11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Margaret Parish
Bel Air, MD
June 17, 2018
I’m delighted to return to St. Margaret Parish on Father’s Day to offer this Holy Mass for all of our fathers, both living and deceased. Pope Francis has great devotion to St. Joseph and sees him as a role-model for fathers. The Pope often speaks of how St. Joseph guided Jesus so that our Savior would grow “in wisdom, age, and grace”. So also, he urges fathers to stick by their children’s side, teaching, guiding, and loving them. My own Dad just turned 97 years old and it still means the world to me when he tells me that he loves me, prays for me, and thinks about me. So, to all our dads let us offer our thanks – and let us hold them up in prayer during this holy Mass.
Today we also recognize the spiritual fatherhood of the priests who serve you so devotedly here at St. Margaret’s, Msgr. Schenning, Fr. Nicodemus, Fr. Rogue. We thank you for your devoted leadership and service to this parish family. And, in a special way, I want to thank you, Msgr. Schenning, as well as your co-workers and all of you who are part of this parish community for renovating and updating the daily Mass chapel. I am honored to bless it at the conclusion of this Mass.
This weekend Cardinal Peter Turkson, a close advisor to Pope Francis, is visiting the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Yesterday, I accompanied him to a conference at Loyola University on how start-up businesses are improving Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods. With minimal capital and just a handful of talented and devoted people, these innovative businesses offer opportunity and hope to residents of our city who otherwise would face a bleak future. As you can imagine, these ventures have their share of critics and skeptics. Yet, time and again, these young and aspiring business people are beating the odds. They are succeeding in situations where many said it couldn’t be done. It was inspiring for me to listen to these entrepreneurs who are deeply committed to the City of Baltimore and to the people who live and work there. Listening to their stories, I thought of today’s Scripture readings. The essential message of these readings might be summed up this way: “In the Kingdom of God, little things are important.” Just as these entrepreneurs do a lot with only a few resources, even more so, the Lord can accomplish a lot in us with only a little, so long as we listen to him and accept the help, the grace that he gives us. With this central point in mind, let’s quickly review what we heard in our readings.
In the reading from Ezekiel, God promises to take a tender shoot from a cedar tree and plant it on a mountain where it will grow into large, fruit-bearing tree, where the birds of the air can find shelter. Ezekiel goes on to tell us how Lord choose not the lofty green tree but the lowly tree, the tree that looks as if it’s withered up and not likely to grow. And here’s the meaning of that image: When God set out to reveal himself to the human race, he chose to do so not through a great and mighty nation with powerful armies, but rather through the people of Israel, a people who were oppressed and regarded as insignificant. In other words, God built up his Kingdom with unlikely, fragile people; and he caused it grow, so much so that it offered shelter for people everywhere. In our 2nd reading, St. Paul confirms what Ezekiel proclaimed. Paul tells us that we walk by faith and not by sight. In other words, we should not judge solely by sight, by appearances. With the eyes of faith, we see how God worked with and through the lowly to accomplish his purposes in human history.
In the Gospel, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, which, when planted, becomes such a large plant that the birds dwell in its shade. And what does this image mean? When Jesus came to preach the coming of God’s Kingdom, he came not as mighty ruler with armies, advisors, and the trappings of wealth. Jesus came as an itinerant preacher with just a few followers. God’s Kingdom arrived humbly, without being given much chance of success, yet, in the Church, his Kingdom has grown and matured, like an immense tree, in which people everywhere can find a spiritual home and take shelter. Again, St. Paul reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight. Many people misjudged Christ and his disciples because they judged by appearances. If they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they would have seen that, in Jesus, the Kingdom of God had dawned upon them. So too, many times in history it was thought that Church was finished, especially in times of turmoil, crisis, and persecution yet it is in those times that God often raises up his greatest saints. And how often I am amazed and edified to see what God does in humble souls, in the hearts of people who are underestimated by the world. In ways that are hidden from us, the Lord does marvelous things. This tells us that God wants to work in us to make us holy and through us to spread the Good News of his saving love.
Daily we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom: Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. In the Our Father, we ask for the grace to listen to Jesus, to accept his teaching, to welcome him into the center of our lives, to let his love reign in our hearts. We ask to be so close to Jesus as individuals and as a community of disciples, that we love what Jesus loves, reject what he rejects, that we come to know and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable, and that, in his grace, we strive to live the Beatitudes, so as to become like Jesus. Yet, when we honestly examine our consciences, allowing ourselves to stand even now before the judgment seat of Christ, we see how easily we distance ourselves from Jesus and the many ways we are decidedly unlike Jesus.. And when we see this in ourselves, what direction do our Scripture readings offer us?
On the one hand, St. Paul reminds us that, although we are saved by faith, we will be judged by our works, in the particular judgment at the end of our lives and at the last judgment. So, we should not be deceived by presumption or be lulled into complacency. It is possible for us to reject God’s friendship or just to squander it. On the other hand, Jesus reminds us, that growth in holiness and virtue – that is, the growth of God’s Kingdom in our hearts and our community of faith – is essentially the work of God not a human achievement. In ways we don’t fully understand, in ways that are gradual and hidden from view, God causes the seed of faith to mature and grow in our hearts – so long as we are willing to listen to the Lord with a good and willing heart, so long as we are willing to cooperate with the graces that he gives us. When we think about it, the Lord is asking only a little of us. It is God who gives the growth and on judgment day it is God who will reap the harvest.
All of which brings me back to yesterday’s conversation with the many young investors and entrepreneurs in the City of Baltimore. I had to admire their intelligence, their inventiveness, and their zeal in transforming scarce and precious resources into successful businesses. At the end of the day, I thought about my own “business”, if you will, the Church of which I am an unworthy shepherd, and all of us its members. I asked myself some searching questions and perhaps you will find some merit in them also: Do I show as much zeal in scattering the seeds of God’s Word as these young business people show in growing their enterprises? Do I value the gifts of God, especially the gift of his Kingdom, as much as they value the precious capital to which they have access? Even as these young people passionately believe that a small investment can grow and prosper, do I trust that the Lord in his goodness will bring forth growth from my meagre gifts and efforts?
We walk by faith and not by sight. May the Lord enable us all to persevere with hope and patience! May God bless us and keep us always in his love!