How do we grow in the spiritual life? In the parable of the seed and the sower, (Mt 13:4-9, 18-23), Jesus gives us a path, tells us about one way. For, though this parable is often seen as being about major decisions for or against God, it can also be seen as being about our responses to something we experience every day.
So I invite you to see the seed, the word of the kingdom in this parable as a daily invitation to growth, to adventure, to exploring what is perhaps an unfamiliar area of your life with the Lord. It doesn’t necessarily mean some external change. It may; but it refers also to interior movements.
Every day, we receive many invitations to grow. Much of the time, these are as simple as an insight or a nudge to sign up for an hour of Eucharistic adoration or to reach out to someone who is lonely. Sometimes it can be a call to something majorly life-changing.
Some of these nudges we accept and persevere in and some we don’t.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t receive that kind of invitation every day!” You do, but you are not quiet enough—perhaps not interested enough—to want to recognize them. You may be afraid that you might have to grow.
The fact is that the Holy Spirit is always coming, always inviting us to grow and bear fruit in our hearts—now thirty-fold, now sixty-fold, now a hundred-fold, (Mt 13:8). The good news is that we are able to hear such invitations, to respond to them, and to persevere in them.
Christ is the great psychologist of our interior life. Note that he speaks about this word of the kingdom as having been “sown in the heart.”
For the real word of the kingdom is not a result of our own thinking. His word is different from every other word in our minds. His word is placed in our hearts by the Spirit of Truth whom the Lord has given to us to guide and challenge us.
This is an amazing truth—that we have within us, acting within us, guiding and inspiring us, the Holy Spirit himself.
People sometimes say, “I don’t know what God wants of me”; or “I wish I knew how to grow in the spiritual life.” Jesus says in this parable that most of the time we do know.
And he tells us in the parable about the variety of ways that we can respond.
Sometimes, we do not understand the word that is addressed to us, and so it sort of lies dormant in our heart. If we don’t make any effort to understand it, seek advice, for example, the evil one may come and block out this word altogether—snatch it away (Mt 13:19)—at least from our present consciousness.
Sometimes we accept the word with joy and begin to allow it to grow in our hearts. But our acceptance doesn’t endure. We encounter some trouble, some difficulty in continuing to be open to this invitation. This can take many forms: we get tired of growing; or we lose our desire for deeper union with the Lord; or we are just lazy.
Or we can accept the word for a time but then some outward persecution comes along and we lose our courage. This could be actual persecution, something like our sisters and brothers are experiencing around the world; or what is more likely the case, people reacting negatively to our living our faith or witnessing to it. Often out of human respect we give up: “What will people think!”
In other instances there is an acceptance of the word but other things become more important. The Lord mentions the cares of the world and wealth, but we can all draw up our own list of things we prefer to the word of the kingdom.
I would like to suggest that looking at the inspirations we receive and asking ourselves how we have acted on them is a very profound examination of conscience.
But now for the good news!
The very good news is that by the grace of God we are able to accept the word of growth in our hearts; and, the best news of all, persevere in our choice. And in this perseverance, we grow in union with the Lord, in union with others, and in the growth of our own personalities as children of God.
Finally, there is a very encouraging word of Scripture from the Old Testament:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sowing and bread for the eating, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
We can for a time put off the invitation of the word within us, as we probably do every day, but we cannot destroy this word, or remove it from the soil of our hearts.
The actual word of the kingdom has an ontological reality: it is divine. All the words that God has ever spoken to us are in our hearts, and we will become aware of them eventually—either in this life or the next.
At some moment in that blessed future we will have the love and courage to say yes. And these divine seeds will then bear fruit—now thirty, not sixty, now a hundred-fold.
But even in this present life, all the words that Lord has ever spoken to us remain in the soil of our hearts. We may refuse a word today, but next Wednesday, or next month, or next year, the Holy Spirit can resurrect this word and offer it to us again. I think we have all experienced this second chance of God’s invitations.
But let us not delay the growth of these words. Let us respond now to as many as we can and look forward with joy to a full harvest in the life to come, and likely in this life as well.
Actually, a line from the Madonna House Little Mandate says it all. Listen to the Spirit; He will lead you.