How Deep is Your Dirt?

It’s summer and baseball season and that brings to mind a metaphor that we could apply to a lot of things. In this case I think it can be used to bring home a point about our faith: “Catholicism is not a spectator sport!” The Parable of the Sower is what brings this to mind for me. You know, the passage talks about, unprotected dirt, cluttered rocky dirt, too little dirt, hot dirt, overgrown dirt and finally, good soil. Often times we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the quality of our dirt.

All jokes/metaphors aside, let’s take a closer look at this famous teaching piece from Jesus. Parables, even to this day, hold power to teach effectively because they reflect or borrow from real life. The people who heard this story would have been very familiar with every scenario that Jesus cited. It is likely that most of us aren’t farmers and don’t live off the land, but I bet that many of us have had an experience in a garden of some sort, small or large. Even if that is not the case we know that we like the results of a garden. It makes no difference whether we are looking at something beautiful from a garden or eating something good from a garden. These things we get from a well-tended garden are the products of months of work from the gardener. Everyone knows that the beginning of a garden is simply the dirt. A good garden must have good soil. Even the soil has to be cared for. A savvy gardener will enrich the soil, till the soil, mulch the soil and protect the soil. The parable of the sower shows what happens if the gardener does not take those actions. We might have a temporary flash of success but then it all fades and disappears. What does any of this have to do with you personally and your ability to grow spiritually?

Jesus was at no loss for the application of the practical. I’m sure you have heard the metaphors, they are so obvious: The Word is the seed., The gardener is you., The obstacles are what happens in life., The soil is your soul where things are planted. Most exegetes point out our various character flaws that can be afflicted by the circumstances. That’s not a bad commentary but I always feel like an obvious point is left out of those teachings. The dirt, what about your dirt? It is true that you can have good abundant soil or sparse and inferior soil, but how do you get there and improve what is lacking?

This seems to be the point that Catholics do not have a clue about. Some are defeatists and just roll with the idea that they have crummy soil! Wait, there’s more. You have absolute and total control of how your garden soil increases and improves. There’s more to it than taking advantage of the sacraments, saying a million Rosaries, living in the Adoration chapel and keeping your fingers crossed. The skilled gardener keeps constant watch on their soil and has several strategies to amend problems. So, how’s your dirt?

In the community of people involved in sacramental preparation for our teens there is a saying: “Confirmation=graduation from the Church”. This makes me sad because from my observations I can see that it’s true more often than not. I don’t know why but as Catholics we never learn our “other” lifelong responsibilities. It is true that we are to practice the faith and model ourselves after Jesus: WWJD. However, no one ever teaches the additional responsibility to be lifelong scholars. The truth is that the only thing that will keep our “dirt” fertile and allow our dormant seeds to sprout is scholarship. Avila kind of hints at it when she tells us that she would never approach prayer unless she had a book with her. Bishop Robert Barron simply says it in his commentary on the Parable of the Sower:

So from these sad cases we can construe the nature of good soil. When we understand the faith, when we take the time to read theology, to study the Scripture; when we persevere, discipline ourselves, and practice the faith; when we have our priorities straight, then the seed will take root in us. And it will bear fruit thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

Make no mistake,  scholarship is not the same for everyone. We don’t all have to feverishly complete a theology degree. But in these times, more that any other time in history it’s easy to gain new and additional knowledge about the Church. We have blogs, logs, books, workshops, bulletin articles, speakers, retreats, and on. Many of these are free. In reality, gaining knowledge about your faith is really quite freeing. You don’t have to feel shy in company, you don’t have to feel unprepared whey someone has a question about your Church, Church history is fascinating.  New information slakes a thirst for “deeper faith” like nothing else can.   Feeling stuck in your same ole faith practices?  So take stock of your dirt. Maybe you should take a closer look at that free biblical history class that you saw on line last week?

Copyright© 2017, Kathryn M. Cunningham


Kathryn M. Cunningham

Kathryn M. Cunningham

Kathryn holds a Master’s in Education from Saint Xavier University. Most recently she completed Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies from The Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. This recent degree was part of a “retirement project” after teaching for 35 years. She has also worked as a spiritual director, music minister,council member and prayer team warrior. Kathryn has a deep interest in catechesis for the people in the pews. As a “sort of” convert she finds the wisdom of the Church a source for encouragement, joy and survival in a world not sure of anything. Her writing has appeared in diocesan publications and on-line sites, most recently for Zenit. To learn more about Kathryn check out her thinking at:">

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