The process of giving birth may be natural – but it often requires our best efforts, our full co-operation. We need to remember this when we hear the readings today. St Paul gives us the image of the whole universe constantly coming into being, ‘groaning in one great act of giving birth’ (Rom. 8.22). What a beautiful image. All around us, and even within us, the world is coming into being. The process is under way and nothing can stop it. Yet we must be midwives, do what we can to help the process along.
This comes through powerfully in Jesus’s parable of the seeds (Matt. 13.1-23). A sprouting, growing seed that becomes a flourishing plant is doing what comes naturally. Yet a helping hand on the way can make it more fruitful. The same is true of human beings. We grow, we develop, we unfold. But of course, just as with seeds, there may be obstacles that thwart this process of growth. The natural development of a human being, like the natural development of a seed, needs help from others – and from self. Life’s worries can smother us and make us think only of day to day concerns, like seed choked by thorns. Or another very different problem can be complacency, when we settle back comfortably and think that we have arrived and we do not need to bother any more, like seed fallen on shallow soil. Or we can be taken up by unhealthy desires, like seed carried off by the birds.
There is within each of us the capacity to become a spiritual person, to grow through our faith. This is a natural development. It invites us to love, to forgive, to be generous, to pray, to consider the needs of others, in short, to rise above ourselves. It invites us to ask the big questions: Who am I? Where am I going in life? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to love? How sad if we settle for less, if we allow our horizons to shrink. God invites us to grow, to be fruitful, to be through his help like those seeds growing and developing. Yet, as the parable shows, this is not an automatic process. It requires our co-operation.
As we work with our human nature, we work too with our creator. God gives us the sacraments of the Church to encourage us on our way. He gives us the example and solidarity of others around us in the Christian community. We can grow, we can become who we most truly are meant to be, but for this to happen we need to be open in our innermost depths to the living presence of God. Sometimes this challenges us, asks us to give things up or to take things on, as part of the endless shaping of who we can grow to be. Let us go back to that image St Paul gives us of ‘the entire creation ... groaning in one great act of giving birth.’ The groaning implies struggle and even pain, but there is also joy in this process. Spiritual growth can be hard sometimes, but as we struggle to become who we can be, there is joy in knowing that in each of us there is a unique process of creation taking place. Although we co-operate, ultimately it is a work of God.