What does it mean to be truly open to the will of God? How can we ensure that the seed, the Word of God, that is sown by him in the lives of each of us, falls on fertile ground and bears fruit within us? How can we pass through the labour pains of this world, as Saint Paul puts it, and gain for ourselves the ‘adoption, the redemption of our bodies’ for which we and all creation groans and longs?
First we must be open to receiving God’s word. We must have a desire within our hearts to take onboard what it is that the Lord wishes to communicate to us in the life of grace that is ours through holy baptism, through the riches of sacred scripture, and through the teaching and wisdom of the Church’s life. For those of us already in the pews this morning, we might assume that such a desire is indicated by our presence here. Nevertheless, let us ask ourselves with honesty if our hearts are truly open to receiving the Lord’s will for our lives. What barriers to we set up, willingly or unwillingly? How does sin infect and sully that pure and noble desire? How do we allow the evil one to draw us away from the life the Lord has given us in the waters of the font, and plant weeds and thorns in our midst to strangle and choke God’s purpose and will before it takes effect? This constant struggle, this ongoing battle against ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’, is at the heart of the Christian life. We are not judged because have to fight it, but by the means we resist the wiles and snares that are laid for us. And so, first, to be open to receiving God’s word means to truly turn our back on those dark areas of our lives that represent the fallen man which, in baptism, we have sought to put to death.
Secondly, we must prepare the ground of our lives for his word to take root. This means that, in order to receive the Lord’s grace and to understand more fully the life to which he is calling us, we must nurture and care for our souls – the very places where the Lord seeks to plant the seed of new life. When we come to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Holy Mass, and receive Holy Communion; when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation in the confessional and renew the baptismal grace first given us at the font; there we are receiving God’s grace – if we are ready and willing to be its recipients. This means that our souls must be tilled and made ready to receive such a great gift by examining our consciences – each day before bed, if possible – and, when necessary, coming in honesty to the sacrament of penance; asking the Lord to pluck out of the soil those weeds and thorns that seek to destroy the seed he has planted within us. Confession – frequent and regular confession – is the surest means of tending to the garden of the soul. It is the Church’s way, Christ’s way, of defending us against the attacks of the evil one: not simply restoring us to the covenant-relationship with God sealed in our baptism and confirmation, but giving us the strength we need to go back out into the world and continue that struggle to remain in his love (Jn 15:10). If we desire to be open to God’s word, then it is in the confessional that we become vulnerable and humble enough to be truly docile to it.
More than that, we must also live lives of Christian virtue. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that ‘grace perfects nature’. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI put it, ‘All the faculties of the human being are purified, transformed and uplifted by divine grace’. Thus the Lord’s showering of grace on us through the sacraments must fall on good ground if it is to make our souls ‘fertile and fruitful’ (Is. 55: 10). Living in the communion of the Church requires us to first live according to the natural order, just as following the laws of the Church requires us to follow the laws of nature. To stray from this ‘paves the way to ethical relativism at the individual level and to totalitarianism of the State at the political level’.
Finally, we must be prepared to harvest the gifts we have been given. The seed that is sown, if nurtured and cared for in this way, bears fruit in our lives. But just as the fruit of a tree is not hidden from the world, but rather shows its beauty to the passer-by, enticing them to eat, so the fruit of God’s grace in our lives must be evident to those around us. We must become bearers of the fruit of the tree of life, restored in the new creation, the paradise lost through the selfishness of the fall. And in so doing, we must share with others that fruit – fruit that does not lead now to death, but the restoration of man in God’s love. It is only by harvesting the fruits that God has sown in us that others will come to a knowledge of his love and his truth and that his grace, like a bountiful orchard, will spring up in the souls of those whom we meet. In a particular way, the fruit that we eat here at the altar – the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ – is the fruit par excellence. More than any other gift, it is through the Eucharistic banquet – where Christ’s sacrifice is re-presented for us in an unbloody manner – that we are called to bring others to feast, not just in our midst, but together with the saints and the angels of the heavenly kingdom, the new creation: paradise restored.
May our lives reflect this threefold desire: to be open to God’s word, to prepare ourselves to receive it, and to share his life with those whom we encounter. This is the essence of a life of Christian discipleship. It is our life, and the life to which the Lord calls those whom he has redeemed. May we have the courage to live it.