The Tiller

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Hear the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom
without understanding it,
and the Evil One comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

—Matthew 13:18–23

The parable of the sower is a reminder that our own interior disposition will affect how we receive the Word of God. If we are hardened and resistant, it will not find root within us. But if we are pliant and willing, the Word will grow and bear fruit in us, making of us an outward sign of God’s abundant grace.

It is important for us to also remember that God does not simply toss the seed and walk away, leaving us to either flourish or wilt based on the merits of our soil. If we want to try our luck alone, of course, He will leave us be, never imposing Himself upon us. But if we let Him, He will gladly go deeper and till the soil of our hearts—removing the rocks, untangling the thorny ground, protecting the precious seed He has sown.

Most likely, our soil is imperfect. We might have some rich, verdant areas here and there, but there are also the rocky mounds, the dried-out patches of dirt, the weeds that prevent anything else from growing. We want to receive God’s Word, but we also know that there is work to do within our hearts to remove all the disordered attachments, sinful habits, and unloving attitudes that prevent us from truly embracing it. But we need not despair. If we have the will to improve, God will meet us where we are, and He will do the work in us. All we need is patience and perseverance—for this process won’t be simple or easy, but it will absolutely be worth it. At first, the soil will appear broken and raw as He reaches in and pulls out the rocks and brambles. But if we remain open to His grace, a verdant landscape will sprout up before our eyes.

Earthly Disconnection, Wounds

“Gross is the heart of this people,

they will hardly hear with their ears,

they have closed their eyes,

lest they see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their hearts and be converted

and I heal them.”

—From today’s Gospel

 

“Two evils have my people done:

they have forsaken me, the source of living waters;

They have dug themselves cisterns,

broken cisterns, that hold no water.”

—From today’s first reading

 

Dear fellow pilgrims, 

Today’s readings connect the misuse of a few things fundamental to human survival (water, the senses) with spiritual rebellion, laxity, or inattention.  God is the source of living water, a spring, a natural source, so fundamental to human survival and all life, and yet, humans do not trust this source and have dug cisterns (or an underground container) for storing rain water for themselves.  God is also the source of Truth and Reality, and yet, so often, the five senses  given to us by our Creator betray their purpose, which is to connect our consciousness with the reality occurring around us.  

Which is to say that all to often, we pick and choose what we want to see and hear, and thus, believe, because something within us rejects God as Reality and Truth. 

We also think we can find our own sustenance, appease our own various thirsts, our own lacks, without tapping into the living water, the eternal refreshment of the Holy Spirit. (Cue the cliche phrase: “Lookin’ for looove in allll the wrong places…”) All too often, there is a disconnect between the human needs God has allowed in us and the fullest means of addressing them. Spoken plainly… the people described here think they can meet their own needs; they don’t think they need God. 

Yesterday, Aidan talked about this theme of “earthen vessels,” how awesome it is that we who are made of dust were chosen to be purified in holiness the very Spirit of God, the Creator. Today, the readings seem to show the “dark side” of this truth: our given state is not divine, we must be purified out of earthly rebellion and into divine receptivity and attention. 

Our first reading today is an excerpt from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, expounding upon how the Jewish people were once completely in love with God and trusted Him in the desert, but then lost that trust when they were brought into the abundance of the promised land. Their needs that were being met by God in the desert so clearly were now being met by warped notions of “god” (the pagan gods of Baal, native to Canaan, the promised land for the Jewish people).  How often have you felt this shift in your own life?  I can recall vividly many difficult times when I was really close to the Lord for different seasons, and then feel myself slip away from Him when that season began to shift into what seemed to be “verdant pastures of repose.”  

Part of this disconnect between seasons of what is characterized by apparent difficulties and then abundance happens BECAUSE we revert back to trusting immediately what we see and hear in front of our faces. We have lost that inner knowledge, that lens of God’s reality, true reality, because our senses are given relief from that time thirsting for water in the desert. 

So how do we change, if this is where we find ourselves: Seeing, but not really seeing what God wants you to see. Hearing, but not really hearing what God wants you to hear. Drinking water to quench your immediate thirsts (i.e. for human connection, physical bliss, admiration from others) but not drinking living water that truly quenches your deep, inner thirsts. Jesus tells us: we must be converted by understanding these sights and sounds with our hearts, and this conversion involves healing. It involves healing because these modes of sensing are not only warped, they are wounded. Jesus is the divine physician, not the divine finger-pointer. He wants to heal the way we see, hear, quench our long list of human thirsts. 

Allow the Lord to speak to your heart tonight (or today). Pray in the silence of your heart: 

Jesus, please show me the thirsts in my heart that I try to satisfy by myself, without the thought of You entering my mind. Show me what wound is reflected by my thirst, what don’t I believe about your power to ultimately satisfy me? 

