The Seed And The Plough

The Seed And The Plough

Sexagesima Sunday

Arise, O Lord, why dost Thou sleep?

This Sunday brings us a second clarion call at the approach of Lent. Last week, the appearance of the violet vestments, the silencing of the paschal song of victory and the parable of the vineyard were all intended to wake us up and incite us to get on our mark for the approaching Lenten race. Today, the Lord gives us to understand that He too is getting ready. The introit puts on our lips those words of psalm 43, composed in a time of great distress in Israel, in which we ask the Lord why He seems to sleep and forget our tribulation. We lie on the ground, as it were senseless, and the Lord seems to sleep.

In reality, we know that the Lord never sleeps. Even on the ship when the Incarnate Word slept through the storm, He was the one keeping watch and giving the apostles the grace to awaken Him. Profound thought indeed: the Lord keeps watch, and yet He seems to sleep. It is as if He wants us to arouse Him. He wants us to arouse ourselves, to stir up our spiritual energies and call upon Him. Heaven helps those who help themselves, goes the proverb.

The parable of the sower is there to do precisely that: wake us up, bring us back to our senses, and help us to prepare for the Word. During Lent, we are encouraged to give more time to reading the Word of God. But that Word will take no effect if the soil is not prepared if it is not ploughed up and fed with manure if the weeds have not been uprooted.

The Lord makes mention of three types of people who hear the Word but in whom it produces no lasting effect. There are first of all those who are by the wayside. The Word reaches them in one way or another, but as soon as it does, the evil one comes and snatches it out of their heart, “lest believing they be saved”, that is to say, that they do not allow those first motions of grace to stir their hearts; they do not get to the point where they can make an act of faith, and they will not be saved, because they neglected the pearls being sent to them by God. So it is with those visits of grace that pass and do not return. This first part of the parable is intended to pull us out of our torpor, to keep us from the absent-mindedness of so many who go through life without a thought of eternity and who are lost forever because they refused to enter into themselves and wage war on their own ambitions, war on themselves. Instead of turning to God and adoring Him, they themselves become the centre of attraction, the focal point of all things. Either you are for God or you are against Him. God or nothing.

The second category of those in whom the Word produces no fruit are those who are among the rocks. They hear the Word with joy, but they have no roots; they believe for a while, they like the novelty of their newfound faith; it sets them apart and makes them feel special. But then the old temptations return, the flesh is not dead, the world still holds its attractions, there are scandals in the Church, priests are not edifying, the pope is not clear, and all too easily they slip back into old ways. Not without a fight however. For a while they listen to the advice given from the pulpit or in the confessional. The problem is they have no roots; they have not allowed the roots of their faith to grow through prayer. Instead of turning to prayer in time of temptation, they turn to the world for consolation and distraction, and they end up back where they were before, but worse off still, for when the demon returns, he comes back with other demons and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

The third category are those who are among thorns. They hear the Word, and they start out on a path of conversion. For a long while they make progress. But they have failed to weed out their garden. After a while, they begin to choke spiritually, because they are still attached to the riches and pleasures of this life. Maybe they do not fall back into mortal sin, but their indecisiveness in breaking with the world and its spirit means that they will never bring forth any fruit for eternal life. They remain spiritual dwarves, compromisers, with one foot in church and the other at the theatre. They want to have their cake and eat it. They are lukewarm and run the risk of being vomited out of the Lord’s mouth.

Finally, there are those who receive the Word in good ground, that is to say in a good and perfect heart. The soil of their heart has been ploughed up; the weeds are gone; manure has been put in. All is ready for the good seed.

On the threshold of Lent, this ploughing up of the soil is there to remind us that it serves little purpose to have the name ofChristian and even to go to church and receive the sacraments if there is no serious effort at self-denial. If the ground could speak, it would scream when the plough cuts through it, but the plough is the salvation of the soil. It prevents it from becoming hard and cracked and barren. So it is that the Christian must plough up his soul with some form of bodily mortification: fasting from certain foods and drink, depriving oneself of some sleep, renouncing certain delicacies that serve only to flatter the flesh, giving oneself the discipline or wearing instruments of penance. But there are also those many blows received from other people and events that cut through the hardness of our insensitivity: the bodily ailments, the unpleasant weather, the demands of a schedule imposed by others, criticism and even persecution. St Paul, in today’s epistle, remains one of the most achieved models of the true Christian who reproduces in himself the life of Christ, which was one long cross and martyrdom.

In this spiritual warfare in which we are engaged and which is most intense during Lent, today’s Mass encourages us to go forward, inspiring us to ask the Lord to make perfect our steps in the path He is leading us upon, that path which leads to the altar of God who gives joy to our youth, and even gives us eternal youth thanks to the newness of life being offered to us. In our moments of trial, we may be inclined to ask the Lord to spare us, and this is alright. But let us not forget that inspiring word that St Paul heard and which led Him to victory and to the heights of sanctity: My grace is sufficient for thee, for power is made perfect in weakness. Weak we are, but the very power of God is offered to us. Let us lay hold on eternal life like good soldiers, sustained by the power of prayer to Our Lady who will lead us to triumph.