This Gospel always reminds me of the Meditation on the Three Classes or Groups of Men in the Spiritual Exercises. To refresh our memories, the meditation is situated in the middle of the Second Week when the retreatant is on the verge of making his discernment concerning the choice of a state of life. He has just meditated on the Two Standards, the one of Christ and the other of Satan, and his intellect has been enlightened to understand the tactics of the enemy who seeks to lead him from Christ by means of worldly attachments. He has also understood that following Christ means detaching himself from all that is created. If the Two Standards brought light to his mind, the Three Classes is designed to bring strength to his will.
The first class of men hear the word, they receive it with joy, they are filled with enthusiasm about it, they speak of it to others, they might even lay the foundations for some great work for God and His kingdom, but the fact of the matter is that time goes by, and they do nothing. When the hour of death comes, they are empty-handed: the seed sown by the Son of God was eaten up by the birds of the air, the distractions that prevented the soul from allowing that seed to take root and grow.
The second class go a bit further. They have a strong desire to put their good thoughts into practice. But there is one little problem – they are attached to a number of things or people whom they do not want to give up. And so they start bargaining with the Lord, as it were. They are most happy to do anything the Lord might ask, to go anywhere they might be sent, but only as long as… only if they can retain what is so dear to their heart. They don’t succeed in breaking the bonds, leaving themselves and their petty interests. They spend their whole lives trying to convince themselves that they are good people who are doing all they can, but when the hour of death comes, they perceive with horror that their basket is empty – they have no fruit to offer the Lord, their whole life was a vain illusion.
The third class really get it. And they get it because they have let their hearts be seduced by the Divine Sower. They have weeded out their garden, painstakingly pulling up all the sinful habits and unhealthy, worldly attachments; they have broken the bonds with loved ones, loved places, loved things; they have allowed the Divine Gardener to till the soil, to rip into it with the sharp blade of the plow, overturning illusory facades, burying them deep in the ground where they die; they have accepted the divine fertiliser, the grace that comes through the sacraments of the Church and frequent prayer. Everything is ready for the seed. The sun and the rain come, and that seed rises and bears much fruit.
With Lent just 10 days off, Holy Mother Church wants us to understand on this Sunday that there is work that needs to be done in our soul so that the upcoming 40-day fast – understood as a time of giving up a bit of food and practicing a few other penances, but fundamentally a time of detachment from all created things – can bring us real conversion and help us set out on an entirely new path. If only we will accept to let God do His work and cooperate with Him as He seeks to make us perfect, we will see things change in and around us for the better.
The example of the Doctor of the Gentiles, the great St Paul, whose autobiographic notes are presented in today’s epistle, cannot fail to touch us. How right Our Lord was when He told Ananias: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my Name”. Yes indeed, St Paul became a great saint because he accepted to walk with the crucified Saviour whose grace was not received vain, but was welcomed in a good and wholesome heart, and bore fruit through patience, producing the marvels of sanctity. So will He do in us if only we let Him…