feelings of love for the Lord and the desire for holiness.   When a person encounters suffering or confusion, that love will either wither from shallowness, or go deeper to root down further in the soil.   Fair weather friends make for rocky relationships, and the same goes for our relationship with God.

For those who make it past luke-warmness, and deeper than mere emotions, thorns still threaten to choke out faith with worldly anxiety and desires.  To live in the world but not of the world, is no easy task.  Worry about our comfort, security, and what others think about us can quickly turn our gaze from God back to earth, crowding out room for His grace. We sit down to pray but our phone buzzes with a notification.  Worry or desire pulls us away from Scripture and back into our technology.  Social events fill up the calendar and we think we are too busy to go to Church.  We might tell ourselves that we just have to prioritize these worldly things for a time, and then we will be able to relax and give God our whole selves.  It tends to only be a trick we play on ourselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick – the donkey keeps walking but the carrot keeps moving at the same time he does.

A person who has found Christ, realizes that in Him they have everything.  A humble heart, open to the Lord, fills with gratitude as it receives grace upon grace.  Apathy turns to zeal, sentimentality to conviction, and the constant grasping after the next thing is replaced with spiritual fulfillment and peace.  In this rich soil, the soul begins to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

When we find ourselves saying, “Why doesn’t God speak to me?  I pray but don’t hear anything?,” or “I just don’t feel like praying or going to Church, I don’t get anything out of it,” or “My life always feels so out of control no matter what I do, why can’t I ever just find peace?”; we can take a step back and evaluate the soil in our souls.  The Word of God has come to us in the flesh and remains with us, what can we do to better receive Him?  Begin with asking for His help.

Consider:

  • When do you struggle with feelings of not caring about God or your faith?  What or who fuels that hardening of heart, and what/who softens your heart toward God?
  • Despite my love for flowers and home-grown vegetables, I’m a terrible gardener because I’m not attentive enough about keeping things watered or clearing away weeds.  How can you be more attentive to the garden of your soul?  What does it need to be watered, and what weeds need clearing away?
  • Pray about how deeply your faith is rooted.  Is it guided primarily by emotions or by principle?  Consider how your relationship with God is similar to, or different than, your relationships with others.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the thorns in your spiritual life.  Prayerfully consider what competes with your prayer time, Mass, your generosity with the Lord, or your openness to His teachings.  Ask for Christ to remove the thorns and replace them with greater love.
  • Mary exemplifies perfect receptivity to the Lord, rooted in deep love and enduring the hardest tribulations.  Ask for her intercession to soften your heart and to “open your eyes to see and your ears to hear” as she did.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

Work on preparing the soil for Christ:

  • If you need more gratitude: each night list 10 things you are thankful for from the day.
  • If you need more humility and detachment: Pray the Humility Prayer each day.
  • If you need more openness:  Read Scripture for 5 minutes each day.  It could be the daily readings (which can be found at http://usccb.org), a devotional, or simply opening up one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Sharing the Burden, Lightening the Load

by Angela Lambert

July 9th, 2017; 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Meditation Reflection:
If many hands make light work, how much lighter if one of those hands belongs to Jesus!

Being yoked together assumes a commitment and a partnership. Both can’t pull in opposite directions or at different times. They must work together. Being yoked to Christ means we must surrender our self-determined ways for a Christ-determined way. Jesus assures us, however, that He won’t be a tyrant or arrogant about it. Instead, He is meek and humble of heart. We can trust Him. We can be vulnerable with Christ and lean on Him in our weakness without being afraid of being betrayed or taken advantage of.

Christ strengthens us to act with greater courage and perseverance than we can on our own. He counsels us, enabling us to make wise decisions. He opens our understanding, especially through meditating on His divine words in Scripture. He comforts us in our sorrow, drawing near when His loving presence is the only balm for grief. He rejoices in our happiness, elevating our joy.

We all try to carry our burdens alone too often, and for too long.  Today is the day to lay them down.  So, today’s reflection is short, and the Consider singular – Lay your burdens before the Lord. Name each one, surrender it to Him, and let Him carry it with you.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, offer the day to the Lord and ask to be yoked to Him in each thing ahead. At the end of each day, reflect back, give thanks for His help, and ask for grace where you were resistant.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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Finding Yourself…

by Angela Lambert

July 2nd, 2017; 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

Meditation Reflection:

I would think of this passage often when my kids were little.  After finally getting them tucked into bed, just as I would sit down to finally relax, I would hear a little voice call out “Mooooooooom.   I’m thirsty.” Fighting the frustration in my thoughts and body, I would remind myself, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink…”

Following Christ means loving Him above all things, including all people, and most importantly above ourselves.  If He were only a man this directive would be ridiculous and arrogant.  Jesus gives this command because He is God.  St. Augustine famously wrote:

“There can only be two basic loves… the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.”

As much as we may try to avoid this decision, the limits imposed on us by time and space force a choice.  Sometimes it means a clear fork in the road, while at other times it may mean small daily sacrifices.

Discipleship applies to every vocation – priest, religious, married, and single. Priests and religious give a clear witness of total gift of self to God.  Their remarkable vows and their counter-cultural lives attest to their faith in eternal life as they sacrifice worldly goods for heavenly.  Just this week, a friend of mine who’s a nun, came by with three sisters to take some furniture I was giving away.  That same day two workmen were at the house working on taping and mudding the basement that’s being finished.  As they came upstairs to take a break, they saw three nuns in full habit and me carrying a large bookshelf out of the house.  Imagine their surprise!  One offered to help when he saw us struggle to lift it to the truck.  Later one of the sisters asked him to help us tie down the furniture and he generously assisted. I have no doubts that will be a sight they remember forever, and a story they will tell for at least the next week.

Married and single persons blend in to society more as even secular persons marry or remain single.  However, it doesn’t take long for Christians to stand out even in these vocations.  The disciple of Christ remains faithful to marriage vows even when the culture dismisses them.  Catholic families notoriously stand out as they tend to (though are not required to) exceed the usual one girl and one boy trend.  Every mother I know who has more than three kids, has recounted to me comments made to them about the number of children they have.  These comments come from family members as well as complete strangers in places as random as the grocery store.  Openness to life necessitates losing your “life” to receive it back from Christ.  It affects your body, your sleep, your emotions, your free time, your career choices, your travel, your finances, and so on. Once when I was congratulating a couple I know who were pregnant with their sixth child, the father conveyed his struggle that now they would have to get a full size van.  Many of lamented the min-van transition, but the large 12 passenger van step is even harder.  That is sacrifice.  However, any mother or father will tell you, when you hold that baby in your arms you realize it’s completely worth it.

Finally, single persons stand out in their discipleship too.  the Christian who lives chastely and temperately, puts others before themselves, and makes decisions prayerfully, shines a bright light in a culture that glamorizes promiscuity, partying, and self-advancement. They use their freedom to give of their time generously rather than selfishly.  A single woman I know put it this way to me – she said that she was totally free for the Lord to call at any moment.  Whereas others served God through their obligations to their family or religious order, she said, God needs some people who can be available any time anywhere.  I hadn’t thought of that before she shared that insight with me.  Of course she had to go to work and take care of her home, but she recognized that she had tremendously more “free” time and flexibility than the other vocations and intentionally chose to consecrate that time and freedom to God.

Discipleship comes at a cost, but Jesus promises it to be an investment.  Things of this world will always be insecure.  Jobs can be lost, stock markets dive, beauty and health get marred by illness, and so on.  Every investment we make in the Lord however will merit glory in heaven forever.  When I drag my tired body off the couch to give my thirsty daughter a cup of water at night, it remains treasured by God forever along with every sacrifice of love that we make.

We can’t be in two places at once and there will always be only 24 hours in a day.  We have to make choices.  Jesus encourages us to be strong against temptations no matter where, or from whom, they come. He also sent the Holy Spirit to provide the gifts of fortitude and counsel we will need to make those decisions prayerfully and follow through on them courageously.  He also gave us the gift of the Church to guide us and inspire us.

Jesus pointed out that you can tell a tree by it’s fruits.  Even though self-love appears prudent, in our culture it has produced the highest levels of depression, “anger issues”, and suicide in history.  Love of God above all things is only prudent from an eternal perspective, it requires faith. However it has produced thousands upon thousands of saints, the first mark of which is Joy.

Consider:

  • When have you chosen yourself over God?  How did you rationalize it?  How did you feel afterward?
  • When have you chosen God over yourself?  How did God provide for you in that decision and bless you afterward?
  • Reflect on Jesus’ paradoxical words that we find ourselves in losing ourselves.  Pope St. John Paul II expressed the same idea saying that we find self-fulfillment through self-gift.  Others have expressed this phenomenon by saying that when they volunteered somewhere, they received more than they gave.
  • Who has been a witness to you by their Christian discipleship?  What stuck out to you about them?
  • In what ways do you witness to Christ in your life?  What makes it difficult?  What makes it rewarding?
  • How can you practice Works of Mercy in your everyday life and your vocation.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord), and the grace needed to follow Christ.
  • Intentionally practice one Works of Mercy each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.