6 or 7 people harvesting cabbage at Madonna House

Harvest Time Reflections

by Fr. David May

What kind of harvest will the land produce this year?

Everything in a vegetable garden in our part of the world looked tenuous in late spring and early summer, as the weather was so cool and wet.

By midsummer, though, the innumerable weeds had been somewhat pulled out or hoed under, at least enough to give carrots, beets, turnips, cabbages, corn and the like a fighting chance.

Organic gardening sounds great on paper, of course, but with gardens the size we need here, herbicide-free means lots of manual labor. Lots of time spent in the gardens. Lots. Yet no matter how much human labor goes into it, the fundamental reality about the harvest remains overwhelmingly not human achievement but divine gift.

We work the soil, fertilize it with manure, remove the stones, plant seeds, weed weeds, chase away varmints like raccoons and deer (yes, in a vegetable garden of choice, with tender green shoots of a certain kind, Bambi is a nuisance), and whatever else—in expectation of a kind of miracle, otherwise known as “the harvest.”

How it comes about remains, despite our growing understanding about genes and cells and seeds, a mystery to be wondered at.

Seeds are as a rule ridiculously small for what one is hoping for at the end, especially at the abrupt end of one of our short Canadian summers. And the fundamental truth remains to be wondered at: we don’t “do” harvests so much as gather a gift that is bestowed on us.

Given the right conditions, a squash plant “knows” what to do to make squash gourds full of good edible material. We have only to be of service to the thing and voila, we can have a good crop that will keep till spring next year.

All this about fall harvests reminds us that the Lord is also looking for a kind of harvest, that is, a people gathered into the kingdom and into himself. A people that belongs to him and is given to him. A harvest of good works and of lives that can truly be called “gospel lives.”

There are plenty of parables that indicate that God as “gardener” or “talent giver” provides all that is needed to produce a fine harvest of good deeds by a grace-transformed people.

But I would say that there are four fruits that he is particularly expecting from us at this time. For the Lord wants from us today a robust harvest of good deeds bearing witness to him rather than an anemic offering speaking only of cowardice and inspiring no one.

The first of these four is to honor Christ living in the weak. The nomenclature “weak” can have broad connotations, from someone suffering illness to someone utterly lacking the self-confidence to take on life.

Yet I have found that the most debilitating kind of weakness is not illness or fear or lack of self-confidence, but lack of faith that the Risen Lord Jesus actually lives in us through the sacraments.

If a person can be brought to understand that Christ lives in him or her, then a given human weakness becomes a constant call from within to turn to Christ. Those who learn to do so yield a harvest of courage, renewed hope, and growing joy.

There is so much talk today about “compassion” for the weak. Depending on how you define compassion, you can be either in favor of or opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

But for those who discover Christ living within them, the very strength of God becomes visible in the beauty of a life transformed by the Savior.

When the “seed” of that transformation, at first hidden away in the “soil” of a human soul, receives water and warmth, you, having journeyed with that person for a time, can say with authority, “You have it in you to meet this challenge! Let us call on the name of the Lord and see what He will do!”

And of course, much of what the Lord intends to do is through and in his Body, that is, in us.

Second, there is the challenge and the call to respect Christ in our enemies. Of course, this sounds on first hearing like a complete contradiction in terms: those who hate us or despise us for our faith in Christ, those who have it in for us personally, and those who even persecute us and seek to eliminate all religious conviction from the public square have Christ within in some way?

This is a mystery even more baffling than seeds and sowing, but some mystics like the English 20th-century author, Caryll Houselander, have actually been given visions of precisely this: Christ mysteriously present in all people. Only in some he still lies in the tomb awaiting the day of resurrection.

Could it be that our respect and long-suffering kindness will be the “voice” the Father needs to cry out to his Son in this one or in that: “Rise from the dead!”?

Third, there is a crying need for witnesses to Christ by the spirit of self-sacrifice. Where self-fulfillment as the goal in life now reigns supreme, there remains an emptiness aching to be filled, like fields devoid of good seeds and ready for planting.

For it is only through our giving ourselves away out of love for the other that the One who alone can satisfy our deepest longings becomes visible.

This gift of self is neither compulsive nor a giving vent to a secret desire to become a doormat! Rather, it is more like a fire burning within that, filled with compassion for one’s neighbor and desirous to show a brother or sister the face of Christ, we go the extra mile “one more time.”

Whom do you love enough to forget yourself in order to bring benefit to him or her? All of this requires a deep listening to the Spirit, who teaches us as we go along that there is only one Savior of the world, and it ain’t you and it ain’t me.

But we are his witnesses, first fruits of a seed planted in us by the Sower himself who expects 30, 60, and even 100-fold for his efforts.

Fourth, in all things let us praise our heavenly Father for his goodness and faithfulness. It is in preaching about the Father’s fidelity and loving care for us, his children, that I encounter the most resistance in an average Catholic congregation.

I see it in people’s eyes and observe it in their body language: No way is that true for me! But for the person of simple faith and trust, it is true.

The Father is ever turning all things to good for those who love him. Nothing gives better witness to this truth than a joyful harvest of praise and thanks.

What will the Lord of the harvest find when he visits you or me at harvest time? Any “good fruit” will most certainly include his gift alive in us, his goodness made visible in us, his glory radiant in us, and our eternal wonder at the mystery of it all.