Jesus, please show me how I am seeing or listening to this world without stopping to consider Your Reality shining through it. Please show me how my understanding of myself and the world is broken and wounded. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Earthen Vessels

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

– 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

Look around you. Look at your spouse, your roommate, your good friend, your kids, your coworkers.

Do it. Right now. Look at them.

God the Father, through Jesus Christ, makes these people saints.

Tonight I attended a “Gospel Around the Grill” event put on by my local parish where we talked about the canonization process by which the Church proclaims Saints (with a capital “S”). The information was admittedly somewhat confusing and definitely fascinating, but ever since, my thought keep wandering back to the concept of humanity. Saints and their canonization are such an institution in the Church that sometimes it is easy to forget that they are not a separate category of being. They are not angels. They are not “other”. God did not hijack their humanity and release them as a holy automaton. The saints, every last one of them, were human.

Like your spouse, your roommate, your good friend, your kids, your coworkers.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. James the Apostle, and the readings selected for today certainly do not promote this narrative of saints as mythical creatures (if anything, they would almost seem a little harsh to anyone without the humility of a saint. Today’s first reading, much of which is presented above, talks about how Godly treasure resides in our “earthen vessels”. We’re dull clay pots holding golden, molten lava-fire-bright Grace, and if we play our cards right, it’s the Grace that does the walking, talking, and purifying. We can claim no accomplishment as our own: accomplishments, recognition, and glory are given by the Father alone, as today’s Gospel makes abundantly clear.

To paraphrase: “James, you will suffer with me, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will celebrate in the eternal joy of Heaven with me. That’s for the Father to decide. He is the just Judge, He will search your soul and spirit to see if you spent your time shining up your earthen vessel to impress, or filling it with Grace to overflow.”

Today, please pray for the Grace to see the potential of God in every single person that surrounds you. Pray for the confidence that God can do that work in yourself.

And most of all: Pray and believe that the Father, through Jesus, will make you a saint.

Something Greater

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.

—Matthew 12:6–8

Throughout Scripture, we find stories where God asks someone to give up everything for Him. Countless prophets and disciples are asked to separate themselves from earthly attachments, leave their old lives behind, and start from scratch. Why does the God of mercy require such extreme sacrifice from His people?

God uses these experiences of sacrifice not as punishments but to prune our hearts and allow us to grow into who we were created to be. He asks us to let go of our attachments in order to prepare us for a greater mission; to increase our dependence upon Him; to replace our earthly perspective with a heavenly one; and to give us a testimony of the God Who has walked with us and sustained us through every desert, Who has shouldered the crosses we bear.

Jesus does not desire sacrifice for its own sake but to make room for something greater. He sacrificed everything for us as a means to show His mercy. He endured torture, betrayal, wrongful conviction, and death for love of us. He entered into our human condition, sharing with us an intimate closeness. And in doing so, He has redeemed all of our sacrifices, transforming them into pathways of His mercy.

In light of Jesus’s sacrifice, our sufferings are not burdens holding us back but graces lifting us upward toward the Cross of salvation. Sometimes, He requires us to let go of good things so that our hands are open to receive great things. His claim is a bold one: that He Himself is greater than the temple. Greater than the temple! What seemed like blasphemy to the Pharisees is in fact a profound truth: there is no offering more sacred than the Body of Christ, no sacrifice greater than the Mass, and no act of devotion more powerful than His Passion.

Labor of Love

O LORD, you mete out peace to us,
for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.
– Isaiah 26:12

O LORD, oppressed by your punishment,
we cried out in anguish under your chastising.
As a woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pains,
so were we in your presence, O LORD.
We conceived and writhed in pain,
giving birth to wind;
Salvation we have not achieved for the earth,
the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.
– Isaiah 26:16-18

Jesus said:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30

It seems the LORD has a lot to teach us about our works in today’s readings. We have, respectively, a pure admission of God’s generosity and our inability to effect goodness upon the world, a lament of actions and struggles that leave us unsatisfied, and a promise from Jesus of what working IN HIM can do.

Having witnessed the birth of our child, the second verse listed above has an entirely new depth of meaning. The anticipation during pregnancy, the extreme anguish and sheer determination of labor, all to come to… naught? Devastating. Work, anguish, labor, struggle, without a prayerful heart, does not bring life to the world. Doing anything other than pursuing your current calling with your whole heart does not bring life into the world. The verse is moving and poetic (maybe even a bit off-putting or strange), but it’s also quite direct: nothing we can do apart from Jesus will bring life.

Conversely, ALL who are burdened, ALL who labor can find rest in Jesus Christ. No matter the work, no matter the recognition. Alyssa and I discussed the powerful sermon she mentioned yesterday (Here’s the link again if you want to watch it), and how it gave her renewed hope in this season as a stay-at-home mom: Our heavenly Father notices every little ounce of effort we put forth in our lives. In case you don’t know, stay-at-home mom life is not the most public of existences. Sure, with lots of planning and hauling of gear, you can have a fairly busy social life, but even so, so much work is behind the scenes. If she were to live her life solely running on the affirmation of human beings, she would have run out of gas a long time ago. That’s when exhaustion, resentment, or apathy can kick in. If we live our lives oriented toward our friends’, coworkers, and family’s perception of us, we will run out of steam. Every time.

