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The Lilies of the Field

Fr. Scott A. Haynes


“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they labor not, neither do they spin;
but I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these”


The saints teach us to read the Gospel in a mystical sense. By taking this passage through a spiritual lens, we can take the lilies to represent penitents, those of us who repent of our sins, who try to be poor in spirit, and to live with spiritual discipline, rooting out sinful habits.

Lilies have three properties: they are 1) medicinal; 2) they are white, and 3) they are scented. The medicinal property is in the root, the whiteness and the scent are in the flower. The lilies represent those who have humility in their hearts, those who try to conquer pride with humility. Those who have repented of their sins are like lilies, for Christ’s Blood has washed them white as snow, has made their chastity again pure with whiteness.

Those who have turned from worldly wickedness to the love of God are called the “lilies of the field.” They are of the field—not of the desert or of the garden—for the field represents two things: holiness and charity. The field is the world, in which it is difficult to live. It is hard to be holy when you are surrounded by sin and constantly confronted by temptation. And to persevere in the life of grace today, to live in the field of this world, is to be a beautiful lily in Christ’s Garden.

Those monks who live as hermits flower in the desert. They avoid human contact to pursue holiness isolated, as much as possible, from the temptations and distractions of this world. Contemplative religious who live behind the cloister wall are like beautiful flowers in a walled garden, protected from many worldly concerns, so that they might grow rapidly in the way of perfection.


But for those of us who live active lives, encountering the world, with its sinful temptations, with all its allurements, what a glorious thing for us, as repentant sinners, to flower in the field of the world despite these constant trials. Here in the field, in the field of the world where there are many thorns and thistles, where, perhaps, you people will attack your faith, hurl insults upon you, or trample upon your good name, how pleasing it is to God, that, despite these hardships, you, live the beauty of a virtuous way of life, and keep the scent of a good reputation, just as the lilies of the field.

Christ glories in being a flower of the field. We read in the Song of Songs,
“I am the flower of the field.” [1]
Our Lord Himself lived in the home of the Holy Family in Nazareth for thirty years and then began His public ministry. Mary was beside Him constantly in the field of this world. Her vocation was to stay beside her Son, even in the field of blood that she found at Calvary. St. Anthony of Padua says Mary considered that her vocation was to flower in the field of the world rather than in the garden or in the desert. The field is the place where battles rage, and in the field of this world, the warfare the devil wages on us is continual.

At this point I should stop to say, do not be mistaken in thinking that cloistered nuns, monks, or hermits are perfectly shielded from the onslaught of the devil. Far from it. Often, people wrongly think that religious are walled-in and protected from the world. In a sense this is true, as they are free from many of the worldly temptations, but Satan’s temptations in the monastery or convent are far more subtle and sly.

For those who live in the field of the world, a solid holiness is needed. One must be on constant guard to shield off the attacks of temptation. Whoever wants to go out to battle in the field, must first test his ability to stand firm in so cruel a struggle. Better to flower in garden or desert, than to wither in the field. It is far better to stand in the garden or flourish in the desert than to fall in the field.

Consider that the expression “lilies of the field” can also indicate the perfection of charity, which lays itself open to any passer-by that wants to pluck it. In St. Luke’s Gospel, Christ says,
“Give to anyone who asks you.” [2]

Thus, we ought to strive to do give to our neighbor, at least in terms of good will. Even if we lack resources, we can give spiritual encouragement, our time, a listening ear, or a kind embrace. If someone demands our charity, even in the face of their hostility, we are obliged to be kind and generous in charity, returning to them a blessing for the curse.

As an example of this, St. Jeanne Jungan, the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, once was going from house to house to beg alms for the poor elderly sick people she was trying to serve. She came to the house of a very rich man. When she begged for a donation, this man spit right in her face.


