If you watch infomercials on television, you’ve probably heard of the Bowflex. It’s an exercise machine. To use it, you connect pulleys and handles to tubes of different strengths and do various exercises. If you watch the ads, people who use the Bowflex get strong arms and shoulders, they get those “six-pack” abdominal muscles, and it seems that everyone on television who uses the Bowflex has become good-looking.
I visited my brother in Alaska a couple of weeks ago, and noticed that he had a Bowflex in his living room. All of the tubes were neatly tied with a Velcro belt, and the machine was so close to the wall, that you couldn’t use it – I know, I tried. So it was clear that he wasn’t using his Bowflex – he was passing up the opportunity to have massive arms and shoulders, and to become better looking. And if he had a six-pack of abdominal muscles, they were hidden pretty deep.
I’m sure you hear the commercials for fitness centers around the Christmas holidays. They’re aimed at people who were at one too many Christmas parties and can’t fit into their clothes very well any more. So they make a New Year’s resolution, and sign a one-year contract with the fitness center, and go religiously, four times a week – for about three weeks. I think they come to realize that it’s easier to drink a six-pack than to develop a six-pack.
I have my own story like this – and my boys remind me about it at least once a year. Many years ago, I decided that it would be great to learn fly fishing. I don’t know if I had been to the sportsman’s show or if I had just seen that movie: A River Runs Through It.” But I could just see myself casting: two o’clock, ten o’clock, two o’clock, ten o’clock. So I went out and bought a rod and reel for myself and for the two boys. I bought a book and a DVD, and flies – the whole bit. I even went out in the front yard with the boys to practice casting. I actually went fly fishing once with a friend of mine and managed to catch a cold. That was the end of my fly fishing career – and my boys won’t let me forget it.
Why do we do that? You might say it’s human nature to get excited and then lose interest. But Jesus was talking about this aspect of our human nature in the gospel today. He talked about this farmer who was planting seeds – and he was throwing seeds everywhere – good soil, bad soil, into the weeds, on the rocks. We might wonder why Jesus would be talking about such a careless farmer, but, of course, the farmer represents God, and the seed is the Word of God. He’s telling us that the Word of God is spread far and wide – even in places where it’s not likely to grow. So the farmer isn’t careless, he’s hopeful. You remember Father Paul talking about the importance of hope last week – well, apparently God has hope too – hope in us regardless of our circumstances.
Now Jesus talked about us as the soil. He realized that some of us are in such difficult situations that we are not likely to even hear the Word of God. The birds that came to eat the seeds and the weeds that strangled the young plants represent sin and temptation, and possibly our circumstances. Some people in such tough situations that it’s difficult to respond to the Word of God. And, of course, there’s the fertile soil – deep and rich and able to support the growth of God’s grace – bearing fruit 30-fold and 60-fold and even 100-fold. These are ridiculous yields. Imagine a farmer getting 100 times more canola from an acre of land than he expected to get. Yet Jesus tells us that this is what we can expect if we truly hear the Word of God and respond.
But the soil that reminds me of the Bowflex, and the fitness membership, and the fly fishing, is the rocky ground. Jesus said that there wasn’t much soil, and so even though the plants sprang up quickly, they were scorched by the sun and withered. They didn’t have a root system that would see them through the difficult times. My brother bought his Bowflex with the best of intentions, and I even noticed a schedule that he had on the side of his fridge that said he would work out on his Bowflex at a certain time each day. I was very excited about fly fishing, but my fly fishing rod quickly made its way to the depths of our garage, and I actually had to borrow this fly rod from one of our parishioners, Henry Caza so I could bring it here today.
When God scatters his seeds, we call it Revelation – God revealing himself to us. What the parable today tells us is that we have to respond to God’s Revelation, but to have a meaningful response, we have to have roots. And maybe that’s where my brother and I went wrong. I think my brother got a good deal on his Bowflex at a garage sale and thought: “Hey, that looks like a good idea.” And I watched a movie about fly fishing and thought: “Hey, that looks like a good idea.” In both cases, we had only a superficial commitment.
When we think about our spiritual lives – about our response to God’s Word – how can we make sure that we have good, deep soil? I was blessed to journey with the RCIA group this past year. These people had made a conscious choice and a serious commitment to become Catholics. They attended two-hour sessions each week, and did readings between sessions. They were building a rich foundation. Many of us were fortunate to see them baptized at the Easter Vigil.
We’ve been given many gifts to help us enrich our spiritual foundation. We have the Scriptures, the liturgy, sacraments, the love of family and friends – but we have to be able to receive these gifts. I guess we have to have the mind of a child. You see, children understand that they are dependent – that they don’t know everything – well, at least small children. How often have we heard Jesus say that we must receive his Word like a child? If we think that we know everything, then we can’t receive his Word. It can’t influence our lives. We can’t be transformed.
You’ve heard Father Paul talk about the five-year plan that Archbishop Smith announced to re-evangelize the Catholics in the Archdiocese. Archbishop Smith wants us to enrich our soil – extend our roots – reconnect with the excitement that our faith can bring to our lives.
So do this for me – actually, do this for yourselves. Find a spiritual Bowflex, and make a commitment to it. Not a superficial commitment, but a profound commitment. Commit to reading one book of the Bible each month. Commit to saying your morning and evening prayers each day. Commit to reading a spiritually uplifting book – there are plenty of them available. Commit to monthly confession. Commit to saying the rosary once a week. Pick something that will build your foundation and help you to grow even when the sun scorches your leaves – even when times are difficult.
Who knows, you may even develop a spiritual six-pack.