6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 13, 2022
Do you know why I don’t trust stairs! Because they’re always up to something!
Trust is a hard commodity to come by these days! We all have a tendency to distrust those whom we don’t know very well. And even for those whom we may have a tendency to trust, we will, most likely, want to make sure they’ve earned the trust we’ve place in them, in some way. The reason for distrusting individuals, groups, or institutions is obvious: human sinfulness. Even the best of us can sometimes fail to live up to the vision or expectations others may have of us. And when that happens, oftentimes, someone is harmed in the process. To avoid this end result, it’s useful to embrace the old adage, ‘Trust but verify.’ What does that mean? If we’re willing to place our trust in a person, group of people, or institution, we should, from time to time, seek to verify that our trust is well-placed. Is the person, group or institution living up to our expectations of whom we expect them to be? Is the person, group or institution being transparent in its dealings with other people and when faced with difficult circumstances? Is there any accountability when our trust is breached? How can trust that is breached be healed? What steps toward reconciliation are necessary and how committed are both parties to healing any harm that was done? These are some of the questions that we need to consider when we place our trust in other human beings, groups, or institutions.
The passage of our first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, in fact, begins by acknowledging the hazards of trusting in other human beings, and it contrasts those dangers with the complete confidence and certitude we can have, in placing our trust in the Lord. Indeed, God, speaking through Jeremiah, asserts, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust IS the Lord.” (Jer 17:7) Yes, the only person in whom we ought to place our complete and utter trust all the time, without question or reservation, is God! For God knows everything about us. God knows the extent of our love of God and neighbor.
God knows our motives for turning to Him. God reveals Godself as pure, unadulterated love! God enters our hearts as pure, everlasting joy! God comes to us as our beginning and our end, the source of all that is Good, Holy, True, and Virtuous in the world and in our lives!
To grow in our trust of God then, is one of the objectives of the Christian life. We can reach that goal by becoming, more and more each day, persons of prayer. For what is prayer, but placing our hope and trust in the Lord, giving up control over our lives and agendas to the Lord, believing that God will never betray us or set us aside for someone more pleasing or more holy?
St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Carmelite mystic who lived from 1515 to 1582, wrote in her autobiography, that the way we can commit to trusting more fully in God’s loving plan for our lives is by, first and foremost, cultivating a life of prayer. Using the imagery of a garden, St. Teresa invites us to see ourselves as the assistant gardener who sets out to tend a garden that’s owned and planted by the Lord. Jesus is the gardener who uproots the weeds, which represent our sins and shortcomings in our lives and takes care of the plants in the garden. Each plant represents a gift given to us by God to produce the fruit of virtue in our lives. Our task as the assistant gardener to Jesus is to water the garden, that is— to pray— so that the virtues we’re called to embody can live and thrive and spread their roots ever deeper and extensively into the soil, which is God’s love.
St. Teresa tells us there are four ways to water the garden. The first way is by taking water from a well. The second way is by using a water wheel which pumps buckets of water that then have to be transported. The third way is by allowing a stream or brook to saturate the ground more thoroughly. And the fourth way is by waiting for the heavy rains to fall.
At first, each of us tries to get the water the hard way, by manual labor. It’s like going to a well and filling a bucket, and then carrying the water, with great effort, to the plants.
This is the same way we start out in prayer. It takes a lot of deliberate effort initially, on our part, to use our understanding and imagination to get to know the Lord. Sometimes, it even feels like a waste of time because we can get easily distracted by other things. Yet, at other times, if prayer is genuine, it can reveal to us, painful parts of ourselves that we might have preferred to hide or ignore. Yet, to love ourselves properly, we realize that we must come to know ourselves as we truly are and to trustingly open our true selves up to the Lord Jesus, through honest and deliberate prayer.
When we do so, our prayer begins to deepen our trust in the Lord and our efforts at meditating become easier. That’s when our prayer becomes more like a water wheel with buckets drawing water up from a well, with much less effort having to be expended on our part. We still use our imagination and understanding in prayer, but now we come to experience God in a much more profound way. Think about an instance when you might have read a passage of the Bible a long time ago and then, re-read that same passage at a later date and found that you couldn’t even get beyond the first verse of the passage because it now nourishes you with a much greater insight than you ever had before. When the pump of our water wheel begins to work in this way, we discover that any scripture passage or event in our lives can become an opportunity for us to see God in a new way, to experience God in a much more loving way. At this point, talking and silent times in prayer become much more spontaneous, easy and relaxed. We trust that our relationship with God has become more, an act of loving God than thinking about God.
That’s when we’re ready for the third way of drawing water: by a stream or brook which saturates the soil of the plants more thoroughly. When this happens to us in prayer, we experience God coming to us without our having to do anything. Our only concern is where to direct or channel the water that God sends our way. When we reach this stage of prayer, we’re able to choose which virtues need greater attention—greater irrigation—and cooperate with God’s grace to make them more bountiful and resplendent in our lives and a greater blessing to others.
The final kind of prayer that St. Teresa describes is called the rain of God, in which we do nothing, not even channel the waters. We simply bask in the magnificence of the rain. We drench ourselves in the rain. We find joy in the abundance of the rain that pours down on us from heaven. Prayer, at this point, becomes more of a graced time that we give the Lord, to freely shape and form us into whatever God wants us to be, than an encounter with the Lord with a particular agenda or aim in mind. At each successive stage of prayer, we grow more and more in our trust of the Lord, allow God to shape us, more and more, into God’s vision for us, and surrender our control and our doings, more and more, to the Lord, as we trust in God’s love to lead us wherever God wills.
I think the Prophet Jeremiah would support St. Teresa’s notion of how to grow in our trust of God at all times. For, to him, a tree planted by water whose roots extend out toward a stream doesn’t have to fear the heat when it comes or worry that its leaves will wither up and blow away. Because of the steady supply of water, the tree never has to be worried of death. It never stops bearing fruit, because it knows that the dependable stream of water will always sustain it through whatever may come its way. Jeremiah sees the one who trust in the Lord as this tree that is planted by the stream.
May each of us strive to grow in our own trust of the Lord then, by committing to a life of prayer and allow that prayer to shape and form us, as God wills.
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