July 16 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I think I might have to accept the fact that I don’t have a green thumb. In seminary, I kept succulents in my room because they are supposed to be easy plants to care for. For a while, things were going well. But then I decided to water one of the plants, and it died from having too much water. So I decided I would wait until it was clear that the other succulent needed water, but it ended up so dry that it looked almost dead. But when I watered it, the plant ended up dying from too much water. I don’t have any more succulents, but there are some plants in my office here at the parish. I was told I don’t have to water them, so they should be safe.

In our culture, we struggle with waiting. We want things to be done as quickly as possible, and we want them to be done as perfectly as possible, and we want all this done yesterday. If we try to apply this to our spiritual life, we will almost inevitably become disappointed. God did not create us perfect, and He typically does not work quickly or instantly in the spiritual life.

Maybe that’s why Jesus uses the image of a seed to describe how people receive the Word of God into their lives. We can really only observe the progress of a plant after it has grown; we cannot catch a seed in the act of growing. And this growth only takes place over time. My succulents were so slow in showing progress that I didn’t notice a change until it was too late. As today’s Gospel says, we all need to strive to become the rich soil which will allow the Word of God to grow deep roots and bear fruit. But this takes time.

What does that look like? The key idea is little by little. In the spiritual life, this means cultivating good habits such as praying every day or joining a ministry or doing the dishes. When we first start doing this, we might not see any difference. But after some time, we hopefully will begin to notice some growth compared to where we started.

As with plants, there are many factors that are outside our control. We can make sure the plant has rich soil, water, and sunlight. But the rest is up to God. The same is true for our spiritual lives. We cannot grow by our own efforts alone but only by God’s grace.

Even with this in mind, waiting is still hard. But we know that the One Who sows the seed is faithful and that He wants His Word to take root in our lives and bear fruit even more than we do. If we allow Him to work in our lives on His terms, then we can bear fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Thankfully, God takes much better care of His plants than I do.

Father Frank