|Please Pass the Mustard.
The Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ezekiel 17: 22-24.
• Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-16.
• II Corinthians 5: 6-10.
• Mark 4: 26-34.
The Third Sunday after Pentecost.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Peter 5: 6-11.
• Psalm 54: 23, 17, 19.
• Luke 15: 1-10.
The Third Sunday after Pentecost; the Feast of the Holy Prophet Eliseus; and, the Feast of Our Holy Father Methodius, Patriarch of Constatinople.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the typicon of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite:
• Romans 5: 1-10.
• Luke 21: 12-19.
8:54 AM 6/14/2015 — This past week was one of those unfortunate circumstances in which we had a major event here yesterday, as it was the ninety-eighth anniversary of the second apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, and I had to give a big talk about it, leaving me with very little left over for you here today—not that I don't care about you, to be sure, but preparing that talk took a lot out of me, and it was a very long day besides.
But that doesn't mean I have nothing for you. In fact, I've been in this situation many times before. In part of my talk yesterday, I had spoken about how important it is for us to recognize the distinction between the personal gifts and shortcomings of our priests, and the fact that they are priests, with the power to give us our Blessed Lord's Body and Blood in spite of their personal shortcomings. That lesson was brought home to me very early on in my priesthood, as one of my first assignments was as a parochial vicar to a priest who had a very acute personal shortcoming: he was an alcoholic. He was a good priest, but had become such a slave to his drinking that he often couldn't function. He passed away from liver disease some years ago. We served together in a very large parish that had many Masses on Sunday, one of which was at 6 AM; and, on those occasions when he had scheduled himself to say the six-o'clock Mass after having been out most of the night drinking, he would invariably not show up for the Mass more than he would. Nine times out of ten, when he was scheduled for the early Mass, I would be woken by a frantic knock at the rectory door at 6:10 because the church was full of people but no priest had shown up, so I would have to throw on some clothes and run over the say the Mass totally unprepared. After a few weeks there, I just assumed that I would be taking the early Mass every Sunday, and would prepare and go over to church automatically.
Then, one day I stopped to consider whether I was really doing him any favor by taking his Mass all the time. The last thing one should do for an alcoholic is enable him. So, one Sunday, I arranged to not be there: I got up early and went out the diner for breakfast around 5:30, and sat there until around six-thirty, at which point I figured that whatever was going to happen would have happened. When I pulled into the rectory driveway, I was met by a committee of people who, sadly, informed me that, no, no one had shown up, and the church was still full of people waiting for someone to come and offer Holy Mass. So, I offered the Mass, but I had no homily prepared, and needed to get the Mass over with as quickly as possible since the time for my own Mass at seven was rapidly approaching. So, I gave them the shortest homily I had ever preached: I said, “Do good and avoid evil. Now let us stand for our profession of faith.”
Well, I'm going to give you a little bit more than that today, but not by much. But sometimes that's OK. In the second of the two parables told by our Lord in today's Gospel lesson—both of which are drawn from agricultural themes—he likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds which, when it's fully grown, becomes one of the largest of plants. It always reminds me of another incident that occurred early in my priesthood: I was in residence at the time in a particular parish while serving as a hospital chaplain and, while I typically didn't have anything to do with the parish in which I was living, I did occasionally have opportunity to help the pastor there by taking a few appointments with parishioners who needed to speak with a priest. And years later, long after I had left that assignment and was serving as pastor of my own parish, I got a note from the pastor back at this place, who told me that one of his parishioners had told him that what I had said to him about his particular problem had completely changed his life. And I remembered the guy, and I remembered that our meeting lasted no more than five minutes, and what I had said to him was nothing special but, by the grace of God, was what he needed to hear at that crucial moment in his life. A few words, as small as a mustard seed, which just happened to completely change a man's life.
Just like the shortest sermon in the world, “Do good and avoid evil”; words that drift in and out of our ears like water running through our fingers, but which might, by God's grace alone, change the life of someone sitting a few pews over.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that, when we do something for someone or say something to someone, the success or failure of what we've said or done must be immediately apparent. We raise our children a certain way, then they go astray or get themselves into trouble later in life, and we assume, therefore, that we've failed as parents. We try, with our words, to convince someone to turn away from an immoral life, and they scoff at us and turn away. We try to make amends to someone whom we've offended in some way, but they seem to reject our apology. In all these cases, we've convinced ourselves that we've failed because we expect to see the results of our good efforts right away. But the effects of our good efforts often act like seeds: you don't plant a seed then sit there and expect something to pop out of the earth within the next ten minutes. And, more often than not—especially in the case of our children—the seed of goodness we plant in someone may not germinate until long after we're dead.
Insisting that we see the effects of our good efforts right away is a spiritual defect. It's rooted in the mistake of thinking that the good we do is done by ourselves and not by the grace of God working through us. In the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is used in the Byzantine Churches during the season of Lent, there's a line in the anaphora—the Eucharistic Prayer—where the priest tells God, “We have done nothing good upon the earth.” That's very true. Everything we do that is good is done, not by us, but by God's grace active in us. That doesn't mean that there's no merit in doing good; it does mean that the merit is not from us doing something good, but from us getting out of the way so that God can do something good in spite of us.
So, as we now turn our attention to the Holy Sacrifice of our Lord's sacred Body and precious Blood, let us strive ever more perfectly to get out of God's way so that we can be effectively used by Him, and let us resolve not to look for any evidence that we've succeeded, but resolve instead to leave it in God's hands.
Oh, and by the way: “Do good and avoid evil.”