Tilling Souls by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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."
We commonly understand the parable of the sower and the seed as an explanation of how (and how not) to hear God's word. And with good reason: our Lord Himself explains it that way (cf. Lk 8:11). Yet the sower and the seed can also serve as an instruction about how (and how not) to receive God's grace. We can interpret the parable as an extended explanation of St. Paul's sober warning "not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor 6:1).
Seed is an apt image of God's grace. Notice first of all the generosity it implies. A sower does not distribute seed sparingly. Rather, he scatters widely, throwing the seed to whatever ground might receive it. Further, just as a sower buries seed so that by its union with the soil it can produce a living plant, so also God "buries" His grace in our souls so that by His union with us we may bear abundant fruit (cf. Jn 15:16). And just as a seed's growth depends on the proper soil and care, so also God's grace depends on the proper reception and cultivation in our souls.
As the Sower, our Lord distributes His grace generously, to any soul able to receive it. He gives us His grace most especially in the sacraments. The Church has always taught that the proper celebration of the sacraments makes Christ's grace abundantly present and available, as seed cast from the hand of the Sower. At the same time, however, the sacraments are not magic. They do not produce some wonderful effect without our cooperation. They benefit us only to the extent that we make our souls capable of receiving God's grace.
A farmer tills the soil so that the seed finds receptive and fertile ground. Similarly, we need to till the soil of our souls. We need constantly and deliberately to prepare ourselves to receive His grace. Often we fall into a perfunctory or unthinking reception of the sacraments, failing to reflect and prepare beforehand. We seem to think that seed bears fruit just by its falling - forgetting that when grace falls on pathways, on rocky ground, or among thorns it is received in vain.
The task of tilling the soul applies most especially to the reception of Holy Communion - the Sacrament of Sacraments." Mother Church exhorts us to prepare for Communion, not just to show up for it. Pope Benedict has criticized the "practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass." Unfortunately, many people receive Holy Communion with souls unprepared or worse still, entirely hardened through mortal sin.
We should then examine our souls, and make them soil hospitable to seed. If our souls are paths beaten down by the traffic of the world then we need to remove them from the world's noise and give them silence with the Lord. If they are ground dried and hardened by sin then we need to break them up with the plow of penance and soften them with tears of sorrow. If they are choked by the thorns of "worldly anxiety and the lure of riches" (Mt 13:22) then we need to develop a spirit of poverty and a desire for His grace as the only necessary wealth.
The Year of the Eucharist is a fitting time to recover the practice of preparing for Holy Communion. His presence and His grace are not lacking in the Eucharist. The divine Sower does not give sparingly. May we respond in kind and cultivate souls of "rich soil" able to produce fruit, "a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold" (Mt 13:9).
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