Posted by: mmreflections | October 10, 2009

Planting Seeds in the Kingdom: October, 2009

“A  sower went out to sow.  As he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  Some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred  fold….”  (Matthew 13:3-9)

It is interesting to note in this parable that the sower was out sowing seeds everywhere without paying much attention to where the seeds were falling.  He was just doing his job.  We are all given opportunities to plant seeds of God’s love which each of us has received in great abundance.  What is absolutely delightful is that most often we don’t know where and when we are planting seeds.  We may not recognize an opportunity when it comes.  Perhaps this is the reason Jesus so frequently reminded us to stay awake and pay attention.  As we progress on our spiritual journeys many of us may find ourselves grieving the opportunities lost to plant some good seeds because we were not paying attention or because we were not practicing our faith on a daily basis.

A good example of planting seeds without awareness occurred years ago when I received one of those dreaded letters from the Internal Revenue Service informing me to appear for an audit at the local IRS office.  There was a mixed reaction on my part.  I felt some fear about having to undergo an audit while feeling confident my tax returns were accurate since they were prepared by a certified public accountant.  I felt some annoyance at being called for an audit since my income was so very small compared to more affluent people.  With this mixed bag of feelings and annoyance I arrived carrying all the appropriate documents for my appointment with the designated IRS official.  At the same time I was praying for guidance, patience and wisdom to properly and respectfully get through the stressful ordeal. 

As the audit unfolded the official reviewed my tax return and began questioning me about my vocation to the priesthood.  He couldn’t seem to understand why I would settle for such a low income after having gone to college for four years, seminary for five years, and graduate school for an additional four years.  He seemed to be spending more time on questioning me about my vocation and service to the church than on my tax return.  He was also mystified by the fact that I was not annoyed with him nor angry or afraid of being audited as many other people were when audited.  As our conversation continued I was surprised to see him close all the folders and bring the audit to a close. He then very thoughtfully, respectfully and quietly acknowledged he was an atheist; he did not believe in God.  Nevertheless, he asked if he could come to see our church and to talk with me further about my faith.  As a result of the audit this man made and kept a number of appointments to discuss spirituality, our parish life, my understanding of and my faith in God.  When he was saying goodbye at his last visit, he handed me a substantial check for our church and thanked me for my time and patience with all his questions.  I never heard from him again.  I do not know whether the seeds planted  during those appointments ever produced fruit.  What I did learn was that I had been given an opportunity to sow seeds in a most unlikely situation.  It also helped me to understand how we are always planting seeds in unexpected places and most often will never see the fruits.  This gives us all the more reason to pay attention to what kind of seeds we are planting.

A  treasured blessing for me came as a result of another unexpected opportunity which occurred in my very first priestly assignment.  A young soldier whose parents were faithful members of our parish was coming to meet with me whenever he was home on leave from the army.  His purpose for meeting with me was to discuss our Catholic faith and my personal convictions.  He was quite assertive and bold in his declarations of non-belief.  Nevertheless, he seemed uncomfortable with his own convictions.  I sometimes felt quite exasperated and frustrated because of my lack of success and my seeming failure to make any headway in these  talks.  However, I made every effort to be kind, respectful and caring for this young and sincere soldier.  Our sessions always seemed to end at an impasse; he could not convince me to stop believing and get “a real job” while I was unsuccessful in helping him to realize the benefits of a faith in God.  He eventually stopped coming to see me and I was transferred to another parish. 

In those early years of priestly service I was often bombarded with temptations to believe that my efforts to be of service to others was fruitless.  About 15 years later I was struggling with many issues in another parish and found myself quite discouraged with the lack of success in many areas of parish life and my personal life.  I really needed some indication or sign that all these efforts were not in vain.  One day was particularly difficult for me and everything that could go wrong seemed to be going wrong.  I received a letter in the mail that day from  the young soldier I met in my first priestly assignment with whom I had lost contact.  In his letter he apologized for not writing to me sooner but he didn’t have my current address.  He wanted to gratefully inform me that the seeds I had planted many years ago had borne fruit.  He thanked me for the time I had spent with him and for my patience and understanding while he bombarded me with all his questions and doubts about God. He wanted me to know he had become a true believer and was now married to a wonderful woman who shared his faith.  Needless to say, his letter proved to be a great blessing for me.  That day suddenly became brighter and, despite the problems facing me at the time, I knew that all was well and all was as it should be.  God was still in charge and reminded me to keep planting seeds whether I see the fruit or not.

Frequently parents have related to me how they have reached out and prayed for their children who have seemed to turn away from their faith in God and have been living their lives in ways which seemed to contradict all they had taught them while they were growing up.  Many of these parents had come to believe their prayers, love and concerns for their children had become fruitless.  There were no signs that the seeds they planted would ever bring forth any fruit.  I have learned there is a proper time for everything, even for seeds to germinate and bring forth fruit.  I have been blessed to see children who seemed to turn away from their faith make sudden and unexpected changes in life styles at certain moments of their lives.  I recently witnessed some children come back to church and become active members of a parish upon the death of their father who had been a devoted and active member of that same parish.  That father had been planting seeds for many years without realizing it; the seeds flourished upon his death.

In reality we are all constantly planting seeds every day, everywhere often without realizing we are planting.  We need to pay attention lest we carelessly plant weeds or bad seeds: hatred, resentment, bitterness, despair, greed, selfishness, unkindness or pain.  Hopefully we are planting good seeds:  acts of love, kind words, smiles, joy, assistance, respect for others, generosity, encouragement, forgiveness, patience, understanding, smiles, hope and faith.  Some day we may be blessed to discover the fruit of those good seeds we planted.  Often that blessing will come to us when we most need some encouragement on our own personal spiritual journeys. 

 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”  (Matthew 7:24)

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Responses

  1. Fr. Mike:

    Thank you for edifying us by sharing your reflections and some of your deeper introspections.

    I, too, remember that retreat given by Bishop Basil several years ago (before he was Metropolitan), and left with some of the same impressions.

    God be with you.

    Bob P.


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