St. Jeanne Jungan was like a lily in the field and this passer-by spat on this saintly nun, this beautiful lily. What was her reply? Scorn? A harsh word? No! She simply wiped her face off and said,
“That was for me. Now what will you give the poor?” [3]

We see the Gospel goes on to say,
“Consider, then, the lilies of the field, how they grow. They labor not, neither do they spin.”
Note these three things: 1) they grow, 2) they do not labor, and 3) they do not spin. In the same way, the just man will grow more and more virtuous because he does not labor, or spin. Unlike the Jews when they were in Pharaoh’s slavery, those with lily-like hearts do not labor over the bricks of Egypt—symbolic of the pleasures of the flesh. Neither do they spin—twisting the various threads of thought, constantly concerned with getting more worldly things.

If we want to grow in the spiritual life, we should not seek the pleasures of the flesh or unreasonably increase our worldly possessions. Then, like the lilies of the field, we will be truly dependent upon God, and we will be poor in spirit. Joseph says in Genesis: God hath made me grow in the land of my poverty. [4] In the land of spiritual poverty, which is the humility of the heart, the just man grows into a beautiful lily. As he grows less in himself, so God grows more in him. As St. John the Baptist said,
I must decrease, but He must increase. [5]

When you lessen yourself, God grows in you; as Isaiah says:
The least shall become a thousand, and a little one a most strong nation. [6]

This comes about when he who is humble in his own eyes is raised up in perfection of mind and work. As the Psalmist says:
“Man shall come to a deep heart: and God shall be exalted.” [7]

This spiritual depth mentioned in the Psalms may refer to the highness of heaven or the lowness of the sea. When we develop a “deep heart,” finding the lowness of humility, God is exalted in us because he makes us to be raised above the vain things that cause affliction of spirit, as Ecclesiastes says:
“I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity, and vexation of spirit.” [8]

Consider, as creatures living the time of the present moment, we tend to be infatuated with the fleeting moment. We tend to labor and are easily burdened. We often spin a never-ending thread. Yet, Christ our Savior says to us:
“Consider how the lilies of the field grow. I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.”

Solomon, the wisest of men, here represents the worldly-wise who, in all their frivolous and fleeting glory, in all their pretentious knowledge and misleading eloquence, are not arrayed like “lilies” of Christ. The “lilies” are the humble of heart who are clad in the whiteness of purity. The arrogant and pompous man is colored by the crimson of carnal desire, clothed in “iniquity and impiety.” [9]

The unrighteous have stripped themselves of all virtue. So, the Lord says of them:
And if the grass of the field, which is today and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe; how much more you, O ye of little faith? [10]

In a mystical reading of this passage, the grass, which feeds the fire, represents carnal folk whom God clothes “today,” in the present life. The Lord permits them to be clothed with temporal things “today,” but “tomorrow,” He will cast into the oven of burning fire. As Isaiah says:
“Behold, all you that kindle a fire, encompassed with flames, walk in the light of your fire, and in the flames which you have kindled. This is done to you by my hand; you shall sleep in sorrows.” [11]

In the fire the wicked man kindles in the present life, in it he will be burnt in the next life. If we wish to avoid this fire of punishment, then we ought never to kindle it; or if we have kindled the fire of sin, we must quickly extinguish it by a flood of tears, a contrite heart, and an honest confession.

Today, the sinner is; tomorrow he is not. Today, he is clothed in worldly honors and goods, but tomorrow, he is cast into the oven, roasting in the fire he that has himself made. As the First Book of Maccabees says: Fear not the words of a sinful man, for his glory is dung and worms: today he is lifted up, and tomorrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his earth and his thought is come to nothing. [12]

Today the sinner is clothed, and tomorrow he is cast into the oven. As Isaiah says:
The garment mingled with blood shall be burnt, and be fuel for the fire.[13]

In his examination of this Scriptural passage, St. Anthony of Padua asks, if we constantly long for riches and superfluities, are we striving to impress our neighbor in carnal pursuits? Are we not satisfied with reasonably providing for our needs and those of our loved ones? Or are we seeking to impress our neighbor by our worldly acquisitions? Our Blessed Savior reminds us:
Be not solicitous, therefore, saying: What shall we eat; or, what shall we drink; or, Wherewith shall we be clothed? [14]

