Growing at the Lord’s Pace
If we were to come up with a list of the defining marks of American culture, I am fairly well convinced that a de-mand for and expectation of efficiency might make the top five. We often, even unconsciously, value ourselves and oth-ers according to productivity and ability to complete our to-do lists, our ability to accomplish and achieve in the outside world, or to order and care for in our home lives. We believe that effort should correspond directly to results. We expect things to happen according to our schedules, for the fulfillment all our desires to be available to us at whatever moment we chose, and when our drive for efficiency is blocked, by our own humanity, by others in our homes, by people at work, or by the outside world, how quickly frustration sets in! Has that not been one of the major difficulties of the pandemic, once any initial enjoyment of a slower life had faded away?
Yet, when Christ tells us parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, about the life of grace, our life with the Lord in His Church, He uses a set of images that run counter to our desire for clear and timely results. He says to us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like seed that grows of its own accord. The farmer may tend the fields, but he cannot make the seed grow or ripen. The seed grows as God wills, according to the almost imperceptible pace of the natural world. Only at the very end is the long-awaited result clear. He tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven begins as small as the mustard seed, easily missed or overlooked, and only after years of silent growth, again accomplished by God and not any other person, does it become large and strong enough to bear the weight of the birds.
What does this all mean for us? It means that we must accept that growth in our spiritual lives, in the life of the parish or the Church, will grow at God’s pace, and that we may not be able to hurry it along by simply working harder. Sometimes the Lord will permit quick growth, easily seen, like the grain finally appearing in the ear. Most of the time, He works in silence, purifying, humbling, and strengthening us, like stalks of young wheat that have to endure the wind and rain while the roots dig deep enough to support the full weight of the mature plant. Our job is not to force spiritual growth anywhere, in ourselves or in others. It is to tend the ground of our soul so that God Himself can give the growth when He pleases.
This regular maintenance of our souls, undertaken through Sunday and daily Mass, our daily prayers, scripture reading, the Rosary, regular confession, spiritual reading, and discipline, is not usually exciting. A calm and regular par-ish life does not carry all of the promise of immediate catharsis or progress that a big retreat weekend or flashy pastoral activities might, as good as those things certainly can be in moderation. But it is the regular quiet work that we do, simp-ly tending to the souls we have been given day in and day out, that makes the greatest fruits possible. We of course must ask for the grace to persevere through dry periods, through trials and crises, through the quietest moments, when we might wonder what it’s all worth, but if we reach out for that help, the Lord who is faithful we give us what we need to continue. Then we will indeed see the beautiful harvest He has prepared in us for the sake of all, and we will rejoice in having remained with Him as it grew in quiet.