In the early 60’s, a monk from Ireland was giving a retreat to other monks at a monastery in Kentucky. At one of his conferences he told this curious story:
In the old country, we make butter in a churn constructed of tall cinders of wood. These two frogs fell into a church of milk that was only half full. They tried to climb up the wall, but it was too slippery. They kept on swimming around. One fellow says to the other after a lot of discussion, “Ah, we may as well give up. There is no point in keeping on swimming. We will never get out of this.” He gave up, stopped swimming, and drowned. The other fellow said, “Well, I’ll keep on swimming. You never know what will turn up.”
So, what happened?
He kept on swimming, and, as a result of his swimming, the milk turned to butter and he was able to jump out.
Then the monk explained why he told this story. He said:
I can assure you from bitter personal experience, there are times in monastic life when you feel as helpless as those frogs swimming in the milk. Your only hope is to keep on going, waiting for miracles. During our monastic life, you will meet some situation where someone has got on your nerves or some job you have got drives you to an impossible situation. You will find that it goes on until you are just at the breaking point. Then, God’s providence suddenly intervenes. There is a change made in appointments, or some change made in the monastery. The whole thing is solved. For a moment you are left in peace. Then it starts all over again. You better get used to swimming in milk, because it is going to be the pattern of your life.
Although this was addressed to a group of religious people, I think there is meaning here for all of us. How many of you have felt like you were at the breaking point? These moments can almost be seen as a test. What we are asked to do in these times is not drown in complaining but ask for the help we need to rely more on God’s grace. This experience of suffering or “the test” can actually bring us back to God and deepen our relationship with the Lord. The little story of the frogs suggests that we are not to give in to the evil spirit who wants us to give up and end up “drowning”. We keep “swimming”, which means that we keep our energy on seeking help from the right source, namely Christ.
What this wise old monk was trying to get his fellow monks to understand was that the struggles of life are not going to go away. But we can be transformed by them in a powerful way. The examples Jesus uses in the parable today encourage us to persevere. It’s like the seed planted in rich soil. It does bear fruit. It’s roots go deep and there’s something to hold on to. The more confidence we have in God’s promises, the more powerful we will be in sharing this gift of faith with others.
In this passage from St. Matthew there are two imperative sentences: “Whoever has ears ought to hear” and later on “Hear then the parable of the sower.” Hearing is an important part of the process! He have to clear our heads in order to really hear. We actually have to purify our internal faculties of perception. How often do we think we are listening to God’s word while in fact we are tuned in only to our own interior noises and vain thoughts or those of the world? Our hearing, our “ears” must first be purified in three ways: by leaving the crowd and going to Jesus,; by being taken into Jesus’ intimacy in solitude; and by allowing our hearts to become hungry for the nourishment that only God can give.
The “end” or the purpose is this: to give meaning and purpose to our life. To give us something to depend upon when we are going through the “tests” of life—-the challenges of life. We keep “swimming” not out of desperation, but because we know that we will be saved. So we swim with the Lord. That is what becomes the pattern of our life. The thing we don’t want to do is go agains the current of Divine Providence. So, don’t let the devil appeal to your limitations and your weaknesses. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and keep swimming, and make sure your “ears” are open to the Word that God wants to speak to each of you.