“The grain that fell in good soil stands for those who hear the word, and hold by it with a noble and generous heart, and endure, and yield a harvest.” (Luke 8:15)
They say that if you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just wait ten minutes and it will change. Especially during the Spring and Autumn months, it seems like any season can make an appearance at any time.
Our lives can also change in an instant. Our health, our financial security, our relationships and the political and social climate around us can change for the better or worse much more quickly than we would like. During this time of pandemic and other crises, change seems to come fast and bring grave and unusual challenges. It’s no wonder so many people are struggling with intense anxiety these days.
Pope Benedict XVI was speaking to an assembly of bishops several years ago and offered an important insight about how to overcome this kind of anxiety. Comparing the worldly things we can so easily become focused on with God’s word, he said:
And all these things, which seem like the true reality on which we can count, are realities of a second order. One who builds his life on these realities, on objects, success, on everything that’s visible, builds on sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of every reality, fixed as the heavens and more than the heavens, is the reality.
Pope Benedict was referring to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus makes clear the stakes involved in following his teachings. (Matt. 7:24-27) Our response to God’s word is a matter of life or death. It is more consequential than any COVID-19 vaccine or political maneuver. Our response to God’s word expresses what is in our hearts and it shapes our entire lives.
We cannot sit on the fence. We are either disciples of Christ or people of the world. We are called to be disciples in the world, but we cannot be worldly people. Disciples build their lives on a solid foundation, not vulnerable to the storms and shifting fortunes of life in this world. Worldly people rely on something that simply can’t support them—an empty promise.
When our lives are built on Christ and his word, the challenges we face can’t rob us of what holds eternal value: our union with God, with his Church and with each other. There is, of course, a legitimate concern we have for external things such as financial resources or our health, especially when we have other people to take care of. But we can’t let that concern morph into the kind of fear that undercuts God’s place at the center of our lives.
Here we can look to St. Paul as a heroic model. In Philippians 4:12, St. Paul offers a personal testimony:
Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.
How many of us can say the same? When hardships come our way, do we face them graciously? Do we persevere in thanking God for his many gifts? I know that I have a lot to learn about graciousness in times of trouble, and I bet I’m far from alone.
One of my favorite TV shows over the years has been “Little House on the Prairie.” It’s a great family show, in which you inevitably laugh, cry, and learn a lesson. One thing “Little House” did an excellent job of was showing how a family can handle tough times graciously, keeping their faith, sticking together and refusing to give in to despair despite the intense challenges of pioneering life.
We may not live on the prairie, but life today has plenty of challenges. We have an opportunity now to examine the whole way we look at life:
- Do I let any worldly anxieties dominate my thoughts, my hopes, my decisions?
- Do I keep my focus on Christ even when times get tough?
- Do I love God’s word and respond with a wholehearted “yes,” building my life on the rock foundation of Christ and his word?
When we fear for our physical or material well being, we are prone to make bad decisions. When we have faith, we are prone to make godly decisions.
For example, how often have financial problems been a catalyst for the disintegration of marriages and families? Faith tells us that people are more important than things—and that these are more than nice words! Faith motivates us to persevere in doing the right thing even when the wrong things are happening to us.
“Nothing is beyond my powers, thanks to the strength God gives me,” St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:13. And St. Paul didn’t just write those words; he lived them with every fiber of his being, until the day he was killed in Rome for his faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus says that each of us is to receive his word “with a noble and generous heart, and endure, and yield a harvest.” (Lk. 8:15) There is no more noble and generous heart than Christ’s own Sacred Heart. No one has endured as much as Jesus did as he suffered and died for us. And the harvest yielded by the cross of Christ is immeasurable and unsurpassable.
In other words, in order to receive the word of God as well as possible, and to respond to it as wholeheartedly as possible, we need to be as much like Christ as we can possibly be. Jesus is the Word of God who speaks words of everlasting life and calls his disciples to share his words to the farthest corners of the world. (Jn. 1:1, Jn. 6:68, Matt. 28:19-20, Mk. 16:15)
Though it is incredibly daunting to think of becoming like the Son of God, it is even more consoling to know that Jesus does not abandon us. He is Emmanuel, “God with us,” and he empowers us to become like him, to hear his word and respond with lives of faith, hope and love.
Christ especially empowers us in the Holy Eucharist, which is his body and blood. When we receive Jesus in holy Communion, we are transformed and become more like him. Our hearts are made noble and generous, we receive strength to endure whatever may come and to yield a harvest of holiness in our own lives and the lives of all we influence.
Like St. Paul, we can do all things through the strength God gives us. No matter what trials we face in this life, we can triumph as spiritual champions. Our victory begins when we say “yes” to God’s powerful, soul-piercing, heart-shaping, death-defeating, life-giving word.