Discernment and the Sower

The Gospel reading of today’s liturgy is the well known parable of the Sower sowing the seed (Luke 8:4-15)

What really is left to say about this parable? In fact it is pretty straight-forward in its message, especially as Jesus himself gives the explanation! So I decided today at Mass just to speak on discernment, even at the risk you’ve heard it all before.

In his work, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross explains how inordinate attachments can be a hindrance to the journey of the soul and what kind of appetites are most detrimental. He distinguishes three sources, moving from the least to the most harmful. These are the natural, the semi-voluntary, and the voluntary.

Natural movements are of little or no hindrance to the attainment of union provided they are not the sole focus of our attention. Rather we can use them to glorify God. Our taste for good music or enjoyable conversation might be examples.

Those appetites that are semi-voluntary refer to our needs and desires in which we have less culpability because of we lack the deliberate intention to make them serious. We are less conscious of the motivational forces at work within ourselves. They maybe like a deeper current tugging us away from union, even though our course is set in our desire to seek and follow God.

What is voluntary, means we chose it deliberately. It is our intention to draw away from union with God.

So, while in the parable of the sower we hear of so many people getting distracted by all sorts of natural and semi-voluntary circumstances, it is really the person who makes a deliberate intention to prepare the good soil for the word of God that is the focus here. There are many things in our lives that we can’t do much about, but we can set the right intention and follow that by being fertile ground for God.

In David G. Benner’s book, Discerning God’s Will, he speaks of two kingdoms. (This is reminiscent of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola and the options he suggests we meditate on when we come to seeking God’s Will.) There is the Kingdom of Self and the Kingdom of God. He contrasts them.

kingdom of selfkingdom of God
ruled by self-interestruled by love
clenched fists and closed heartopen hands and heart
self hard and brittlesoft and malleable

When the soil of our soul is well tended and prepared to receive the seed, we serve the ways of the kingdom of God. We intend to open ourselves to this pathway of love, remembering that love is not a warm fuzzy feeling but a commitment to charitable action, a giving of self for other. Our love in action is not the hard work of self, but the tender opening to the work of God within us. The seed in good soil doesn’t make growth happen. It has to wait until the soil that holds it, the rain that waters it, the warmth that nurtures it makes conditions just right for it to sprout. This is how it is with us also. The word in us comes to life in the presence of nurturing love and the best nurturing love is that we can hold for others.

Let us not wait until this life is over in hope for the Kingdom of God, rather let us allow God to usher the kingdom into this world here and now by being good soil for the seed of charity to grow in.