I’m a bit of a coffee fan, although I don’t drink a ton of it, and I’ve noticed lately a bit of a trend toward two methods of coffee making. And what’s interesting is that they’re seemingly completely opposite philosophies in making coffee! On the one hand, you have these Keurig machines. They have prefabricated containers of a variety of flavors of coffee, from decaffeinated Colombian, to Donut Shop blend, to vanilla and hazelnut and on and on. You just pop one of these cartridges in, select how much you want, and then it starts shooting out coffee! It’s really kind of incredible. And when you make those, you don’t care how it does it, or what’s in it, but you get to pick what you want, and you get results right away! On the other hand, however, you have the French press. This is supposedly more refined, but it’s a more difficult process. It takes time to prepare the grounds – not too fine, and not too coarse – and then you stir in the grounds to some hot water in the press. But unlike the Keurig, you have to wait, and compared to the instantaneous coffee, four minutes of letting it brew can seem like an eternity. But those four minutes of waiting, and seemingly doing nothing, are the most important steps in preparing the coffee. Now, I’m not bashing the Keurig, because they’re a fantastic invention, but given infinite time, most real coffee connoisseurs would probably prefer the French press.
So what does this have to do with anything religious? Well, it’s Ordinary Time. And there’s a tendency to see this as a boring time of year, or a time of nothing particularly special. It’s just…ordinary. It seems like we’re not doing anything: there’s nothing sparkly or shiny like our Christmas or Easter decorations, there’s no special music like what we just got finished singing, and even the readings for Mass focus on Jesus’ parables and teachings instead of the iconic stories like we hear during the other liturgical seasons. The tendency can be to see this as a time when nothing is happening. We want excitement, or at least visible instant results, like the Keurig machine – we get what we want on our measurements and our conditions. But I think the lesson we’re encouraged to learn is that God doesn’t work that way. Sure, he needs us to prepare, but then we have to wait while he does the important stuff. Even though this “ordinary” time seems just so…ordinary, it’s a time for extraordinary grace, with God working in the background amidst the unseen.
Today’s parable is about a farmer who is scattering the seed across his fields. This farmer doesn’t see how it grows or why, he doesn’t get to pick the quality or the quantity of the yield, but he simply experiences the end result. When does all the action happen? It all happens while he’s sleeping, in the unknown, in the unseen, deep within the earth. And where does the power of growth come from? Well, the farmer prepares the land and scatters the seed. He can water, he can put fertilizer out, he can do as much as he wants to prepare, but ultimately, the power of growth of the seed isn’t from the farmer, but from the Creator. Man does his part, but God is the one who does all the important work.
It’s easy for us to find ourselves in a boring time in our lives, an ordinary time, and wonder why it doesn’t seem like anything special is happening. And I’m not just talking about the Church’s Ordinary Time, but just a general state in our faith. Sometimes we’re looking for that feedback, like some feeling during Mass brought about by the music or imagery or the readings. Sometimes we’re looking for an incredible feeling in our prayer. When those times come along, they’re incredible, but most of the time, we don’t get those experiences, and so we feel like we’re not getting the results we wanted out of Mass or prayer, and the temptation then, is to see it as a waste of time and stop altogether.
But it’s important to know that our life of union with God doesn’t depend on what we feel. It doesn’t depend on us at all! Like the growth that the farmer sees in his field, or like the coffee that steeps in the French press, our spiritual growth doesn’t depend on us, but on something greater – it depends on God himself. Sure, we need to put in our work – making sure we’re going to Mass consistently, making an effort to pray daily, doing acts of charity for others, inviting Father Grosch over for dinner at your house… We put ourselves in positions for God tow work in us, but we know we can’t achieve Christian success based solely on our own efforts. And really, if you think about it, that’s great, because we don’t have to! God is constantly at work in us.
Even during those times of dryness when we feel like nothing’s going on, all we’re asked to do is to bring our ordinary self. God doesn’t need us to be perfect to come here, and he doesn’t need ideal conditions in which to work. All he asks is that we keep offering that ordinary self as a sacrifice, and God will take care of the extraordinary change – not just for us, but for the things we do as well. So when we go out to the world – at work, school, the grocery store, the highways – we know that there’s a bigger force at work behind us than just ourselves and our feelings and emotion. We might even lose the battles, or for you parents, you might think that nothing sticks with your kids, but God is the one making the change, the deep roots, even if they remain unseen until much later. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit, and that’s the power that we as Christians can take confidence in.
That’s what it means to be a mature Christian. We do what we can, we provide the coffee grounds, we prepare as best we can. And we may not see the results instantly, but we confidently allow God to do what work he sees fit to do within us and in others. As we now approach the altar to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, let us open ourselves to His grace, and allow him transform the ordinary that we present into what is truly extraordinary.