It’s harvest season, and although we don’t live in an area with a large agricultural base for our economy, we hear stories about crop yields and gardening results on the news. While some reports relate important harvest outcomes, the stories most arousing our interest are often fanciful ones about half-ton pumpkins and eight-foot-long zucchini squash. Such tales about tremendous gardening successes are real attention-getters.
In the Church, we are also coming to the end of our growing season. At the end of the month, the Season of Advent and a new liturgical year will begin. Since early summer, we have been celebrating the Season of Ordinary Time. It is the portion of the year we have been focusing on helping our faith grow. My wearing green vestments throughout the summer and fall is how the Church symbolically reminds us this is our time for spiritual growth.
As farmers and gardeners assess the growing season’s results, we must use the approaching end of Ordinary Time to evaluate our spiritual growth. Reflecting upon spiritual growth is important. Spiritual growth is significant because it gives us a distinct advantage in life. When we are growing spiritually, we can better recognize the purpose of our being. With spiritual growth, we see how God calls us to accomplish our life’s goals.
Spiritual growth helps us better love the people around us and love them the way we want to be loved. An openness to spiritual growth enables us to develop into a better version of ourselves. We can become more other-focused, which actually helps us care for ourselves in ways that aren’t selfish but selfless. Spiritual growth isn’t only rewarding for us but builds up our community and makes it more loving and considerate.
Coming to spiritual maturity needs to be more important than our job or career, hobbies, and other pursuits. It must be more essential than any of our relationships or friendships. Spiritual growth needs to surpass even marriage and family responsibilities. It takes such precedence because spiritual growth determines our success in all other areas of our lives. When we grow to be the best version of ourselves, we inspire those around us to do the same.
We must be more than just open to spiritual growth. It’s easy to sit in the pew and say great idea, Father! We can all say yes to the desire for spiritual growth. Being open to spiritual growth isn’t enough. We all can say we want to be willing to get closer to God, but doing it is something else. Little in our culture supports those efforts. The world tries to convince us that everything else but spiritual growth is more important. Spiritual growth doesn’t have much of an advertising budget. It doesn’t have a group of influences to promote it on Facebook or Tik Tok.
Growing in spiritual maturity is challenging because there are no quick and easy ways to develop our relationship with God. There are no microwavable prepared easy plans. Fostering spiritual maturity takes time and effort. Nurturing our spiritual maturity will call for us to recognize that we will have to struggle to succeed. It demands real commitment.
That is why reflecting on our efforts to become more spiritual and closer to God is significant this time of year. These final days of Ordinary Time are good for counting up our successes in the last few months, reflecting on our failures, and making plans for the future.
Assessing our spiritual growth this time of year should be vital, but doing it is another thing. It takes willpower. For spiritual growth, we need to develop a plan. Our first step towards spiritually advancing is to evaluate our prayer life. While participating in Mass and receiving the Eucharist at least every weekend is vital for our spiritual well-being, it can’t be the extent of our work for spiritual growth. If that is all our time with God each week, we won’t grow much in our relationship with God.
We need to take time for prayer daily. It can start with as little as ten minutes a day. Find the best time in your day to quiet yourself in a tranquil spot and open yourself to God’s presence. Breathe deep, let your distractions melt away, and open your soul to God’s presence. Be quiet and listen to God rather than bombarding God with your problems and concerns. Just listen.
As you become more comfortable with prayer, read a few scripture verses. Ask yourself what God might be saying to you through those words. Add more time to prayer daily, and you will grow in your relationship with God. Consider participating in the sacraments more often. Make daily Mass here in the parish at 8 o’clock each morning, Monday through Friday, part of your routine, even a few days a week. When did you last celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Regularly receiving God’s loving forgiveness through Confession helps us feel the depth of God’s mercy.
Sharing our faith also helps it to grow. Last Sunday, a parishioner approached me after Mass. She said, “You know how you always encourage us to invite others to Mass? I did that this summer. My brothers and their wives and my sister were visiting me. I know they don’t go to Mass regularly. During the weekend of their visit, I told them I was coming to church and invited them to join me. You know it took some courage. My brothers and their spouses said they would come. My sister said she wasn’t interested. When we got home, the four who came with me said it was an enjoyable time and were happy they had come.”
Actions like that help plant the seeds of faith in others. Maybe when they got home, the parishioner’s brothers and their wives started reconsidering their participation in Mass. I would hazard a guess that even the sister who didn’t come to Mass stopped to think about her spiritual life after hearing the positive feedback from her siblings. The excellent response also helped our parishioner grow in her enthusiasm for her faith and spiritual relationship with God.
Giving sacrificial financial support to our parish is another way to grow spiritually. A man I know who is retired from a career in fundraising says, “People don’t give to causes. They give to people.” He says people share their treasure with those with whom they have established relationships. Your generosity to your parish and the wider Church is a good measure of your relationship with God and a sign it is getting healthier. In that case, you will want to help share a sacrificial gift in the weekly budget collection with our parish to help others develop a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ.
To grow spiritually, we need to be in contact with other people of faith. When we place ourselves in the company of people who share our values, have similar views about our world, and have a relationship with God, we grow spiritually. The mutual support we receive and give to others helps us become more spiritually committed to our faith.
Sharing your time and talents as part of our parish’s ministry and mission is another way to plan to grow spiritually. I know from my own experience how that happens. After graduating from college and before I seriously considered the priesthood, I became involved in my parish. It started with the offering to mow the lawn of the church and Rectory. That led to being invited to teach in the Faith Formation Program and being part of other parish ministries. Serving in parish ministries helped me recognize God’s call to a deeper relationship, spiritual growth, and desire to undertake a life of service to God and God’s people.
After Mass today, the parish is sponsoring a Ministry Fair downstairs in the church basement. Representatives are present to explain our parish ministries. They are there on behalf of long-time groups such as the Woman’s Club and Knights of Columbus and liturgical ministries such as Lector and Eucharistic Ministers. Representatives from some of our newer ministries, such as the Hospitality Ministry and Flower and Liturgical Environment Ministry, are there. Maybe you recognize a need in our parish and would like to help form a group to address it. Come talk about it, and we’ll work together to get started on it. Come share refreshments and some fellowship even if you can’t join a parish ministry right now.
Today’s Second Reading comes from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. After Paul established the Church in a community, he would leave it in the hands of its members and move to share the Gospel in another place. Occasionally, he would write back to the communities he left behind to encourage their spiritual growth. Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians, considered some of the most ancient Christian writings. They are short letters, and it only takes about a half hour to read them slowly and reflectively. Consider doing that as part of your prayer this week.
In today’s reading, we heard that he wrote:
“With such affection for you,
we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God,
but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”
Paul tells the Thessalonians that while he and his companions were in their midst, they hadn’t only preached but also ministered to them. While among them, Paul and his co-workers also served them with their gifts of Time, Talent, and Treasure. They shared all that they had to offer, and with that, they received much in return from God.
Today, reflect on how you want to practice spiritual growth. Practice it by showing your affection for the people of this parish by sharing yourself here in our parish and to help build up the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst.