Getting to the Harvest Requires Much Work
When I was in college at the U of M, I took a course on Christianity. It entailed looking at the history of the Christian faith, and I remember for one of the assignments, we were asked to go to a church service that was of a different tradition than our own and to write a reflection on it. I opted to go to a Wednesday evening service at a large, non-denominational evangelical church. I went to the balcony after walking through the lobby which was a mini-mall of sorts with things to buy, and what ensued was some praise and worship music, and a lengthy sermon by a young minister who talked about “seeing the light” and leaving Catholicism, and then inviting anyone who wanted to “be saved” that evening and turn their life over to Jesus to come forward. After taking some notes, on the way out I visited a smaller side chapel where the usher explained there were some “pictures on the wall” that they didn’t know what were about as someone put them there but they had numbers on them. (They were the Stations of the Cross).
Needless to say, it was definitely an interesting experience. And I couldn’t help but think of it when reading the Gospel this week.
Jesus talks about the seeds, much like the faith, falling on different types of soil. Some seed falls on the path and is quickly gone due to the birds eating it; other seed goes on rocky ground and the soil isn’t deep so it dies quickly in the sun; other seeds are choked off by the weeds, but the seed falling on rich soil produces much fruit. Jesus explains then that the seed on the path that the birds take up is like those who hear the word of the kingdom without understanding it; the seeds on rocky soil that dies quickly is compared to those who hear the word of God and do not understand it and walk away when the going gets tough; the seed getting caught amongst the thorns is likened to the things of the world choking off a person’s faith; but the seed on rich soil is for those who hear the word and understand it.
I love this Gospel, because it reminds us that faith requires work.
Returning my experience at the evangelical church 20 years ago, the preacher’s heart was in the right place, but how sad he didn’t think more deeply about the Church Jesus created before he left it. And while accepting Jesus is great, in the Catholic faith we have a process where a person studies the faith and then accepts it fully after learning over the course of several months through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or RCIA. Hopefully those who accepted Christ that night followed up that moment with learning about the faith more deeply.
All of us though who are Christian need to take this Gospel to heart both with ourselves and the world.
With respect to ourselves, formal faith formation for many of us ended with Confirmation. But in the years that followed, hopefully it’s continued to grow. Going to Mass is important, but so is thinking about the faith and making prayer a daily part of our lives, while also thinking about the prayers we say and what they mean. Developing a habit of prayer while also studying the faith through spiritual readings or reading a Catholic Study Bible are ways we grow. But so too is a regular examination of conscience and going to confession, thinking about where we struggle and seeking God’s grace to help us move forward. Our Catholic faith gives us great balance; we don’t look down on ourselves as some awful people, but rejoice in the fact that we are loved and strive to respond to it which occurs over the course of a lifetime.
This also is so important to do with others too though, because people are truly all over the map with respect to faith formation. So, how do we reach out to them?
Odds are you know people who would fit the description of the people Jesus talks about in the Gospel. Maybe you were one of them too. And this is where being engaged matters so much.
With respect to the seed taken by the birds being the people who don’t understand the faith, I think of people who are raised in households where the faith is taught as something that is one among many, and often on the back burner to school, sports, and busyness. They may go twice a year to church or have been baptized, but no one is there to explain the faith to them. If you know people like that, especially extended family or grandkids, take the opportunity to explain to them what the faith is about. Give them a tour of the church or invite them to Mass with you. Pray with them, not just for them. Don’t fear being an evangelist.
Then there are those who don’t understand the faith. I think of the preacher that night. He understood parts of the faith. But if he really understood it, he wouldn’t have left Jesus at the altar and left the Catholic Church. Remember we are all for ecumenism and believe God loves us all. I believe most all of us come to understand the faith more deeply after we die, and in heaven are people who on earth were of many faiths, now having the chance to fully understand. But it’s easy for people to be misled. “Fake news” is a common term these days, and there’s a lot of ignorance of the faith, which is why people leave the Catholic faith, or even Catholics can be quite ignorant of what we believe. So let’s not be afraid to talk about what we believe and why and engage people with talking about the faith.
Lastly there are the people who go through challenges in life and lose their way with respect to the faith. Some lose their faith because of situations in the world, or bad experiences with the Church, or life just beats them up. When our faith is challenged, we can look to the Cross and be reminded of all the Son went through but still trusted in the Father’s plan, which ultimately led to the resurrection. But Jesus also after the resurrection comforts those who were struggling clinging to hope; the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the apostles in the locked room. Others just don’t see the faith as relevant to them so focus on the things of the world. We must remind them that all that is before us passes away, but life with God is forever. Our faith can be challenged, but may we never forget God is always with us, and when others are tempted to give up we need to be there for them too to listen to them, but also give them encouragement that they are not alone in their suffering.
Growing in the faith truly takes work, and our job is twofold – to grow in the faith ourselves but to also help others on their faith journey. There is so much to distract us, and it’s so easy to fall away. Let’s work hard to keep our eyes, and those of one another, fixed on the goal of heaven by bearing fruit together.
God bless, ~Fr. Paul
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