We should be happy with ordinary food or clothing, and not put too heavy a focus on always having the finest or most expensive food or wearing the fanciest or costliest clothing. St. Matthew says,
After all these things do the heathens seek. [15]

But the Scripture today says:
For your Father knoweth, that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and his justice; and all these things shall be added unto you. [16]
The kingdom of God is the supreme good: that is why it is to be sought first and foremost. We seek God’s kingdom through a life of faith, hope, and charity. Living in the justice of the kingdom is to keep everything that Christ taught. To seek the kingdom is to fulfill that justice in our actions.

First, then, seek the kingdom of God, and set it before everything else; all else should be for its sake. We should ask for nothing beyond it, since everything we do ask for should serve it. Because everything belongs to the children, and will be given them even if they do not ask,
All these things shall be added unto you.

If worldly things are taken away from us for a time, it is just a test; if they are given, it is so that thanks may be given, because everything works together for their good. The book of Tobias tells us:
The gates of Jerusalem shall be built of sapphire, and of emerald: and all the walls thereof round about of precious stones. All its squares shall be paved with white and clean stones: and Alleluia shall be sung in its streets. Blessed be the Lord who hath exalted it: and may he reign over it for ever and ever. Amen. [17]

In this text, four kinds of stone are mentioned: sapphire, emerald, precious stone and clean, white stone. Sapphire represents contempt for what is visible, and contemplation of what is unseen. Emerald stands for compunction of tears and confession of sin. From these two the gates of the soul are built, whereby the entrance for the grace of the Holy Spirit stands open. By these two are opened the entrance and the exit through which we taste the sweetness of God, we examine ourselves, and we tread down the world.

The precious stone denotes patience, the wall of the soul which fortifies and defends it against any disturbance. The clean, white stone represents chastity and humility, with which the thoughts and imaginations of the mind should be paved. Then “Alleluia,” the praise of God, will be sung in its streets, the bodily senses. How sweet a symphony, when clean senses and pure thoughts work together. The sapphire stands for contemplation of the inexpressible Trinity and Unity. Emerald, which transforms the eyes, represents the joyful vision of the whole triumphant Church. The precious stone is the eternal fulfillment of heavenly joy. The clean, white stone is the glorification of the double robe of soul and body.

When the saints have all these, they will sing “Alleluia” in the streets of Jerusalem. The streets of Jerusalem mean the mansions of which the Lord says: In my Father’s house are many mansions.[18] In the mansions of heaven, “Alleluia” is sung with unceasing voices by the saints.

Blessed is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has exalted the Church Militant to be the Church Triumphant, to deliver the Church Suffering into the glory his kingdom over which he reigns for ever and ever. Amen. Of this kingdom the Gospel says: Seek first the kingdom of God.

Let us then ask the Lord Jesus Christ, brothers, to grant us to seek his kingdom, and to build in us the moral Jerusalem, whereby we may come to the heavenly one and sing “Alleluia” in its streets, with the holy angels. May he grant this, whose kingdom lasts for ever and ever. Let every soul say: “Amen. Alleluia.”

Notes

[1] Song of Songs 2:1. [2] Luke 6:30. [3] St. Teresa of Calcutta told this story to the novices of the Missionaries of Charity many times over to impress upon them of the patience and humility of the saints in their work for the poor. [4] Genesis 41:42. [5] cf. John 3:30. [6] Isaiah 60:22. [7] Psalm 63:8. [8] Ecclesiastes 1:14. [9]Psalm 72:6. [10] Matthew 6.30. [11] Isaiah 50:11. [12] 1 Maccabees 2:62-63. [13] Isaiah 9:5. [14] Matthew 6:31. [15] Matthew 6:32. [16] Matthew 6:32-33. [17] Tobias 13:21-23. [18] John 14:2.

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