Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Healthy Root System

Homily from the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

One hot summer day, like today, I was riding my bike around the campus of the University of Notre Dame. And as I was pedeling down the sidewalk, I saw something rather unusual. Out of a crack in the sidewalk grew a single bright red flower: a petunia.

It had gotten there for two reasons - number one: the gardener was careless. There was a flower bed nearby, but one seed had apparently fallen down that crack in the sidewalk. And number two: the seed managed to find rich soil deep down underneath the sidewalk.

Today's parable is about a careless gardener. The sower is throwing seed all over the place. He's throwing it on the path, on rocky ground and in the thorns.

Jesus is a careless gardener. He sows the seed of His word everywhere. He sends his word to anyone who has ears. He gives everyone a chance to hear his word. But will the seed of his word take root in us?

Today's Gospel is about the sower: Jesus; and the seed: His word; and us: the soil. There's another very important component in today's Gospel: the root system: our spiritual life.

Jesus describes four root systems. Notice how, as Jesus tells the parable, the root systems go from the very barren to the very fertile.

First, there's the path: the non-existent root system. The path is so hardened by the trampling of feet that there's not even a crack for the seed to penetrate. This is the non-existent spiritual life that opens no doors for Jesus to enter.

Second, there's the rocky ground: the shallow root system. In Palestine, there are sections of ground where large slabs of limestone are covered by only an inch or two of soil. There's no depth. This is the shallow spiritual life which gives up after difficulty and tribulation.

Third, there's the thorns: the polluted root system. There's a certain plant called the "strangler fig" which begins life nesteled in the branches of a host tree. It sends its roots down to the soil and as soon as they touch earth, it grows rapidly and envelopes its host, strangling it. This is the polluted spiritual life in which we give greater honor to things than to God.

Then, there's the rich soil: the healthy, cultivated and fertilized root system. The right environment for seed to take root.

If we don’t have a healthy root system, we won’t be nourished. And if we’re not nourished, we will eventually wither up and die. Our spiritual life is our root system. What goes into a healthy root system?  What is a healthy spiritual life made up of?

Every living creature, every animal and every plant, requires water for life. We receive new life though the waters of Baptism and we continue to be watered when we renew our baptismal promises to accept God and reject Satan, signified when we bless ourselves with water from the baptistery and actualized when we love God and our neighbor in thought, word and deed.

Every living creature needs food for growth. Our food is the Body and Blood of Christ and it gives us eternal life.

No matter how good the soil is, weeds always creep in. Why do we always struggle with this sin? Well, because their like weeds. Flower beds have an inclination, if you will, for weeds to grow. Likewise, we suffer from something called concupiscence, which is our inclination to sin. It doesn't mean we're evil. It means we need regular weeding where our sins are ripped out by the roots which happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Soil stays fertile through routine tilling, turning over, and fertilization. This is the life of prayer; daily maintenance where Jesus digs his hands into you and turns you over, forming you.

Plants and animals need the sun. One day when Monsignor was recovering from his heart surgery I found him sitting on a chair next to the patio door in the living room. I said, "What are you doing?" "Getting my Vitamin D!" he replied. He needed the sun for his health. You know how you feel when the permacloud of a Fort Wayne winter settles interminably over us. We get depressed for lack of the sun. Plants always turn to face the sun and they follow it throughout the day. Likewise, we need to turn and face the Son in Eucharistic Adoration. Facing the Son keeps us oriented toward him throughout the day.

And we need a farmer: Jesus Christ who plants, waters, tills, feeds you through his chosen instruments: parents, families, teachers, catechists, priests.

This is what a healthy root system, a healthy spiritual life, is comprised of.

A healthy root system is not comprised of a successful career, a solid 401K, or a strong portfolio. It is not an impressive resume. It is not the esteem of your friends and popularity. Nor is it the neighborhood or house you live in, the car you drive, the clothes you wear or the latest technology, or a built up sense of pride.

A healthy root system is your relationship with Christ. It is your willingness to allow the soil of your lives to be exposed and penetrated by Christ the sower. So let him cleanse and fertilize your soil. Amazing things will happen. He can even make petunias grow through cracks in the sidewalk.

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