There is the famous story about the Lord’s Store. A man had a dream. He saw himself walking on the streets of the city. He was moved to tears and disgust when he saw so many people living in poverty and destitution. He longed to help them but he did not know how. As he walked farther, he saw a big store. He walked towards it and entered its large door. To his pleasant surprise, he saw Jesus behind the counter. The Lord gave him a wide and warm smile and said, “Welcome to my store! This where you will find whatever you need. You may look around now, and just list down whatever you need. Everything is free. When you finish, hand me your list.” The man looked around the store and true enough, all the things needed to solve the problems of the world were there: food that will put an end to hunger and poverty, justice for all, medicine to heal all diseases, peace for the world, love and harmony in the family, and many more. He hurried back to the counter with his list. Jesus looked at it, and pulled out small packets from the large drawers at the back of the counter. “Here,” he said. “Take these with you.” “What are these?” the man asked. Jesus explained, “By the way, my store is different. I do not offer finished products here. These packets contain the seeds of everything on your list. You have to plant these seeds and make sure to nurture them until they grow and bear fruits.”
Reading today’s Gospel I realized or was reminded that there are Laws of Growth. What I mean by that?
Firstly, that such laws do exist and they are rather rigid. They demand obedience – preparing the soil, planting, watering, composting, weeding, sunlight, and so on. Farmers know all about these laws, they have an intimate knowledge of them. And what’s more, they know the exact time when all these things should be done.
Furthermore, The Laws of Growth, can be applied to almost anything. They apply to humans, producing healthy children, for example – children with healthy bodies, minds, emotions, and values. They apply also to the animal world in which every species is governed by its own unique laws of growth.
For a politician to get ahead he must discover the laws of growing a healthy, stable society, and a strong economy.
The Church, too, has laws of growth. Every diocese, every parish, every believer is governed by them.
So let’s go to the gospel. You will notice in both parables in the Gospel today there is something God does and there is something we do – it’s a kind of partnership between God and us.
A man throws seed on the land. That’s our part and it includes all the necessary work we can do to ensure that God is able to do his part. And what is God’s part? “Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know”. As every farmer knows, it is simply beyond his capacity to make the seed grow – it grows all by itself, or, as the gospel puts it: of its own accord. That is God’s part.
My own reflection on this topic of the laws of growth leads me to acknowledge that there are many, many ways to inhibit growth, to stunt it, to destroy it, but only one way to promote it. The laws of growth are one, and they are inflexible. They demand obedience. Destruction? Well, absolutely anyone can destroy. To put it very simply: any kid with a box of matches can destroy a forest, a harvest, or a life.
So now let’s come back to the Church. What are the Laws of Growth in the Church? How do we make the Church grow? The answer never varies. In fact, it’s the glue which binds the Sacred Scriptures together: orthodoxy – right teaching, right thinking, and orthopraxis – right behavior. The faith of the apostles and the Christian life which flows from it, as it comes to us today through the bishops of the Catholic Church, is the only law of growth we possess. There is no other. Nothing else, especially liberalism or modernism, will make us grow.
Believe as the Church believes; live as the Church lives. Never mind the bad apples, whether they be clergy or lay. Don’t be distracted by them. Just believe what the Church believes and live the social, moral, liturgical, spiritual life which the Church proposes for us. This is our way to Christ and to the Father.
If the farmer plants a seed and it doesn’t grow, it’s not God’s fault. He doesn’t ask, ‘How can I make it grow?’ – he asks, ‘What have I done to stop it from growing?’
But God, in his infinite kindness (and humility), offers us a share in producing the harvest. He lovingly invites us to responsibility for its successful production. This partnership offered by God is a great kindness, and a privilege not to be taken lightly. Man provides the labor: A man throws seed on the ground; and God provides the growth: Night and day … the seed is sprouting.
Like all good parables these words of Jesus reach much further than the dynamics of growth which provide a paddock of standing wheat. This parable tells us about every harvest, material and spiritual. God provides the principle of life for growth and we provide the labor.
Immediately one truth becomes obvious: The labor we provide is always at the service of the growth we are hoping for. Note that growth does not serve our labor. Our labor is always at the service of the growth we are hoping for. This is true for a farmer laboring for a rich crop of wheat; a parent working for healthy growth for a child; a Christian laboring for growth in holiness; or the Catholic Church laboring for a rich harvest of souls, not to mention a harvest of vocations. The labor is always at the service of true growth.
Let me clarify this a little further. One of the amazing things about visiting a farmer on his property is that you can always predict what he’ll be doing. Depending on the time of the year he will be seeding or harvesting, or cropping, or spraying weeds, or cutting hay or cows will be calving, and so on. It’s a routine he never varies because he knows he is serving a truth, a dynamic of growth, which is greater than he is. He well understands that he ‘does not know’ how the seed grows but he does know that if he wants the best chance of growth for his harvest he must follow the immutable principles of good agriculture.
Can a parent hope for growth to maturity for a child if he does not discipline? Can a Christian grow in holiness if he doesn’t pray? Can we expect the spread of the Gospel if we don’t evangelize? The law of the harvest is true for all growing things: Our labor must always be at the service of growth.
And if we do what is required, and only what is required – things will grow while we ‘sleep’.
The temptations to change what cannot be changed and what therefore mustn’t be changed are ever present and easily given in to. However, this usually result in disaster.
The principles of good agriculture have their counterpart in most human activities, and especially in the spiritual life. All we have to do is what is required; to resist the temptation to disobediently ‘fiddle with things’. We humans, of course, creative little beings that we are, are ‘born fiddlers’. We seem to have this overwhelming need to express ‘ourselves’ in every process; to make everything ‘our achievement.’ Farmers know this can be a fatal madness. We Catholics are slowly beginning to realize the same thing.
It is when we ‘fiddle’ with the rules which govern growth that the harvest is poor; and when the harvest is poor, we should immediately ask, ‘Has someone been fiddling with the process?’What we have done wrong?
The gift of growth comes from God, not from us. Some find this an impossible truth to make their own. All around us we see the disastrous consequences of this failure to obey – in our marriages, in our children, in our moral standards, in our suicide numbers – and even in our priestly and religious vocations.
I just heard recently: ” we live in times where there is not enough priests, there is not enough candidates to priesthood but it seems like everyone wants to be a pope and to decide himself the theological truths and the moral teachings of the church and the churches’ laws and rules.” Not too many people want to obey the laws of the church given to her by Jesus.
The answer? Follow the law of the harvest. Trust the gift and trust God’s timing. Serve growth and serve life. Learn to participate with God in the way he has laid out for us. Trust God’s power to see our growth through to the end and trust that if we do what his will shows us then the power of God will prevail and the harvest will be abundant.