We are five days into the “Fortnight for Freedom” following the U.S. bishops’ call to pray for the preservation of our most cherished liberty—religious liberty—and to more actively educate ourselves regarding the nature and foundations of this fundamental freedom. Preparing ourselves to defend our faith is not only a matter of what the Founding Fathers of our nation had to say about the matter, but about forming ourselves in our faith so we can defend it on its own terms.
Pope Benedict’s Sunday Angelus is very helpful in this regard, as he helps us set our expectations high and focus on the spiritual.
Referring to the Gospel passage for that Sunday, Mk 4: 26-34, the parable of the seed, the Holy Father drew an analogy between farming and Christian life. Just as a farmer can sow a seed, but depends on the seed’s innate potency and the soil’s fertility for crops, just so:
Every Christian therefore knows well that he must do all he can, but that the final result depends on God: this awareness sustains him in his daily efforts, especially in difficult situations. St Ignatius of Loyola wrote in this regard: ‘Act as though everything depended on you, but in the knowledge that really everything depends on God’ (cf. Pedro de Ribadeneira, Vita di S. Ignazio di Loyola, Milan, 1998).It is a theme we have seen before in the Pontiff’s commentaries and addresses, one that is helpful to hear repeatedly: we must do all we can to cooperate with grace, and particularly in these days, we must do all we can to defend our religious liberty. Yet in the midst of our efforts, what gives peace and joy and confidence is the faith that our efforts, when united to Christ’s merits, are part of something greater than ourselves, and therefore fruitful, even if we will not see their results.
Penetrating more deeply into this mystery of the Christian’s cooperation with God’s grace, Pope Benedict compared the Christian life to the workings of a seed:
[T]he seed’s weakness is its strength, its breaking open is its power. Thus the Kingdom of God is like this: a humanly small reality, made up of those who are poor in heart, of those who do not rely on their own power but on that of the love of God, on those who are not important in the world’s eyes; and yet it is through them that Christ’s power bursts in and transforms what is seemingly insignificant.What striking words, particularly in the context of our nation’s current struggles! Though we each must do all we can in this effort to defend our religious liberty, our success is not measured by the magnitude of our efforts or the greatness of their results. Rather, true Christian success is measured in terms of the Spirit: to the extent to which we look to God’s grace, put our faith in His work, decrease so that He may increase, and unite our sufferings to Christ’s cross. The humble victory of living virtue in ordinary life, of doing that right thing, of forgiving, of following our conscience, of sticking to our principles when unpopular, of doing what it takes to defend the truth…these often mundane struggles may seem insignificant, but are the occasions for grace to germinate and infuse society with hope.
In conclusion, Pope Benedict exhorted us to be confident and joyful, knowing that come what may, victory is ultimately assured.
The message is clear: even though the Kingdom of God demands our collaboration, it is first and foremost a gift of the Lord, a grace that precedes man and his works. If our own small strength, apparently powerless in the face of the world’s problems, is inserted in that of God it fears no obstacles because the Lord’s victory is guaranteed. It is the miracle of the love of God who causes every seed of good that is scattered on the ground to germinate. And the experience of this miracle of love makes us optimists, in spite of the difficulty, suffering and evil that we encounter. The seed sprouts and grows because God’s love makes it grow. May the Virgin Mary, who, like ‘good soil,’ accepted the seed of the divine Word, strengthen within us this faith and this hope.It takes faith to understand these words. It takes faith to be like St. Peter, who cast his nets “at the Lord’s command” (Lk 5:5), landing a tremendous catch not because of his efforts, but because of the Lord’s action. May God find in us willing collaborators in his vineyard, especially during this Fortnight for Freedom, and may rejoicing in the Lord, whose ultimate victory is certain, be our strength, come what may.