In the liturgy, we often find signs which indicate an ancient practice which has now entered into part of our spiritual patrimony. This is the case today, because the Collect speaks about the Doctor Gentium – the one who teaches to the Nations (referring to St. Paul) and the first letter (which is quite long!), is a description of the many difficulties which St. Paul experienced during his various preaching and missionary travels. The explanation is this: from the 7th century onward, the physical church in Rome which normally celebrated this Sunday in Sexagesima was St. Paul Outside the Walls. Interesting as this sounds, however, due to time limits, I’m forced to limit our reflection to the Gospel, which speaks about the efficacy of the word of God.
The prophet Isaiah affirms that the word of God is always good, efficacious, and fertile.
And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither…so shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it (Is 55:10-11).
The Evangelist Luke, though, returning to the parable of Jesus about the sower, seems to add a condition, a “provided that”. Yes, the seed, which is the word of God, is always good, and is fertile, certainly—but not automatically. The word will be efficacious provided that the ground is good and that the conditions are favorable.
This parable can help us examine our conscience, to see if the ground of our heart is truly good and if the conditions of our life are truly favorable to produce good fruit for the Lord.
I. The Lord explains the parable, saying: The seed is the word of God. And they by the wayside are they that hear: then the devil comes and takes the word out of their heart, lest believing they should be saved (Lk 8:12).
Our point of departure is that the seed is good, and that it has already been planted in our hearts. Who is this devil who takes the word out of our hearts? The devil and his angels are manifest in our vices. Let’s take the classic vices as examples: gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Which vice is most aggressive in us? Which one takes away the word of God before it can take root in our heart? Can we identify at least one? How can we confront this evil which comes from within, from our own heart?
II. The Lord continues with his explanation: Now they upon the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no roots: for they believe for a while, and in time of temptation they fall away (Lk 8:13).
Do we have deep or superficial roots? Are we steadfast or fickle? Do we have the capacity to resist or are we weak with weary hands and shaky knees? Perhaps the tribulations have crushed our spirit? Perhaps the persecutions have rendered us scared? It’s not easy to resist all of the pressures of our life, but the man with deep roots, as Scripture says,
is as a tree that is planted by the waters,
that spreads out its roots towards moisture:
and it shall not fear when the heat comes.
And the leaf thereof shall be green,
and in the time of drought it shall not be solicitous,
neither shall it cease at any time to bring forth fruit (Jer 17:8).
How can we have roots so deep? We must drink from the streams of the Holy Spirit, we must take care not to abandon the fountain of living water, cisterns we have dug ourselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jer 2:13). We must also resist in times of drought and not abandon hope.
III. The Lord returns to the explanation of the parable: And that which fell away among thorns are they who have heard and, going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit (Lk 8:14).
What are our worries? Do they impede us from receiving the word of God? The frantic rhythm of the modern world (which enters even into the monastery) is full of worries, and does not favor a spirit of contemplation and of prayer.
Even good worries—our family, our work, our community—can become thorns which grow and suffocate the word; not to speak of the deceit of riches, which is surely a temptation. All of these worries—whether good or bad—become an obstacle which impedes the maturation of the sown Word in our hearts.
On the one hand, we must be good administrators of the gifts, which the Lord has given us. On the other hand, though, the Gospel admonishes us: be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?…And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?…Consider the lilies of the field… (Mt 6:25-28) and so forth.
Perhaps the intensity of our worries indicate a lack of trust in God? How can we clean up the field of our heart from these thorns?
IV. The Lord concludes the explanation of the parable: “But on the good ground are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience” (Lk 8:15).
If the seed is good and the ground is good, why is the harvest not always abundant? If we listen to the word with a good and perfect heart, as the Gospel says, why don’t we see results of spiritual progress? Perhaps the key is perseverance, consistency, resistance, the capacity to remain faithful to our intention to follow the Lord without wavering: he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved (Mt 10:22). If we persevere, then, we will produce fruit in abundance for the harvest of the Lord!
The word is always good, as we’ve seen. And when the earth is good and the conditions are favorable, the word can produce much fruit. The word par excellence is our Lord, Jesus Christ, the grain of wheat which, fallen to the ground, dies—to then produce great fruit (cf. Jn 12:24). At the end of the day, isn’t it the same for us, too? We are the ground of the sower, but we are also the seed, and this seed must die so that it can then be planted in a new form, a new life. We will bear fruit only if we imitate the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord. In fact, the Lord has appointed you, that you should go and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain (Jn 15:16).
(Translated from the original Italian by B. Gonzalez.)