Folio 12v from MS M.638 (Paris, 1240s); Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Fr Thomas’s homily at the Harvest Thanksgiving Mass (4 October)

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.”

We gather to give thanks for that most basic of necessities — our food. Our first lesson spoke of how we have received this from God as his gift to us, and therefore it is right that we receive it as a gift — that we have a deep gratitude for the gift, and that we in our turn desire to show generosity to those around us, just as God has shown generosity to us. But there is another important message which we learn from our harvest thanksgiving: we do not merely contemplate the physical harvest of the fruits of the earth, we also reflect on the final harvest. That harvest in which we will be the crop gathered in, rather than the beneficiaries of the food.

In our Gospel, Christ speaks of a man who trusted in himself and in his riches — he was wrong to do so, because these riches are entirely passing. He built larger barns to store all of his grain, but he wasn’t even able to take a tiny handful with him. All of that work came to nothing when he faced the ultimate harvest — the harvest of souls.

In the world of farming, the harvest is the end of a long process. When the land seems to be entirely dead, deep in winter, the farmer begins by preparing the soil, then sowing the crop, then tending it — making sure that it has sufficient water and nutrients — but above all letting time take its course. Harvest in the final scene in this year-long cycle, the crop which is now ready is gathered in.

We are in that process, the soil of our hearts has been prepared, the seed of Christ’s message has been planted, and in due course we will be harvested. We will be gathered into God’s storehouse…but there remains a final step, the judgment which will come upon us. Just as the farmer examines his crop, to reject the diseased or damaged, to separate out any weeds which have grown up — so too, in our turn, God will examine us to ensure that we are good crops and not weeds.

We are still in the soil, we are still growing; and unlike wheat we can change what sort of crop we finally produce. We can decide whether, by accepting God’s message, and working with the grace he gives us, we can become good grain to be gathered safely into heaven; or whether by rejecting them, we want to become weeds which are separated out and thrown away. This is the choice which is given to us.

In giving us this choice, God isn’t disinterested — he has given us this choice so that we can accept everything good which he wants to give us, this is what he wants from us. But at the same time by giving us the choice he knows that we have the option to say ‘no’ to him, to turn down the offer which he has made. He will allow us to grow into weeds, if that’s what we want, but at that final harvest, if we do this he will place us in the pile of weeds rather than in the place for good food-worthy grain.

God offers us everything which we need to become good grain. As Joel tells us, the Lord has sent the rains which all plants need to grow — he has also sent plenty of sunshine too. These are the gifts which help us to grow in our Christian lives. He has given us his word, which we can study and learn so many beautiful truths from. He has given us the Sacraments, so that we can receive his graces to help us build ourselves us. He has given us the opportunities to do good, to show to others the same love which he has shown to us. All of these allow us to grow in his strength.

He has given all of these things to us, but he hasn’t forced us to accept them. He places them in front of us and leaves the choice up to us. We can accept them — we can study that word, learn of him and his love for the world, we can then grow in his truth. We can receive the Sacraments with a pure heart — we can become more and more like the one who gives them to us. Allowing him to nourish us with the Bread of life, his own body and blood, feeding our souls. Allowing him to cleanse us of our faults in Confession, and so forth in the other Sacraments.

But we can also ignore these gifts. We can try to live in our own strength. We can try to live for ourselves rather than for God and for those around us. But if we do, then we cannot claim that we haven’t been warned.

This is our growing season: it is in our hands what sort of crop we produce. God wants us to produce a good crop, to take what he gives us and grow strong through those gifts…but he will allow us to reject them, to turn ourselves into useless weeds, to become the sort of people who don’t look to that future harvest but rather who say to our souls “you have ample goods laid up for many years.” But if we do this, it won’t stop the harvest coming. It won’t stop that judgment being made — whether we are weeds or are grain, whether we are to be stored safely in God’s barns (that is to enter heaven), or whether we are to be thrown away with the other weeds.

We gather today, and we give thanks for all of the essential materials benefits which we have from the harvest — that God in his goodness continues to feed us. As we do so, we need to ask ourselves about how we are growing in God’s fields, whether we are turning into grain or into weeds. If we think that it might be the weeds, then we need to turn to God, and to work with him so that we can become good grain at the final and eternal harvest.

The editorial title to this article comes from the hymn “To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise” by W Chatterton Dix.