21st Sunday after Pentecost
Today’s Gospel reading tells us the parable of the sower who planted seeds on the various types of ground: some falling by the wayside, some on the rocky ground, some among the thorns, and some on fertile soil.
Our Lord explained that the seed is the word of God. Some hear the word of God but the devil quickly springs upon them and they are like the seed fallen by the wayside. Some hear the word of God, but do not allow it to take root within their mind and heart. They are like the seed fallen upon the rocks. Some hear the word of God and are inspired by it, but they are soon distracted and brought down by the cares of this world. They are like the seed fallen among the thorns. And some hear the word of God and are brightened and ennobled by it and they are able to bring forth good fruit with patience. These are like the seed that falls upon the fertile ground.
All of us should surely desire to be counted among those who receive the word of God and bring forth good fruit. But how are we to make sure that our hearts and souls are that fertile soil – ready to receive the word of God, allowing it to take root within our lives to bring forth the good fruit of Christian faith, hope, and love? Let us take as example three very practical means of enriching the soil of our soul and spirit.
First, we need to make a conscious effort to elevate our minds and hearts above the often crude and unedifying world in which we live. We need to do what we can to counter-balance the often negative influence of modern culture with spiritual reading and other soul forming activities. There is much benefit to be gained from exposure to good literature, music, and the arts – which speak to our mind and soul and raise our sights beyond the mundane things of this world. And what defines certain literature, music, and art as ‘good’? Well, simply put, it is that which reflects and reaches toward the beauty of God and heavenly things. Those things which awaken our soul and pull us upward – creating that bittersweet longing which is a kind of homesickness for heaven. We may find inspiration from different sources – based on our tastes and dispositions, but be attentive to that which draws you up toward the things of God and make opportunities to raise your mind and heart and soul in this way. This is important work - just as we must till and prepare the ground before we plant a seed, so too we must soften and prepare our hearts for the seed of God to take root and grow.
Secondly, we must cultivate within our lives an active life of prayer and strive to build an awareness of God at all times. Modern life is hectic and full of stress and demands on our time and attention. But it is up to us to make a habit of prayer – calling out to God with as much attention as possible. Our prayers do not need to be long… but they must be an occasion for us to really connect with God, Who is our loving Father.
God listens to the voice of our heart. Prayer is more than just the words we may read or say… it is a disposition of heart and soul. And this disposition of heart can and must be targeted toward God at all times. As St Theophan the Recluse instructs, we can cultivate prayer and remembrance of God by frequent, short prayers throughout the day and by dedicating every task, no matter how small, to the glory of God. When arising we should say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the new day and ask Him to guide and guard us in the coming day. When starting any task, say: ‘Bless, O Lord’. When finishing your task, say: ‘Glory to Thee, O Lord.’ When temptations come upon us, say: ‘Help me, O Lord’. Throughout the day we can say the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. And at the end of the day, as you prepare for sleep, we should again thank God for preserving us through the day and ask Him to grant us a peaceful and undisturbed rest.
Third, we must be participating in and making use of the sacramental life of the church. God did not leave us orphaned… the Holy Mother Church is like a spiritual hospital where we may come to get the proper medicines for our soul. Plugging ourselves into the life of the church – looking at the church calendar every day and reading the daily Epistle and Gospel lessons, praying for the intercessions of the saints of that day, observing the fasts, coming frequently to church and partaking of her sacraments – confession and communion. These things are essential and recharge our spiritual batteries through the grace of God.
Observing these three points: raising our minds and hearts through soul forming activities, praying to God and building our awareness of His presence in our lives, and participating in the sacramental life of the church - we can till the ground of our soul and make it more fertile for the word of God to transform us and to bring forth in our lives the rich crop of spiritual fruitfulness that leads us toward heaven and can even serve as a beacon to others who may be struggling in the darkness of our worldly existence.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ! We are given this life, this body which is from the dust of the ground and which returns to the dust of the ground, this soil upon which God plants the gift of the seed of faith. There is nothing more important than what we do with that gift. No worldly accomplishment or preoccupation comes close to the importance and the impact of tending to the health and fertility of that soil of our soul and the bringing forth of good fruit for God.
May we never lose sight of that primary task of tilling and preparing our soul by investing ourselves in those things which elevate us heavenward, by praying and building an active awareness of God ‘Who is everywhere present and fillest all things’, and by zealously harvesting the great grace of the sacraments of the Church. Doing so, we may become that rich soil from which God produces the good fruit of Christian virtue.