ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B
“Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years…” That lyric from Fiddler on the Roof crossed my mind on Friday afternoon as I watched the Class of 2018 graduate from St. Gregory the Great Academy. I looked at one graduate and thought, I remember watching his mother receive her diploma in this church. Than I glanced at another, I married her parents, I recalled. And another whose father was a teenager, what was it, just yesterday? Later, at the Festival, I greeted a father who was in the second grade when I first came to this parish. His son, now in sixth grade, was standing next to him, his exact spitting image. And on his other side, his lovely daughter whose grandmother grew up right across Clyde Street from me.
“When did she become a beauty, how did he grow to be so tall, sang Tevye. When? How? We do not fully comprehend how it happens. Science has given us great insights into cellular division and genetic codes and developmental psychology. But how it all fits together to form each human being: unique, precious, irreplaceable – or that it should happen at all is a mystery calling forth wonder and hope. God declares himself the master of this mystery of growth. “As I, the Lord, have spoken, so will I do.” Growth, like life itself, is a gift from God.
In the Gospel Jesus uses parables drawn from the agricultural society of his day to teach that growth is a necessary part of God’s plan for his kingdom. “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” That wonderment in a farmer’s mind lives in every parent’s heart, only magnified a thousand-fold. It is in God’s eye as he watches the seed of his kingdom, planted by Jesus and watered by his blood spread across the face of the earth such that I can look out at every congregation at every Mass in this church and see people from all around the globe. Yes, we can become impatient when heaven fails to appear upon earth. That impatience has moved human beings to take matters into their own hands as fascists and communists did in the last century, as the misguided recruits to terrorist groups are doing today. It was old King Zedekiah’s determination to do the same thing in the upheaval caused by the Babylonian exile that inspired Ezekiel’s prophecy in the first reading today. “I, the Lord, bring low the high tree and lift high the lowly tree…”
Growth is a necessary part of God’s design. And growth requires patience and trust in God. But it can also be fostered. Some time ago, I attended the graduation celebration for a young man whom I baptized at St. Elizabeth’s Church. How did he grow to be so tall, I thought to myself when I saw him in his graduation robe. Then I looked at his mother whom I also baptized shortly after she was born. When did she become a beauty? Then I looked at her parents whose wedding Mass I participated in as a newly-ordained and assigned priest. And the answer was all there before my eyes. Nothing extraordinary or spectacular, just love and encouragement and discipline and good example. The growth came from God, but the family circle is the rich soil that nourished it.
The same holds true of the Kingdom of God, as Jesus tell us. We can retard its growth by failing to live Jesus’ teachings so as to be a light to the world and the salt of the earth. But its growth can be fostered in rather simple ways. Father C. John McCloskey who makes converts the way the late Archbishop Sheen did decades ago, has a strategy that is amazingly simple. He befriends people. He listens to their concerns. He invites them to attend Mass. And God’s grace does the rest.
Growth is a mystery, a gift from God; but we can foster it so simply. Live as Jesus taught, give children attention, care, love and good example, befriend people by listening to their concerns, speaking gently with them, and inviting them perhaps to attend Mass with us.
And so, on this Fathers’ Day we pray with the Psalmist, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High.”