In gardening, one speaks of both cultivating and tilling. The two activities are similar, but there are some differences. Cultivating is the process of breaking up and loosening the soil in a garden. The purpose is twofold. First, this process helps eliminate weeds by exposing young weed sprouts to the soil surface and by interrupting the germination of their seeds. Second, this process opens up the soil so that air, water, and nutrients can better penetrate the soil. Tilling, on the other hand, is like a more intensive form of cultivating. The idea is to go deeper and turn up more soil. This is usually done when preparing a new garden, or at the end of a growing season. The purposes are similar. More air and water are able to penetrate. Roots can freely grow deeper. Microorganisms helpful for plant growth find a better environment in which to thrive.
In the proclamation of today’s Gospel passage at Mass, we hear again the familiar parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:18-23). Perhaps in this summer season, when crops and plants are growing all around us, we can consider this parable more deeply. Our Lord uses this familiar imagery precisely because we find it in our everyday experience.
If cultivating and tilling work on our farms and in our fields, we can consider how they correspondingly work in our spiritual lives. Perhaps we receive the Word of God or Holy Communion regularly, but they do not take root in our hearts because we’ve allowed the soil there to become hard, tamped down, rocky, and weedy. Maybe we are holding a grudge with somebody in our lives. Maybe we’ve become overly cynical in the face of the world. Maybe we cling too tightly to our projects, schedules, and agendas. If these or anything else are causing our hearts to harden, it might be a good time to cultivate or till. Turn up your routine with a spade and make some room for prayer that the roots of God’s message may sink in more deeply. Aerate and pull up those things that keep the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit from penetrating.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us the best tooling for the job. Regular confession acts as cultivation. Confession—if we go after being away from the Sacrament for a while or if we go with serious sin on our conscience—acts as a sort of tilling. We must prepare the soil of our hearts, and the Church offers us useful means of accomplishing this. Consider that God is making of your heart a garden, and open yourself to the Gardener.
Photo by lukas Gombik