Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Homily for Eleventh Sunday Ordinary Time

Brothers and sisters, our gospel reading today (Mark 4:26-34) deals again with images of the Kingdom of God. Today’s characteristic of the kingdom use agricultural realities to make their point. The example of the tiny mustard seed that turns into a huge plant is an analogy of how even a small opening to God’s grace can lead us to a full life in God’s love.

Since we live in a farming area we might be able to get some help on Jesus’ other example. I have asked a local Farmer to help us out.

Steve, Lets say you finish seeding wheat in one of your fields late one afternoon. What do you do next?

[Steve: I would clean my equipment and get ready to do the next field .]

When would next look at the field we asked you about?

[Steve: I take a look at it every time I pass it]

What are you hoping to see when you visit your field?

[Steve: If there is enough moisture and warm enough temperature the seed in the ground will germinate and sprout. When I see the young plants emerge I know that thing are going well in my field.]

So, basically your are just watching and waiting. You sleep well, you spend time with your family, you go to church on Sunday or you take a week off and take you family on vacation. How long does this watching and waiting go on?

[Steve: Until the wheat is ready to harvest, a couple of months later.]

What changes in your life when it’s harvest time?

[Steve: I absolutely need to get my combine in the field and get the crop harvested.]

What would happen if you took vacation at this time or slept late or go to bed early?

[Steve: The harvest would be lost. I need to harvest each field at exactly the right time in order to maximize the amount of wheat produced by each field.]

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus chooses this earthy reality to characterize the Kingdom of God. The functioning of the natural world goes on whether we pay any attention or not. But if the farmer does pay attention and does some critical work, like plowing his field and choosing good seed and being ready for the harvest, he receives an enormous harvest. By accepting and working in harmony with the reality of nature farmers feed the world!

God’s kingdom is like this in that God’s love for his creation goes on whether we are paying attention or not. Yet if we do some critical work like acknowledging his existence, accepting his gifts and discovering His will for our lives we are promised a great spiritual harvest.

This parable is often called the parable of God’s providence. It speaks of our fundamental trust that God is in control and that our lives are neither random or meaning less.

This referencing of physical reality permeates Catholic teaching. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that we read from today (2 Cor 5:6-10), he identifies the reality that we exist as human persons made up of spirit and body.

It is the body through which we interact with the world. It is through the senses of the body that we observe and learn. It is with the body that we do what we do, as Paul points out, both good and evil. It is our bodies that reveal much about God’s intention in creating us.

The reality of our bodies reveals that being male or female is part of being human. This physical reality was acknowledged as coming from God at the very beginning of the Bible.

Genesis 1:27-28 says,

"God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them by saying, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it."

The physical reality that the union of a man and a woman creates new life is both the biological basis of marriage and God’s design of who we are as embodied persons.

A second reality of our imaging God as male and female is reflected later the book of Genesis when it is pointed out that the complimentary natures of man and woman addresses, what might be called, our initial loneliness. This aspect of human reality can be seen in the words of Adam at the time of his first encounter with Eve.

"This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘‘woman,...’’

The revelations of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus often use marriage, this longing for union of man and woman, as an image of Gods love for us, his people.

In fact the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, describes heaven as the Marriage Feast of the Lamb when Jesus, the lamb, is the groom and the Church is the bride. We, in our parish community, also speak of being the sons and daughters of God, members of "God’s Family".

Today we also celebrate "Father’s Day". Recall that just a month ago we celebrated "Mother’s Day’. These two people in their fertile physical union brought about your and my existence and, for most of us, in their loving commitment to each other and their children provided each of us with that shelter from loneliness we call "family".

Yet among our friends and relatives we all know some who never marry. Perhaps their line of work is so absorbing ( think of explorers or artists) that marriage does not fit with their commitment to their art or vocation.

It is interesting that Jesus even takes note of this reality when he points out, in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 19:12, that among the men and woman choosing to not marry are those that chose celibacy "for the sake of the Kingdom".

We Catholics know many men and woman who have accepted this calling, to celibacy for the kingdom.

Again Jesus uses marriage and family as an image of the church in how their efforts for " the sake of the Kingdom" affect how they are accepted by us, God’s family. Being dedicated to God’s purposes, they care for God’s people in many ways. As a result we assign to them family titles like Brother John, Sister Susan, Mother Teresa, Father Stan

This week end we take note of the retirement of a special servant of God that we have fondly called ‘Father’.

As a young man Father Stan heard the calling to a celibate life "for the sake of the Kingdom" and after many years of study he was ordained a priest in 1968 amid the changes and confusion following the Second Vatican Council. Over the years he has ministered to many Catholic Communities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Venezuela.

Most of us older folks have known many priests, some as friends, some as spiritual directors, some as confessors and some as pastors. We realize that each is unique in personality and perspective. Some are more likable than others.

Having observed Father Stan for the past few years I would classify him as very pastoral in his ministerial style. I think he is a little leery about festivities in his honor like tonight’s retirement party. So, rather than telling a story that is directly about him I will tell you this story:

I recently read the testimony of a Catholic woman named Calah.
The beginning of her story she says this,

"My first child was conceived out of wedlock. I was, at the time, not only unmarried but also a crystal meth addict. I was not Catholic but some strange combination of agnostic/lapsed Protestant; My boyfriend and the father of my child was a Catholic. Obviously neither he nor I were living virtuous lives at the time, but the reality of a child on the way forced us to try and straighten ourselves out."

Eventually they found a priest who ministered to them over several years as they got their lives together. The priest came under some criticism because he honored the reality of the little family over strict and immediate application of church regulations.

At the end of her story she gives this summary,

"Looking back, I see two people trying to wrench themselves out of sin without much hope of success, but with the unshakable confidence of a gentle and loving priest to guide our steps. I know that even on that long road, in which we were still shadowed by sin, God’s grace was there. I know that he never condemned us, withdrew his company from us, turned his back on us, or abandoned us to our sin. He walked with us, patient and merciful, just as he walks with us now."

Read her entire story here:
[ Calah Alexander, June 7, 2012, "The Long Road of Grace and Mercy", ]
I think that there are many who would say something similar about Father Stan.

Being father’s day weekend it is our great pleasure to honor one who has dedicated his manhood to being a spiritual father for many.  We thank you for these recent years as OUR SPIRITUAL FATHER. - Happy Father’s Day, Father Stan.

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