Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
The tree does not start to grow without a seed. Then it grows slowly but continuously, imperceptibly to someone who sees it daily.
Growth in virtue is like the growth of the tree from seed; it needs a starting point. That starting point may be an earnest desire to grow in a particular virtue as the response to a personal weakness.
When we seek God’s help in such growth it may seem that our prayer is not immediately answered. But over time, in small steps, the seed which is our desire to conform ourselves more closely with Christ in relation to a particular virtue will grow, and its branches will extend into all areas of our life.
For many people who were baptised as children and raised as Catholics there is no one momentous experience which changes their lives. Instead they grow in faith and the other virtues gradually. Each step is the prelude to another, building their lives into a tree of faith which provides support, shelter and assistance to others as a result of the life that flows within the tree.
We could say that God constantly offers us the seeds which are the virtues and our role is to plant them in our lives. Our decision to plant them, and our continuing desire that they should grow, draw from him the grace that fosters and directs their growth. The many small decisions we make in response to grace and the Holy Spirit form us and grow the “tree of virtue” within us.
We do not grow in virtue by ourselves – it is always in partnership with God.