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JAMES BEHRENS: Lent a time for us to grow closer to the grace of God

Many of the parables of Jesus use examples He took from nature to stress the nature and importance of the human heart. It is not merely an organ that wondrously pumps blood through the body, sustaining life. It is also, as Jesus well knew, the living place of God.

Jesus told of the importance of nurturing that presence, of allowing it to grow. And so He used stories of seeds and growth, parched soil and good soil, seeds thrown onto useless and life-threatening environments.

The growth of the heart is not an automatic process. The discovery of God, an awareness of the grace that is the heart, is not a given in life. We must work at it, hope for it, and move along through lives of trial and error, trying to find what we need to be loving, giving, good persons.

Last Sunday's gospel contained the account of the barren fig tree. Jesus uses a parable, in which the gardener is told by the owner of the vineyard to give the tree more time, in the hope that it will bear fruit.

The tree is barren -- it has not matured, its fruit has not been forthcoming. Another year is given it, during which time the soil around its base will be made more nutritious. If that fails, the tree will perish. It will be cut down.

It is a little story, as far as it goes, about the consequences of living in time and failing to make good use of it. And the point would seem to be that with time and nurture and care, the tree will flourish and bear fruit.

The outcome remains hidden. We are left with a plan and a hope.

Lent is a time for all of us to plan, to hope. We do not know the ultimate outcome of our lives. But we have time, that strange thing through which we move and age and wonder.

Time can blend with so many gifts -- gifts that allow the heart to find its way and to trust God. Love, forgiveness, mercy, hope, kindness -- these and more take flesh through the tedium of our days.

God slowly transforms the human heart into His own likeness, and the span of that likeness is eternal. We are gifted with an eternity of days -- but the only way we can engage with God's grace in those days is to take from them the nourishment that they offer.

The truth of the parables lives and moves through our lives. We can only become who we were born to be by taking to heart, quite literally, the truths they offer.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.