Summary: Rain needs fertile soil in order to accomplish anything. But the soil needs compost in order to live. So also do our lives need God-processed garbage in order to bear fruit.

Fifteenth Sunday in Course

July 10, 2011

Spirit of the Liturgy

[If rain] The word of God, the prophetic spirit, doesn’t just evaporate from the Church. It must bear fruit in obedience to all of the ten commandments, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the welcoming attitude we bear toward all who come to us.

[if not rain] We are in the midst of one of the worst droughts in South Texas history. But true Texans, true believers in the mercy of God, we know that the rains will come, and they will make our land bear fruit again. Just so, the word of God will bear fruit in our lives, the fruit of obedience to the commandments and the works of mercy.

My wife and I have been gardening for the forty years of our married life, and we have learned that the most important thing about a lawn or garden is that the soil be receptive to the rain or irrigation it needs. Hard-packed clay soils like the natural ones we find around here won’t receive God’s gift of water any more than a hardened heart will receive God’s word. Rent a tiller and break it up and a few weeks later it will be hard as rock again. Pour artificial fertilizer on that kind of soil and you just kill the beneficial bacteria and larger critters in the soil and make the whole situation worse.

No, there’s only one thing that will help a soil recover, become receptive to the rain, and support and encourage the growth of grass or flowers or herbs or fruits and vegetables. You’ve got to spread compost on the soil. Whether you work it in or let the earthworms work it in, you have to put a half-inch or so of compost on the soil every year or two. When you’ve done that for a few years, we find, you don’t worry about weeds or fire ants or much of anything. But understand something important–compost is a product of sheep and goats and cows. And I’m not talking about milk, cheese and mutton, either. Let’s not be too explicit, but compost starts off as waste, as garbage, as refuse. You can’t keep a soil clean, purged of bacteria and other critters. When you try that, you make it dead, unreceptive to the gift of rain.

The analogy with our own human life is exact. Jesus says, “this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.' But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” That means that those who reject the teaching of Christ cannot receive the grace that he pours on us daily, whether there’s rain in the forecast or not. But those who are open to the teaching of Christ have prepared their souls like properly prepared soil. What does that mean?

It means that our souls must be fertilized with a kind of spiritual compost. And that’s not easy, because it means we have to tolerate being dumped on. Uncomposted waste stinks. And sometimes what we dump on ourselves, and what others dump on us, is stinky. The worst is what we dump on ourselves–our personal venial sins. Somebody looks on us cockeyed and we respond with a sharp retort. We may thoughtlessly spread some minor gossip. We waste time on the Internet or video games–time that ought to be used to do good works or pray. We ignore our spiritual reading. That waste just rots unless we properly compost it. Others can also dump on us. A friend suddenly turns hostile. A boss dumps a project he doesn’t want to take responsibility for. A failing student blames us for her failure. These experiences stink; they need proper composting or they will rot out our souls.

There’s a simple, free way to diagnose soil conditions. Dig up a couple of shovels of dirt and carefully look at the critters inside. Do you find little white grubs–beetle larvae, or ants? Your soil is hard-packed, devoid of helpful bacteria, dying. Those grubs are eating up your grass roots. Do you find fat earthworms in some quantity? Your soil is probably very friable, living and life-giving, because it has adequate organic matter–compost–to support life.

There is a parallel way to diagnose soul conditions. Take a day and catalog the ways in which you respond to the garbage you throw at yourself or that others throw at you. Is your response full of hostile works, cursing under your breath, negative self-talk? Those are the beetle larvae that are eating the life out of your spirit. On the contrary, if your response is typically a word of praise or even thanks to God, your soul is healthy. Orthodoxy–right praise–words like praise God and alleluia are the earthworms of the soul. They eat through the mean words and actions that can poison our day and make our souls fertile in more praise and good works. Another composting spiritual earthworm is forgiveness. A word or thought of forgiveness when someone does something mean to us will be beneficial to both parties.

The greatest praise–it’s called a sacrifice of praise–is the Mass. It’s heart-warming to see the number of folks who attend daily Mass here in the parish. They aren’t coming to Mass because they are feeling perfect. We come and worship–praise God as he wants to be praised–because we are weak and sinful, but thankful. The Mass is like a supercharged compost engine. We hear the Word of God, we eat and chew the Word of God and that Word transforms us–little by little–into images of Himself. The Liturgy of the Hours, which we celebrate every weekend at 7:30 before this Mass, is the second-place means of turning the garbage of our lives into praise. And we offer that praise for religious and priestly vocations which we desperately need. It’s wonderful to see more and more of you joining us to support that ministry of praise.

As we begin our Mass on Sundays and feasts, we sing the Gloria, a hymn of praise to the Trinity. The new translation which we will use this Advent is more faithful to the Greek and Latin original, so it will take some getting used to. Right in the first line we will say “and on earth, peace to people of good will.” That is exactly what St. Luke records as the angelic greeting on Christmas: et in terra, pax, hominibus bonae voluntatis. We will then sing the quintuple blessing to God–we praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory. This restores a structure that is lost in the street-language translation we have been using for forty years. The new translation also restores the double petition to Christ to have mercy on us. Mercy is the action of God that is needed to compost my garbage. Finally, we make the subtle change “take away the sins of the world” instead of “take away the sin of the world.” I am a sinner. I commit sins, not sin, and they all need to be acknowledged, confessed, and forgiven. Only then can the Holy Spirit work in us to change the world into the kingdom of Christ.