June 14, 2015
A long time ago Kathleen gave a few classes on philosophy and one of the things we talked about was Aristotle’s concept of actuality vs. potential. If I remember it correctly, the idea was that all things from the beginning contain the seeds of its potential. An entire oak tree is inside an acorn waiting to grow. Or to use the image in Mark’s gospel today: the wheat seed already holds within it the blade, the head, and the full grain. Potential is waiting to blossom in all things and this relates to us as well – to our soul and our capacity for God. Our choices and passions in life determine how close we actually come to our potential. Merton wrote, “For me, to be a saint means to be myself”…to become who God meant me to be. It is one who reaches their full potential in God. We are like that small mustard seed full of enormous potential. Often in our culture we think of those who reach their potential as being people with prestigious careers, higher education, or recognized accomplishments. However it is in God that we reach our full potential. Our basic life pulse is spiritual and reaching our full potential is more about things like love, humility, peace, compassion, trust…like Merton’s definition of a saint – becoming who God meant me to be. We see this in our recent Cistercian saints. St Cyprian Tansi's main job at Mount St Bernard was refectorian. He was even asked not to give homilies because his English was too hard to understand. What humility! Or Blessed Gabriella who died at the age of 24 without any words or writings to pass down to us. Rather it was her hearts longing for Christian unity that makes her remembered and cherished. Martha Driscoll wrote in her biography that investigators went to her home village in Sardinia to gather endearing childhood stories. But she wrote, “No one had any they could think of!” What humility. Yet they had all they needed to become saints – they knew their potential laid within.
So what does the gospel today teach us about how to develop this potential? To become our true self? Surprisingly, the first thing the seed teaches us is that we must die…we must die to self. To bury our egos in the sense of renouncing the false self’s demands and its distractions from the one true love and longing of our souls. As St Paul put it, we must be “buried in Christ”. For, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much grain”. (Jn 12:24) The source of our life is hidden in the depths of the soil. That soil is humility. Humility involves knowing our greatness and potential but also knowing that this beauty comes not from our self but from God. So the first lesson of the seed simply put, is we must get out of our self!...not to crush our self but to transcend our self.
A second lesson from the seed is that each contains unique potential. It is what we heard in this mornings Vigil reading from St Paul: all flesh is different and “star differs from star”. (1Cor15) Or as Sr Ludi said, a violet cannot hope to become a rose. If a violet tries to be a rose, than it will be neither a rose nor the violet it was meant to be. We want to live our potential…rooted in the true self and not a false hope. Because each of us are unique we cannot judge or compare ourselves to others, for this leads either to low self-worth or to pride – the two polar opposites of humility. Rather, we must remain rooted in humble soil to grow into what God calls us to be. Only love, planted in the soil of humility, can be our measuring rod - never other people.
A third lesson we learn is that a seed must wait. This waiting is full of God’s potential, promise, and presence. Seen in this way, our waiting can be called contemplation. So much of prayer is about waiting or more precisely that disposition that comes with waiting. For we all know how waiting can either create virtue or cause irritation…our disposition is essential.
Our culture ingrains in us at an early age that we should always be doing something, so waiting takes on a sense of restlessness. But our Christian concept of waiting is different – it is central to our spiritual life and in a sense IS our spiritual life. The difference is we wait with a promise and that promise allows us to wait. And just as each seed is unique so is its time of waiting. A Sequoia seed can lie in wait for up to 100 years before germinating while the crocus always blooms at the first spring rains. Archbishop Hanus spoke of this waiting in our vow of stability. Quoting Jeremiah: a tree planted by running streams bears fruit even in dry seasons. We can’t cultivate virtue or fruit w/o remaining planted in one place – bearing the droughts and floods in perseverance.
Our waiting contains not only a promise but a blessing! Something will be born through waiting. As an example, a pregnant woman waits, but waits with confidence and assurance that a child will be born. In the waiting something is already happening. It is invisible but certain. Each day the baby is developing in a hidden way. The waiting has purpose as well as promise. It would be impossible, and disastrous, to rush the process. Or to use the analogy in today’s gospel, a farmer scatters seed…in the waiting things are happening. He “knows not how” but he believes. This is important to understand in our spiritual life. We can think “Nothing is happening in prayer” or “I am wasting time” – when God is working all the while in a hidden way “but we know not how”. If we don’t understand this, we will confuse waiting with darkness and prayer with absence. Our job, like the farmer in the parable, is to peacefully have faith in the purpose and to trust in the promise and the blessing.
So the seed teaches us many things:
First, let us never limit our self to smallness in love and compassion, but realize our potential is beyond what we can see in the buried seed or the blade that shoots up…it continues to grow until the harvest…and then some! Our only limits in God are the ones we place on our self.
Second, as Cassian says, humility must be the overarching disposition of all virtues. Humility is the foundation, or seed bed, in which all virtues grow. Archbishop Hanus remarked strongly, “without humility we cannot be a monk”. Blessed Joseph Caussant trusted in this humble waiting and grew into a joyful saint.
Third, to tweak a line in St Benedict’s Ch 49, we can say our life is a continual Advent. We are continually seeking and finding God in our life…we are continually waiting and discovering - this is ceaseless prayer.
Fourth, faith is essential to keep us from wilting on the vine, or being choked by the weeds, or snatched by the birds passing by. God’s work in us is often invisible, but we are certain He is present with a promise and a blessing.
So where is Jesus wanting to you grow? What are some of the lessons you learned from the seed in your lectio? Let us apply them to our own life, for these lessons will bring us to our full potential in God and allow us to bear much fruit for His kingdom.