In his gospel messages. Jesus Christ spent a great deal of time talking about farming. In Matthew chapter 13 we read about the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Weeds, the Mustard Seed and so on. In other places he speaks of the harvest, the trees and their fruit, yeast and bread, workers and vineyards, tenant farming and seeds. Of course, he was speaking to an agrarian society and he spoke in parables that helped the average person of that time to understand the message of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the past two thousand years, we have moved away from an agrarian culture to a modern, industrial, mechanical and computerized society where our needs are met more quickly than in the past and with less attention to formation. Can our modern world relate to the gospel messages rooted in tasks we no longer perform? Is the perennial quality of Christ’s message workable in our modern evangelization efforts?
How much experience does the average millennial have with seeds?
Recently, a young woman visited my home and commented on a butterfly garden I planted in the front yard. A large variety of wildflowers covered the patch of earth where I found the most sunlight. The young woman said she’d never seen such flowers in a flower bed and asked me where I’d bought them. I explained to her that I purchased a bag of wildflower seeds and planted them in the soil - rain and warm sunshine made them grow. She seemed perplexed that this would work. We are accustomed to visiting a nursery, buying already cultivated plants and putting them in the ground. At the grocery store, we purchase meats we have not hunted, we purchase vegetables, grains, and fruits we have not grown, and most importantly we purchase foods that have already been cooked or processed and ready to eat. We have distanced ourselves from hunting, gathering, and farming long ago. We have advanced beyond the basics.
Bread is made by combining the correct ratio of flour to yeast, water and salt. With some varieties of bread, fats and sugar and other ingredients are added to enhance flavor and texture. The temperature of the water is critical to activating the yeast and the process of kneading, rising, and baking is essential to a palatable loaf of bread. For centuries bread was made in the home, but now it is quite common to purchase already baked bread or have it served pronto in a favorite restaurant. The process of making bread has been lost to most people of our generation. We don’t want to wait all day to make a sandwich. Incidentally, eating bread may go the way of the dinosaurs with our current focus on gluten-free, carb-free diets. So, how do we evangelize about the need for asking God for our daily bread? Are we capable of patiently attending to a process when it comes to faith?
The Tech World in Which We Live
Industrialization of the late 19th and 20th century has made it easy for us to wake up in the morning and get on with our day without worrying about whether our crops are growing, or where our meat and bread will come from. Computerization has managed to push everything we do each day into high-speed. We’ve done away with a personal need for seeds that must be cultivated and processes that require patience. The tech world in which we live allows us to meet our needs with a tap of our finger on a screen, or a click of a button. Where does faith fit into this high-speed dynamic? We can’t tap or click our faith into place.
Where the True Challenge Lies
Though many would say that the Church is still rooted in its “ancient” beliefs, Catholicism has met an important modern challenge - it has taken the message of Jesus’ gospels to the internet, TV, youtube, videos, audios, and mobile devices. One can download a Catholic app to keep up with the faith and read any one of a million blogs about sharing the faith. Our priests, deacons, catechists, and lay people are using technology to spread the gospels because this is the way of the world in which we live. But, the approach is still the same - we are planting seeds. Whether we currently know anything about agriculture or not, we are the farmers, we are sowers, we are branches of Christ’s vine and we come across our fair share of weeds and thorns. However, we cannot speed up the process of growing in our faith, or sharing it to our satisfaction and this is where the true challenge lies. Faith is a process - often, a very slow process. We can’t use a GPS to get there faster, we can’t microwave it to get it done quicker, and we can’t tap on a screen to see the end result. Faith means getting back to the basics, seeing it as a seed that needs to be nurtured and developed and as we all know getting back to the basics takes some effort and let’s face it - some decelerating.
In his Oct. ‘07 article “The Seed of Faith” Father Paul Scalia wrote “This growth of faith is precisely what we so often neglect. How many Catholics are content with a faith that has not grown since childhood (perhaps since infancy), like a seed that has produced neither plant nor fruit? Without our constant care and nourishment, the seed of faith within us grows not at all, bears no fruit and remains practically dead. Precisely because faith can grow, we should nourish it with our prayers and water it with repentance” (thecatholicexchange.com).
In order to meet the challenge of sharing our faith in the public forum and increasing our own faith, we need to understand that it requires more than the use of technology, it requires that we revisit the core of our faith (the seeds) and it demands that we tread gently and lovingly through the process - through prayer, works of mercy, and turning to God through repentance. Nurturing something that cannot be rushed in a world where everything moves very quickly might require that we buy a bag of wildflower seeds and plant them, or that we put together some bread ingredients and bake the dough. Perhaps we need to relearn the process of patience before we can apply it to our faith and helping others to understand the value of growing in a faithful relationship with God.