Faith Matters – Developing good soil

Brendan Nicholl 29 July 2020

Plants can teach us much about reaching our potential and the need for favourable environmental factors that ensure growth.

As we return to school for the third term we are excited for a semester that promises some sense of normality.

We are also saddened that due to a surge in the number of COVID19 cases in Melbourne many students in Victoria will again enter into a period of remote learning and wonder what effect that will have on families and communities ‘up the road’.

In reflecting on the period of remote learning in term two the biggest effect was the inability to be in, and enjoy, nature.


Over the holidays many in our community made the most of some beautiful afternoons by visiting local reserves and beaches enjoying nature with their family and friends. As we enter a new semester, we are grateful for the ability to experience nature. In observing its beauty and complexity we are drawn to the transcendent.

In nature we find it easy to see ‘God in all things’.

When we view nature it’s easy to see that plants are a true wonder of creation. They are ancient and varied. Some 400 million years ago the first terrestrial plants evolved.

With changes in the environment and selective pressures over hundreds of millions of years there are today around 400,000 known species of plant. They range from enormous trees such as the Mountain Ash to tiny mosses that are less than a centimetre in height.

Plants are truly amazing. They can grow in almost every habitat on earth. Plants can grow in deserts or in salt water mangroves, they can grow on the top of snow-covered mountains or in almost complete darkness. In fact, there is a type of moss called the Dwarf Swan-neck Moss that can grow next to volcanoes in soil temperatures of 72°C!


Jesus often used plants to explain great truths in ways that people could understand. Whether he used images of vines or wheat to explain his teachings three aspects are vital to the success of plants in his parables – soil, pests and weeds. For a plant to grow to its full potential the environment needs to be perfect. Even the Dwarf Swan-neck Moss cannot grow in the dark or with herds of goats foraging freely.

Metaphorically the same is true for our students. Each of them, like a seed, has all that is required to reach their potential and as with plants each is unique and capable of doing something no other can.

Each student if nurtured he or she can achieve not only what they hope for but have the ability to change the world and their community if they focus on the gifts provided by God.

During the term students will make subject selections that will develop their skills and abilities through the study of subjects that truly interest them and for which they have an aptitude. One common aspect that can limit their development is in choosing subjects for the wrong reason. Subject selection based on friendships, perception of how easy or hard a course may be can be viewed metaphorically as the thorns of which Jesus spoke.

Students must be careful to avoid weeds to smother their potential or crowd out what leads to growth.


As a community and within families we need to support students as they develop. It is the role of these supportive networks to help tend the soil and deter pests that might ‘eat up the seed’ before it grows. The most essential aspect of gardening is development of the soil. The creation of humus through careful composting is in many ways a fine art. If the soil is not adequate or the environment is not safe growth cannot occur. It is the job of families and communities to prepare and nourish ‘the soil’ so that students can flourish.

We should also be aware to the presence of God in our community and the movement of his Spirit within us. For students to achieve their potential they also need spiritual nourishment and the guidance of their conscience.

Supporting students spiritually and discussing our belief in a loving and merciful God is of vital importance for students as they develop into adulthood. Empowering them to seek God and develop their own relationship with him is a promise made at baptism and a central belief of our college communities.

To achieve all that is possible in their lives each child requires the support of the whole community, a relationship with God and the tools required to make the better choice when making decisions.


So, as this term begins let us reflect on the wonder of creation and the vast and extraordinary environments plants thrive in.

Spend time in nature and consider how plants can teach us much about reaching our potential and the need for favourable environmental factors that ensure growth. Although growth can occur without intervention success is guaranteed with some support and intervention.

Our job is to tend the soil and add the humus required to help young people achieve their goals and become the people of great virtue and love for others. If a tiny moss can grow in soil that would kill any other multicellular organism, as a community we can ensure that each of our students reaches their potential and becomes the unique and vital individual God planned for our world.

Brendan Nicholls is liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius College, Geelong.



Would you like trial access to explore the platform?

It is free and can be for as many staff members as you wish.

Get in touch via [email protected] and we can set this up for you.


Would you like a tour of the site for you and your RE team?

We can connect via your preferred platform (Zoom, Teams, Google meet etc).
It is free and takes 15mins.

Get in touch via [email protected] and we can book one in for you.