The parable of the sower from the ordinary path to holiness

"The Sower"
Van Gogh

"As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but worldly cares and the deception of wealth choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."
Mt 13:22

If our pattern of interpretation holds, then we will hear in this passage a teaching particularly appropriate to the apostle's formation between the resurrection and Pentecost, a teaching appropriate to the stage called the illuminative way.

It is true that in a first hearing of the parable, we typically interpret the three sown areas of ground as three different types of heart in three different types of persons, having three different final outcomes. The whole of scripture, however, does not allow us to keep that interpretation.

The history of the apostles shows us that persons who fail to show fruit in "tribulation and persecution" - that is persons who are described in the parable by the seed sown on rocky ground - can be given a second chance.

The "rocky ground" cannot be an unchangeable and innate quality of the heart; it must admit of change and improvement. The ultimately fruitful and faithful lives of the apostles proves to us that the rocky ground of the parable is somehow changeable into the "good ground" of the last part of the story. It must be possible for those hard and barren "rocks" in the heart of a human person to be cleared away, Such an experience in the heart of a person is the fulfilment if a prophecy of the Old Testament, "And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (ezk 11:19, 36:26).

In spite of failures in the early days, years or even decades of Christian life, we have a right to real hope! Peter denied the Lord in the first stage of his Christian discipleship, but the story does not end there. God is greater than the hardness of our hearts: the parable continue, and the sower continues his mysterious and redemptive work.

We continue to listen, then, and wonder if the thorny ground of the parable represents the behaviour of the apostles during the forty days, that is, the illuminative stage of spiritual growth in general. The Lord tells us that the thorns represent "worldly cares and the deception of wealth." We remember, certainly, the prominent place of worldly concern among the apostles in this time, even after witnessing the risen Lord. We remember also their perspective on the purpose of His coming: "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
(Ac 1:)

Does their concern not reveal a delight still in worldly riches, and a kingdom still defined in earthly terms? The impossible contradiction of this earthly expectation was unmasked in the crown of thorns set upon the head of the King in His Hour.

His kingdom is not of this world, and there is no abiding place of compromise.

The spiritual understanding of the apostles during this stage of forty days is indeed greater than the worldly perspective of their days before the passion, and less than that of their heroic supernatural virtue which came after Pentecost.

They have achieved a certain faith in the resurrection power of Chris, yet it is not perfect and it is not incorporated personally within them, The crown of thorns proclaims painfully the contrast between the kingdoms of this world, and the kingdom of God. It judges the unreal hopes for some "middle ground", some compromise position, in the life of a Christian.

We can hear in these "thorns" spiritual impediments particularly appropriate to the stage of proficients. Thorns are rooted in the soul; they are growing and living alongside the divine word planted there.Thorns are a more subtle obstruction to fruitfulness than are rocks, as venial sins are than mortal sins. Thorns draw life away from the growth of the word and in fact "choke" the growth of the word so that it may not bear fruit. The thorns cannot bear fruit by their nature: they can only grow, and choke and entangle the life of God within, and in hidden ways.

A Christian in the illuminative stage loves God, and has tasted his life. But her begins to feel the thorny pricks of conscience which reveal just how mercenary is his love, and how deeply roted is his own concupiscence.

Because they are rooted in the soul, thorns are more subtle in their effects, and less obvious than the rocks and stones which were the main concern before. Rocks are alien and obstructive, but they are not attached or rowing within the very life of the soul.

Thorns require a deeper purgation, a second "dark night" and what Fr. Garrigou Lagrange calls the "third conversion."

The apostles experienced this next purgation and purification within them in the ascension. The Christ they had experienced in the forty days, who demonstrated supernatural powers too them, who comforted them and gave them great joy, was then lifted up and ascended out of their sight, They had to experience the loss of Christ again, differently, at a deeper spiritual level, beyond their loss of Him physically by thecross, in order to experience the life of God within them, in a new way, at Pentecost.

Excerpt taken from "The Ordinary Path to Holiness" R. Thomas Richard PhD


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