Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
July 28, 2014
Jer 13:1-11, Dt 32:18-21, Mt 13:31-35
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The allowing points were attempted in the homily:
- There is a huge contrast in today’s readings between the organic growth of God’s kingdom in and through those who cooperate with God in faith and the corruption that occurs when people fail to listen. We begin with the growth. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us two parables to describe the growth of the Kingdom in us and through us among others. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, we see that the kingdom can begin very small, in the heart of one faithful person, but then over time, it can grow huge. This is, of course, what we in how the Kingdom began in the Annunciation, when out of Mary’s yes, the Seed conceived within her by the power of the Holy Spirit, began to grow and eventually all nations would be embraced in the branches of his arms on the Cross. We saw that this is what happened on Pentecost, when out of this small bad of apostles, the Church started and experienced great growth. We’ve seen this happen in the founding of parishes on a few committed families, of religious movements and orders that only began with the founder, and in families when one person’s conversion led to the conversion of so many others. I was pondering it a couple of weeks ago when I watched an excellent documentary film called Everyday Holiness, on Fr. Joseph Muzquiz, a priest of Opus Dei who died in 1983 and whose cause for canonization has concluded in the Archdiocese of Boston and has been submitted to the Vatican. He was sent by the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva, to begin seeking to spread the spirit of Opus Dei — helping people become truly holy in the midst of their duties — in the United States along with a layman, Sal Ferigle, who eventually became a priest and was my spiritual director in college. They arrived in Chicago basically with nothing, no money, no real connections, but with the seed of faith, daring and confidence, and through their efforts Opus Dei began to grow and spread. And it spread precisely as leaven, which is the other parable Jesus gives us today. The whole message of St. Josemaria, which God had helped him to see clearly in 1928, was that to become holy, people, especially lay people, don’t have to leave the world behind and become priests or religious, but they should remain in the world, remain in their professions, remain in their homes as leaven, lifting the whole dough of the world up to God on the inside. That really is the mission of the vast majority of Catholics in the world, to help leaven the whole loaf from the inside, by living virtuously, by working hard, by imitating so many of the virtues we see in the ordinary life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Nazareth.
- This type of organic growth is contrasted with the prophet ôt, the symbolic action, God asked the Prophet Jeremiah to do in today’s first reading. God told him to get a brand new linen loincloth, basically the ancient underwear worn by the priestly class, and after wearing it for a while, take it off and place it unlaundered in the soily cleft of a rock in Parath, a place a short distance from his home. A long interval later, God had him retrieve the loincloth and he discovered that it had been rotted in contact with the earth and other elements. That was an image, God communicated to him so that he could communicate it to others, to show the rotting of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. God wanted the whose houses of Israel and Judah to cling to him intimately like the linen underwear. He wanted them to be his people, his renown, his praise, his beauty. He wanted to see them grow in relationship with them. “But they did not listen,” God said. They refused to obey his words, they walked in the stubbornness of their hearts, they followed and adored false gods, and that special priestly garment rotted. In the Responsory, the Church has us return to the Book of Deuteronomy detailing the infidelity of the Israelites 700 years before because history was repeating itself: they were unmindful of the God who gave them birth, they were fickle with no sense of loyalty, they treated God as if he didn’t exist, angering him with their idols. And they would bring demise on themselves. God wouldn’t so much punish them as allow them to experience the punishment of their own actions when they turned their back on him, when they allowed the intimate relationship in the Covenant he formed with them to rot like the loincloth.
- It behooves us to examine which of these two vectors we are on personally and communally. We’re either on a path of growth in the kingdom, like the Parables of the Leaven and the Mustard Seed indicate, or we are on the path of corruption. Our relationship with God is even more intimate than that of the Jews, but is that a source of growth for us or are we forsaking that incredible treasure? We can begin communally. Are we growing as a Church in our parish, our Diocese, our country, are we lifting up all of society, or are we recapitulating what we saw in Moses’ and Jeremiah’s times? We can of course point to certain places where the Church really is growing and thriving — that’s one of the reasons why I love to preach retreats to young sisters in exploding religious communities and parish missions and priests’ retreats in parts of the country where the Church is seeing huge numbers of conversions, building new parishes, etc. — but at least up here in our part of the vineyard, that’s not happening in most places. The vast majority of the people of the New and Eternal Covenant aren’t living by that Covenant. They’re not coming to Jesus in the intimate Sacraments where he forgives and feeds us. They’re not living by the Word of God. In many cases, Catholics are even champions of the culture that celebrates the destruction of unborn children, the redefinition of marriage, the neglect of the poor and vulnerable and other offenses that cry out to heaven. We do ourselves no favors by trying to sugarcoat what’s happening. And the reason why that’s happening communally is because there’s not growth happening personally in the vast majority of persons. Rather than growing in faith, many allow their faith to atrophy. They are living more by the standards of the world than by the standards of Christ. They know less now than they knew when they were confirmed.
