Sometimes in the midst of our sadness and busyness
there are quiet moments of joy. They’re
like the seeds in the parables today.
We wake up early and walk outside and the
stars are shining in the morning sky. We
hear the voice of someone we love, calling from another room.
All day there’s a fragment of a dream
stuck in our minds. A line from
But there lots of problems with moments
like this. For one thing, like the seeds
in the parable, they’re scattered—not organized and sequential, not moments we
can predict. And they’re tiny like seeds,
so small we tend to dismiss them or think they’re unimportant, and once they’re
planted they’re hidden anyway, buried deep.
And we can’t control them. That’s a big part of it: we can cultivate the moments by regularly
practicing the examen of conscience, keeping track of the small things and
thinking back on them each day with gratitude.
The farmer in the parable doesn’t sit around and wait. He gets up every day and works, and he
scatters the seed in the first place.
But in the end, the parables tell us, “the earth produces of itself,”
without our help—“we know not how.” In
the end we are at the mercy of the weather, however hard we work. The cycles of growth are beyond us.
But I think the biggest problem of all
with our moments of joy is that they take a long time to bear fruit. They require patience, and with patience,
trust, and most of us are really bad at patience and trust. We don’t want to till the soil and plant the
seed and weed the rows. We want someone
to hand us a salad right now, in a bowl, and then ask us, politely, would you
like fresh ground pepper with that?
When I was in the process of becoming
Catholic years ago I didn’t understand Our Lady. Mary seemed foreign to me, and all the
devotions that surround her left me cold.
But the priest who was helping me very wisely said, don’t worry about
that for now. Don’t focus on that. And he was right. I had enough to go on—I loved the mass. I loved the idea of sacrament.
You don’t have to know everything about a
place to know you want to live there.
You don’t have to know everything about a person to know you want to be
And I think what my spiritual advisor was
thinking is that there are some things you can’t understand except over time. You have to live into them, and that’s
exactly what’s happened to me with Mary over the years, praying the rosary and
reading about her and being part of a community that sees her, rightly, as a
model for faith. Now Our Lady is a very
important part of my life. She means a
great deal to me.
Wouldn’t our faith be a pretty shallow
thing if we could grasp it all, all of it, in the beginning?
Wouldn’t marriage be a dry and empty thing
if we learned all there was to know about our beloved on our honeymoon?
A few years ago Barb and I bought a tree
with the money they gave me when I baptized Stan, who had nineteen confirmed
kills in Viet Nam. He’s an old man now,
in a wheel chair, shriveled and pale, but he wanted to be cleansed of
sins. “I’ve been in hell,” he told me, “and
I want to be free,” and though he could hardly move, when I poured the water on
his head and began to say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father—“and
“of the Son,” he said, “and of the Holy Spirit.”
We planted the tree in spring—a Paper Maple,
a pretty tree—and now it’s higher than our roof, higher than the house. It fills
the bedroom window with leaves.
When it comes to faith, it’s almost as if
we want an artificial tree, plunked down in the yard. Lifeless.
If we don’t understand everything, if it all doesn’t make perfect sense
to us this minute, we dismiss it.
We all have serious problems. Difficult secrets. Deep hurts.
And we have to do what we can to reconcile with those we can reconcile
with, scattering seed and trying to make amends. But here, too, in the end, the earth produces
of itself, we know not how. In some way
or another a higher love enters in and the problem starts to melt or dissolve
or take another shape. There is a kind
of loosening. Or maybe the problem just
stays and it always weighs on us, but somehow we are given the strength to move
I’m saying this as someone with no
patience at all. That’s how I know.
Because in the end it’s we who are the
seeds, we ourselves. It’s we who change. I’m not the person I was when I was 20 or 30
or 40, or 50, and neither are you, and who we will be we can’t imagine. We’re never just here, never just this one
thing, once and for all.
Haven’t you known someone who suddenly
changed, or showed you a different, better side of himself or herself?
We need to try to have patience with the
people who bother us the most and who disappoint us the most; we need to try to
believe that through grace they can change someday; and we need to have
patience with ourselves and compassion for ourselves: it’s not too late for us to become better, to
attain a little more to the virtues, through grace.
In the meantime we just have to endure the
discomfort of not knowing everything. We
just have to live with unresolved contradictions.
And if we die before we attain the virtues,
and we will, death, too, is a transformation.
We are the seed, and unless the seed falls into the earth and dies it
remains just a seed. There is all this
growth, all this promise, all this change coming in the future, and so no
argument can be based solely on the present moment--on the suffering of the
moment, on the chaos of the moment--no argument against faith or the Church can
be justified purely on the basis of the present or the past, because the Lord’s
patience is directed towards our salvation and our salvation is yet to come.
In the end we will realize that the voice
we heard in the other room, the stars we saw shining in the sky, the line from
scripture that got stuck in our heads--all those tiny seeds have grown and
changed and become great trees, great branching trees, and the birds are
nesting in their branches. In the end
there is abundance and growth and all goodness and beauty, and they come from
the seeds scattered now by the Lord, in all our mornings, in all our days, in
all our fleeting moments of joy.