Have you ever felt small or felt your ideas and actions really did not amount to anything? I know I have. One of the beautiful things about the kingdom of God is that God can work with the smallest of things to build them into the biggest.
We can see that today beginning with our reading in Ezekiel. Here God is working with something very small that is going to grow into something very big. God says: “I will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar tree and plant it on the mountain heights of Israel. There it will bring forth branches, bear fruit and become a noble cedar. And under this cedar will dwell all kinds of birds (meaning people) in its shade”. Who could have predicted that tiny sprig would grow into the tree on the hill of Calvary, and that the fruit would be salvation?
So, the Church combined that text with Mark’s Gospel where Jesus talks about how the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all seeds. Yet when it’s sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches so that all the birds of the air (again people) can fine shade.
Both scripture passages are wonderful texts to meditate on, particularly if you have a family. If you have children in school have you ever wondered how they are going to turn out? Are they going to grow up and really serve the Lord? I believe we sometimes fail to see that the Lord can do something so magnificent with even the smallest of seeds.
Consider the first three hundred years after Christ. As far as the world was concerned, Jesus and his first followers were looked down upon, even by the people of Jerusalem, not to mention their Roman overlords. And the number of actual disciples was insignificant. While large crowds were attracted by the cures and free loaves of Jesus’ public ministry, there were only 120 gathered in the upper room on Pentecost morning. So, what explains the growth?
There were many factors but one of them illustrates the parable of the mustard seed. The local Christian communities were families of an extraordinary kind. In a society where women were disrespected, women were honored and protected. In a society where unwanted infants were often abandoned, the Christian community celebrated children. In ancient cities where most occupants were uprooted from their families and communities, the Christian community welcomed strangers.
When Julian, one of Constantine’s relatives, became emperor, he promptly renounced Christianity and tried to bring back old-time pagan religion. But he realized that the empty rituals of ancient paganism rang hollow in the face of Christian compassion, and so urged his pagan priests to try to imitate it. “These Galileans,” he complained, “are not only taking care of their own poor but are taking care of ours!”
Christians were not simply supplying handouts – they were opening their lives, their hearts and their homes. They had formed a new family where everyone together said, “Our Father.” Everyone was forgiven and forgiving, and all were loved. Those who found shelter often accepted Jesus as Lord and became part of this family that offered shelter to others.
Each of us knows that the foundation of our faith is charity. We will never be truly Catholic unless we conform our lives to the two commandments that are the essence of our Catholic faith: to love the Lord, our God, with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves."
So, have you been watching the World Cup? Bishop Jacques Blaquart, who heads the ancient Diocese of Orléans, which lies 70 miles southwest of Paris, had this to say: “Parallels can be drawn between being a Bishop and a player; the team spirit, the gift of self. What I learned from football serves me today. Everyone must give his best for the good of the group. You have to ‘give it your all,’ as they say. You succeed only if you are in communion with one another. If everyone on a team is individualistic, that doesn’t work”.
So, if our parish and our families are seeing more slip away than are being drawn, we need to ask whether we radiate the unity, forgiveness, peace and joy that are hallmarks of the Kingdom . When people walk into our parish, do they feel welcome? Does our parish appear to outsiders as loving families where members know and care about one another?
The good news is that the Holy Spirit is ever ready to make the Kingdom of God break out anew, if we are ready to give it our all to Christ and say with conviction “thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done!” Look at the fruit that has come out of our youth and adults who have gone on mission trips to Mexico and Belize, Lifeteen retreats, and ACTS retreats. We are all called to participate in the great mission of his Church. Do we realize and relish how great it is to be a Catholic, how much good the Church does and how we are called to be a link that will bring others to experience the same goodness we have experienced?
And we should not get anxious when we do not progress in the spiritual life as fast as we would like. We cannot be worried about the size of our effort if we but make that effort. He wants to involve us, through freedom, intelligence, and creativity, in what he is doing. And so, he plants seeds, and he wants us to cultivate them. The life of our relationship with Christ does not depend solely on us, but on him. We are like good farmers who make sure the conditions are good for the seed to grow, but it is our God who makes the growth happen. Often, we do not perceive the work of God in our souls until much time has passed. However, he is constantly there, pulling out our weeds one at a time, and pushing our virtues to the surface.
I want to encourage you this week whether it’s your own children, your family, your marriage, your work or whether it’s a ministry within our Parish that you desire to start or to be a part of, don’t be afraid of small beginnings. Our God takes those small beginnings and if you participate with him, it can grow into something wonderful. Let God use the gifts that he has given each one of us and do something amazing with it.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the Fathers on Father’s Day. Dads, stick by your children’s side, teach them, guide them and love them. Have the grace to be close to your wife and your children, and let them grow in wisdom, age and grace. Read the Bible with them and believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach. Let’s pray that Catholic dads live their faith boldly and share that faith by means of a strong, heart-to-heart connection with their wife and children.