We love our Sunday dinners, it’s our way of resting I suppose. It has become a tradition in my family to stop at the local bakery for a couple loaves of bread on the way home from Mass. Take a lap around the grocery store for some odds and ends, which always passes down the wine section where I look at the top shelf to see how cool the labels are and wonder why they are so expensive and no tastier. I pluck a bottle from the middle shelves and then put them back saying, “it’s Sunday dinner not Christmas dinner.” Then I release a bottle from the grocer’s wine purgatory now en route to saintly vintage for this Sunday’s dinner.

Depending on what we make, the cooking takes the afternoon or an hour or so. This particular Sunday was a quick one – pasta with tomato basil sauce, salad, bread, no dessert (which the boys forcibly pointed out), and that feeble bottle of wine.

We sit at the table and say grace which the boys immediately follow with, “Salute! Cin cin! Cheers!” lifting their glasses of Sunday soda. We serve up the food and begin to eat. 

Two bites into the meal I am struck by how delicious this pasta tastes. Exceptionally good. Noodles cooked perfectly al dente. The sauce is spot on! Rarely do I think anything I cook is that good nor am I boasting of culinary skill here. This batch of sauce was a total surprise, simple and concise. The sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes were at perfect eq levels. The garlic confidently present, yet not dominating the room. The basil rounding out the party for festive color and flavor. A little salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flake and done. Not to mention the texture, silky and buttery, from the excellent olive oil my mother-in-law gets from her neighbor from Greece. A sip or two of that wine even paired well with this meal.  

My family is enjoying their meal. It’s silent for a few minutes except for the tinkling of forks and plates and bread crusts crunched. No longer able to hold it in, I pridefully burst  “You know what? This pasta is delicious!” 

The boys agree with, “Ya dad.” Positive and happy to just be eating.

My wife, humble and realistic, “It is good Chris. It’s always good.”

Unsatisfied with their current evaluation, I go next level with my assessment like a guy taking a charismatic fit at Mass. I drop my fork in my plate, flop back in my chair and begin shelling the table with dad’s realization, all from a plate of pasta.

I opined about all the work put into assembling this one bite of food and was overcome with feelings of gratitude that God allowed the garden to produce and wonder that despite circumstances there was still fruit. Through August and September, I put up enough tomatoes, garlic, and basil to make many batches of sauce for the year. Thanks be to God! I went on about grace perfecting nature, our own personal nature, but even perfecting the nature of the seed and plant by bringing them to completion season after season. The boys listened as I told them God blesses hard work and time in the garden. We have to get after it from the moment the soil is ready to be worked. And, friends, soil is always ready to be worked from the moment we choose to compost food scraps, to those scraps being turned under in a tomato patch, to good plant watering and inspecting regiments. God takes what we give, the diligent, every day messing in the dirt, pruning the diseased parts of plants, protecting from pests and predators, and He rewards with abundant grace. Maybe the reward is a perfect bite of pasta? Maybe it’s as profound as the conversion heart, a change in lifestyle and turning to Jesus Christ.

We are here in Advent, a season of new promises and spiritual life changing to better our relationship with God amidst preparing our homes for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Are we only working at the surface level? Are cleaning, cooking, eating the chocolate from calendars manifestations of a deeper level of preparation? Of amendment? What does the soil level of your spiritual life look like? Have you and I amended the soil of our spiritual lives and relationships with Jesus. That, after all, is what we demonstrate in our acts of contrition, firm amendment of purpose. Let’s dig deep and see what the beneficial microbes and nutrients are feeding us at our roots, traveling to the core of our being and motivating us to produce fruit. Think about your successes this year? Give thanks to God for them and ask Him to settle them in your heart and mind to recall at a moment of struggle.

It takes good soil, time, and trust to produce good fruits. Soil needs to be cared for, amended, and worked before any good can come from it. God takes the smallest act, a seed, a plant, even a bottom shelf wine, and allows us to become perfect. This Advent, I am reflecting on the previous year, grateful for blessings and asking God to show me where He was present. I also pray that He reveals where and how I need to amend the soil of my life to bring forth a prosperous crop of good and holy works that assist others on their way to relationship with Jesus Christ.

God Bless you this Advent season!