Do you feel like you’re running out of steam? Read that last verse. Let it soak in. Read it again. These are Jesus’ words to you. ALL who are burdened. ALL who labor. Seek Jesus, and there is rest. Every time.

(…and if you feel like you’ve got it all made, you should seek still Jesus, just in case you turn out to be human.)

To Be Like Little Children

Gospel: MT 11:25-27

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Dear Frassati brothers and sisters,

Today’s Gospel reminds us that God wants us to be like children, that there is something about children that is an ideal in the Christian life that people lose as they age. I’ve heard this passage explained in homilies and sermons many times, but the way I always come back to interpreting it is that God wants us to remain like “little sponges,” picking up on every word He says, and staying close to Him all throughout our lives. (Even as we grow older and more and more think we know what we’re talking about…)

Children develop at a rapid pace – there is so much to learn about this life, so much joy to be had in the simplest things, so many questions to ask their caregivers, including the never-ending stream of “why? but why? why???”. But then, as childhood fades more and more into the rearview mirror, this curiosity and openness to new information and experiences slows down. We begin to feel “stuck” in our ways or even feel lethargic in life’s pursuits. We forget the amazing gift it is to just be alive. We forget how to grow, develop, because we lose track of that ideal, dependent relationship with God. We might be stuck thinking about how our life is difficult and not what we expected it to be. We grow inward, forgetting our caregivers and learning to depend on ourselves because the idea of independence and “muscling through problems” is put on a pedestal in our society. We forget we are still children of God; we forget we must constantly be developing into the image of our Father.  

And allowing God to work in us during these dark times is something that our generation especially has a hard time with because we expect things to be quickly dealt with. We live in a world where technology and industry are trying to constantly make our lives easier, smoother, less cumbersome. But … the conditions for sainthood have never changed; God has never changed.

To become a saint in these current times requires us to effortfully slow down our minds and invite God in. To become a saint requires us to courageously make space for silence, for God speaks in silence. To become a saint requires us to allow God into every space in our hearts, to actively ready this space for change, and to give God the authority and trust as our eternal Caregiver in order to create this continual shift in perspective, inner life. God wants to carve a unique piece of Heaven into each of our hearts for the world to see, but we so often choose to be formed by the things of this world.

I invite you all to take some time tomorrow night to watch this message – given by my favorite preacher, Christine Caine – and really ask God to convict you in your heart about how you have been resisting the ways He wants you to develop. Also, ask God to show you how you have been learning from Him in the way he desires. Give Him glory for the moments you have been an attentive son or daughter, and ask for direction and forgiveness for the times you have been stubborn or have turned away from His love and call to greater things. I promise that God will say something to your heart as you watch this message!

Sweet Jesus, may our hearts ever be open to your revelation. 

May our eyes be like those of little children, 

seeing the beauty of the world in awe and wonder. 

May we trust You with all of our lives, unreservedly. 

Teach us to learn as little children do, 

with an insatiable hunger for love and learning more and more. 

Amen. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

To the Heights

You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
—Matthew 10:22

I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
—Hosea 14:9

As we grow into a deeper relationship with God, we may reach a point where it feels as though He has started ignoring us. Whereas we were at first captivated by the words of Scripture or felt a great peace in prayer, we now feel dryness and discontent. We aren’t “getting anything” out of prayer anymore, and we feel disconnected.

God uses these periods of discontent to push us toward a deeper, more lasting faith. He allows us to experience moments of frustration, helplessness, and humility so that we can learn to depend on Him more fully. While we might be content to float happily through life with a surface-level faith, God wants more for us. He wants us to be strong, walk boldly, perform great deeds, and endure persecutions. As Grace told us during retreat: God loves us right where we are, and He loves us too much to let us stay there.

frassatiGod is training us to be sheep among wolves: to walk amongst sin and evil and yet be uncorrupted, to maintain our innocence—our steadfast faith, our enduring hope—as we journey through treacherous lands. He is preparing us for an adventure more epic than we’ve imagined.

This spirit of adventure is what motivated Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati throughout his life. He saw his journey in the Christian life as an ascent up the mountain, and with joy he climbed ever higher—verso l’alto, to the heights. He will help us, too, to see the path before us with wonder and excitement, tackling each obstacle as we continue our ascent.

May Blessed Pier Giorgio help us to rise above our complacency, our frustrations, and every challenge before us.

Learn to be stronger in spirit than in your muscles. If you are you will be real apostles of faith in God.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Every day that passes, I fall more desperately in love with the mountains…I am ever more determined to climb the mountains, to scale the mighty peaks, to feel that pure joy which can only be felt in the mountains.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati