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Life from Dirt

What makes soil life giving?

I am uniquely lucky that every Monday I get to meet with a group of my good friends to share a meal and discuss our Catholic faith. It’s a true blessing. The weeks will vary, sometimes we pray together, others we discuss a specific teaching of the Church. Sometimes we play silly games that relate to our faith. Then still others we have nights where we are more practical and discuss how we are supposed to be living out our Catholic faith in a specific part of our life.

This week was closest to that last point. My friend Gordon (of The Christ in Culture podcast brought to us the topic of death. It’s one of those things that is uncomfortable to talk about and so people choose not to. We as Catholics have lots of opinions about death and dying and what happens after, so it’s important to have discussions on it. Gordon brought us this activity he found called Death over Dinner ( where it gives you different supplements to read/listen/watch and then you get together over the dinner table and discuss them.

This last week as I was listening to some of those supplements, a podcast, one of the podcasters said this one line where they mentioned that dirt and soil is really just a composite of all the dead things that have come before us. I had to pause the podcast when I first heard it. We are surrounded by dirt all the time, but it’s not something I have ever thought about. This man then went on to discuss the difference of the dirt he had on his land, which was basically sand, and how this wasn’t good soil for growing crops.

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Before talking about the differences between these two different types of dirt (sandy/fertile soil), I have to first discuss exactly what dirt is. Dirt is made up of four main components: mineral solids, water, air and organic matter. The difference then between sandy and good soil (I use the term “fertile" or "good soil” to mean soil that plants can grow and live in) is the ratio of these 4 ingredients, specifically the levels of organic matter. This organic matter provides the dirt with nutrients that the plants need like carbon and nitrogen.

So where does this organic matter come from? Things that used to be alive: plants, animals, and other organisms. Over time, their structures/bodies decompose into much simpler compounds. Those structures break down and those simple carbon and nitrogen rich compounds are what make the soil so nourishing. All of these things were once living in this world, but it took their death for us to have this nutritious soil that is capable of life.

When we look at this world, it is broken, but the thing that gives us hope is the chance at eternal life in heaven. After man’s original fall in the garden of heaven, death of good people did not mean heaven, it meant waiting in a neutral afterlife. They had to wait because the gates of heaven were not open. It was not until Jesus came down and died for us that the gates of heaven were opened.

It was only through Jesus’ death that we are given that chance for a perfect eternal life in heaven. It is only through his death that we are able to live.

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But this analogy goes even deeper. Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t just open the gates of heaven and give us the chance at eternal life, but it also gave us nourishment to live more fully in this life on Earth. In the book of John, Jesus says, I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Every single day, all around the world, Catholic churches celebrate Mass. They celebrate the beauty that this death and resurrection gave us. We break bread and we share in Jesus’ body and blood. Without his death, there would be no Eucharist. Without His death, we would not have this beautiful life-giving sacrament.

Just as the bodies of dead animals and plants become the soil that nourishes the plants to sustain their life on this Earth, our bodies and souls are nourished every time we receive the Eucharist. It fortifies us to continue on in this life. It gives us graces to live this life to the fullest, glorifying our God who gave us this gift.

I said in the beginning that many people avoid the topic of death. Many choose to avoid the topic all together, but this is a mistake. Death is not the end. It certainly was not for Jesus. It was through this glorious death that we are able to live. His body is what is still around today to nourish us, to keep us whole. It takes many deaths over a long period of time to create natural nutrient-rich soil that will give plants life, but it only took one death to give us life, and it gives us life to the fullest.