- But it doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus in today’s parables shows us the path of real reform and gives us a guarantee for our hope when we begin to take our growth in faith seriously. Like the history of the people of Israel, the history of the Church is a chronicle of growth and decline — growth when people are faithful, decline when people become worldly and corrupt — but God who is faithful always gives the graces of a renewal. When people respond, renewal occurs. Now is one of those times in the Church in the northeast when we need to begin again, like a mustard seed, that process of growth. We need to be leaven even within our communities. There are so many opportunities for us to grow in faith, both here at the parish and in the multitude of resources — video, audio, books, websites, blogs — so easily accessible today. But we need to avail ourselves of those gifts. But even the downsizing of the Church in the northeast is a powerful personal summons for us to grow in faith. I said eight days ago when these parables came up on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time that when the Church gets smaller, it’s an opportunity for many others to grow in faith. When the Church is a tree, an enormous institution, many people can stay on the peripheries and neither share in nor contribute to the growth God wants to bring about. They can convince themselves that there are thousands of potential volunteers so that they don’t need to step forward; that there are dozens of big benefactors to help the parish make ends meet, so they can keep contributing what they always have; that there are multitudes of catechists to pass on the faith to newer generations, so they can keep their Sunday mornings for errands; that there are scores of beautiful voices to sing in choirs, so they can keep their God-given talents for themselve; that there are hundreds of kids to serve at Mass, so their children can continue to prioritize sports; that there are huge quantities of those to spread the faith to others, so they don’t need to work at spreading the faith as leaven in our workplaces, schools, hobbies, neighborhoods and elsewhere. But when we become closer to the size of a mustard seed, we can’t pass the spiritual buck in the same way. We need to step forward. All hands must be on deck. This is a grace. But it’s also a challenge. Many of those who, for example, grew up when parishes were the size of a full trees need to make the transition of greater commitment required when their churches ave become closer to the size of a mustard seed. It’s not possible to be a spectator and somehow expect that everyone else will provide the necessary resources for a parish to grow. Today’s parable is a promise and image of hope: if we begin really to live in the kingdom, to allow what God wants to do in us fully to happen, the growth that happened before will happen again. After all, if the Lord could take his mother, a few women and twelve relative nobodies — eleven of whom cowardly abandoned him in his moment of great need — and transform the entire world, then he can clearly do the same with us here in Fall River, if we but have similar faith. The Lord Jesus wants us to be the living 21st century illustration of this parable.
- The place where that growth is meant to begin is here at Mass, as Jesus seeks to plant himself within us as a seed, as a “grain of wheat” (Jn 12:24) on good soil that together with him can bear abundant growth. It’s here at Mass that Jesus does something far more significant than a prophetic ôt symbolizing the type of intimacy he wants to have with us. He actually implants himself on our insides and allows us to enter through Holy Communion into the inner life of God. This is where all growth in the Church begins. This is where all growth in the Church is directed. As we prepare to receive Jesus now, we acknowledge that we are receiving within the Leaven that is meant to help us rise in faith and then, together with him, to be leaven for the whole world.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
wear it on your loins, but do not put it in water.
I bought the loincloth, as the LORD commanded, and put it on.
A second time the word of the LORD came to me thus:
Take the loincloth which you bought and are wearing,
and go now to the Parath;
there hide it in a cleft of the rock.
Obedient to the LORD’s command, I went to the Parath
and buried the loincloth.
After a long interval, the LORD said to me:
Go now to the Parath and fetch the loincloth
which I told you to hide there.
Again I went to the Parath, sought out and took the loincloth
from the place where I had hid it.
But it was rotted, good for nothing!
Then the message came to me from the LORD:
Thus says the LORD:
So also I will allow the pride of Judah to rot,
the great pride of Jerusalem.
This wicked people who refuse to obey my words,
who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts,
and follow strange gods to serve and adore them,
shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing.
For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins,
so had I made the whole house of Israel
and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD;
to be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty.
But they did not listen.
DT 32:18-19, 20, 21
You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,
You forgot the God who gave you birth.
When the LORD saw this, he was filled with loathing
and anger toward his sons and daughters.
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“I will hide my face from them,” he said,
“and see what will then become of them.
What a fickle race they are,
sons with no loyalty in them!”
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’
and angered me with their vain idols,
I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’;
with a foolish nation I will anger them.”
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”He spoke to them another parable.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.