We remember Saint Francis as a man of peace, but early in his life he dreamed of winning glory on the battlefield as a soldier. He had his chance when his home town of Assisi went to war against the town of Perugia. However, his dreams of glory were short lived when he was soon captured and held for ransom. Nearly a year passed before his father finally paid to have him released.
Returning to his native Assisi a much humbler man, he attended Mass one day and heard these words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew, “If you want to be perfect, sell all that you have...and follow me” (Mt 19:21). This scripture passage struck a chord in Francis’s heart. He did want to be perfect. He did want to follow Jesus. Though he was the son of a very wealthy man, he decided he would sell everything he had and live a life of poverty. In one of the most dramatic moments in Christian history, he ran out into the town square and literally stripped himself of his fine clothes declaring to the world that he was abandoning everything to follow Jesus.
We know the rest of the story. Saint Francis would go on to found one of the world’s largest religious orders and bring much needed renewal to the Church. Jesus sowed a word in Francis’s heart. It found rich soil and bore abundant fruit.
Like Saint Francis, Saint Augustine came from a wealthy family. However, unlike Francis, he did not dream of finding glory in war. Rather, he sought pleasure. Like many young men, he wanted nothing more than to satisfy his urges. He quickly found, however, that all the drinking and partying came at a price. Rather than find joy and peace, he found shame and despair. He was beginning to feel out of control, unable to stop himself even though he desperately wanted to.
One day, while walking in his garden, he was feeling especially distraught and cried out to God, "How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?" Then, he heard the voice of a child say, “Take up and read.” Grabbing a copy of his Bible he came along this passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep...Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14).
Finding inspiration from those words, Augustine was immediately baptized and began living a devout life. The story of his conversion and the holiness of his life became so well known that the people of Hippo in the north of Africa clamored that he serve as their bishop. With his great learning and intelligence, he preached against many of the errors of his day. His writings on a wide variety of topics including baptism, grace and the Holy Trinity have influenced Christian teaching through the centuries.
Jesus sowed a word in Augustine’s heart. It found rich soil and bore abundant fruit.
We could go on all day telling the stories of holy women and men who, like Francis and Augustine, were touched to the depth of their being by the word of God and forever changed. Like the rich soil in Jesus’ parable, they bore abundant fruit and reaped a copious harvest. Because of the example of their lives, the institutions they founded or the writings they left us, we continue to benefit from the fruits of God’s word in their lives.
What about you and me? What words have struck a chord within us? What gospel stories have touched our hearts and moved us to change either our behaviors or attitudes? Where has the word of God found rich soil in our hearts?
Let us take a few seconds right now to remember what words of Scripture have inspired us over the years. It might have been a story of healing from the gospels, one of Jesus’ parables or words from one of Saint Paul’s letters. How have those words comforted us over the years? How have they moved us to grow and change? What fruit have they borne in our lives? And how have others benefited from what God has done in us through those words?
It is important for our spiritual lives every now and then to look at the garden of our heart and see where God has brought fruitfulness and growth. It is good for us to look over our lives and enjoy how our Heavenly Father has used the rich soil to bring his word to fruition within us. That really is what our Sunday rest is all about, taking time to savor the sweetness of God’s work in our lives. Doing so reminds us that it is our Heavenly Father who is at work and that not everything depends on our efforts alone.
Once we spend time reflecting on how God’s word has molded us, it becomes evident what our next step must be. To continue to experience growth, we must pick up the Bible everyday so that God can continue to sow His word in the rich soil of our hearts. Doing so allows the Holy Spirit to water what Jesus has planted so that we can grow more and more filling our garden with lush plants bursting with fruit to the glory of God the Father.