Preparing for the Harvest

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent. Exod 3:1-8.13-15; Ps 102; 1 Cor 10:1-6.10-12; Lk 13:1-9


It is generally believed that everybody wants to find happiness, although there is wide disagreement about what is really meant by 'happiness'. What Christianity understands as happiness is for us to enjoy a new kind of life, a divine life of grace enabling friendship with God and the saints forever in heaven. This state of happiness is called 'salvation' and the Church exists in order to gather people to enjoy this salvation in heaven.

Some Christians talk about this salvation as if it is something we can gain instantly, like turning on a light. Perhaps the best known slogans of this notion of instant salavation are, “Have you been saved?” or “Are you saved, sister?” Scripture, however, and particularly today's readings talk about salvation for most of us as being a gradual process, like a plant or a tree coming to maturity and bearing fruit. If successful, this process of maturity takes exactly one lifetime to complete, and in today's readings we have a glimpse of all three stages of this growth towards salvation. First, Moses encounters God in the Burning Bush and turns aside to encounter God. In other words, Moses turns away from his normal way of life, looking after flocks, and begins to follow the path that God has set out for him. Moses' encounter with God is the beginning of the journey towards salvation, like a seed being planted in the ground. Second, St Paul describes the journey of the People of Israel, a symbol of the Church, towards the Promised Land, which is a symbol of heaven. This journey of the people through the desert, which takes forty years to complete, is a symbol of the life of a Christian growing in the life of grace, like a plant growing from a seed. Finally, Jesus talks about the need for a this Christian life to bear fruit, and traditionally there are twelve named Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Longsuffering, Goodness, Benignity, Mildness, Faith, Modesty, Continency and Chastity. Jesus also warns us that the time that we available for producing these fruits is not unlimited. For all of us, when this short earthly life comes to end, we shall either be fruitful and prepared for God's Kingdom's or else our life will be barren and suddenly cut off, like those people who died suddenly in the collapsing tower mentioned in the Gospel. For one, death will be like a harvest, the moment of victory; for another, death will more like the closing of a trap.

How, then, can our lives be fruitful? How can we be successful 'spiritual plants'? First, all plants have to have roots, just as Moses' knowledge of God was rooted in his ancestor's knowledge of the same God. For us as Catholics today, our roots can be many things: our knowledge of Scripture; our knowledge of the Church's history and teaching; our knowledge of the lives of the saints, those who have gone before us. So to study Scripture, the Church's history and teaching and the lives of the saints are all important for giving us strong roots. Second, all plants have to be open to receive water and sunlight, otherwise the plant will die and be fruitless. For us, this opening to water and the sun can represent daily prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. One of the most important resolutions for all of our lives, one of the most powerful means to be fruitful every day, is to begin every day with prayer, like a plant opens each day to the sun. If we pray every day, our lives will be fruitful in all kinds of ways so, if you do not already do so, I enourage you to begin each day with at least a few minutes of prayer. Finally, we must be careful to avoid whatever will poison the life of grace. St Paul warns that many of the people of Israel started out well, following Moses to the Promised Land, but that they later died in the desert. Even in the desert, St Paul says that many of the people had 'wicked lusts for forbidden things'. In the modern world, people often seek alternative sources of happiness apart from God, forbidden things that that are often good things sought in a disordered way. This poison might not be a dramatic sin: even an addiction to television, computer games or constant music in the ears can be a very effective way of inhibiting growth in the spiritual life and failing to be fruitful.

May God help us to be fruitful for the Kingdom of Heaven, like a good tree planted in a vineyard. May we put down good roots by studying our faith, its history and the Scriptures. May we pray each day, like a plant drawing water and sunlight, and may we avoid whatever will poison the life of grace. Finally, may we have the grace to persevere, to produce the fruit that God wishes us to bear and so come rejoicing one day to the Kingdom of Heaven in glory.

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