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Terrance KleinJune 12, 2024
Photo by Shalev Cohen on Unsplash

A Homily for Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 Mark 4:26-34

In central Kansas, the Good Lord can be a bit lackadaisical with rain. So summer flowers require almost daily watering. Seeing your plants every day, their growth does not astound you the way it might in a place more blessed with rain, where daily cultivation is not required. Either way, the joy of gardening is seeing growth, especially blossoms.

The same is true of our lives. We are bent on seeing blossoms, but the increase is hard to see day to day, whether we are looking at ourselves or those dear to us. Hence the astonishment when we are reunited with loved ones after any considerable absence.

Last week, I made my annual retreat. This year I journeyed to Denver to stay with Capuchin Franciscans, the friars who taught me in high school. I was able to see four of my former teachers and a schoolmate.

It has been almost 50 years since my high school graduation, but I have always followed news of the friars. I have thought: How amazing it is that these men have lived so long! But they were young men when they taught me. When you are a teenager, everyone older than you is already ancient.

For almost a week on my retreat, I shared meals with the friars, listening to old and new stories. The new ones were about the places each friar had been over the years, the work he had been given to do. It goes without their saying it—because they would not—that they had done that work well. Some became pastors, and most of them worked among the poor, the special concern of their Franciscan heritage and their Capuchin Province of Mid-America.

I marveled at how the seed had grown, even as the husks of flesh had aged. The decades made that so evident! The seed is the kingdom of God, which our Lord came to plant firmly on the earth.

Our culture looks upon signs of aging as symptoms of decline. It says we should strive to look like fashion models, youthful Adonises, strutting disdain and disinterest. But of course, wrinkles and gray hair come from worry, concerns without number. Bad backs, from years of labor. We do not look upon these things as proof of productivity, as badges of wisdom, faithfulness and care, but we should, especially as we think of our fathers this weekend.

But that is our culture. As for the Gospel:

To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade (Mk 4:30-32).

Most of us do what we can in the gardens, which the Good Lord has given us to tend. We try to love even those who, at times, are difficult to love. We work harder than we probably should, and we possess sufficient humility to confess the sin of feeling resentment when no one seems to notice.

We need to remember that the kingdom of God has been given to us as seed, not blossom. It is not for us to see the days when

it shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar (Ez 17:23).

No, in our days of laboring in faith, the kingdom will remain something fragile, vulnerable, even submerged. Where would be the glory following grace if every good work we did was immediately crowned with success and gratitude?

No, we have been asked to imitate our Lord. He planted the seed; he labored hard for the kingdom; but, as he closed his eyes in death, his only surety was the dead, ground-driven stake, upon which he was hung.

But that cross has become the tree of life and time’s pivot. We will grow old and weary, but what we plant at the foot of the cross will grow into something we will never truly see, until we look upon the Lord’s Garden in glory.

Discouragement will come. We must recognize it for the drought it is and patiently await the rains of grace. Some will come at night when we are not even aware.

Like our Lord upon the cross, we will close our eyes. Unlike him, living under the burden of sin, we will question ourselves. Have I done enough? Who will notice? And what will become of the work? That is not given for us to know, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

I edited our high school yearbook under the guidance of one of those friars. He constantly reminded me that yearbooks must be published on time. As I left Denver, he again cautioned against sloth, telling me not to wait so long between visits. “I won’t be here in 20 years.”

Oh, but yes, he will. He is right; by then he will have passed from my eyes. By then, the young friars, whom I also met in Denver, who were not even born when this one began to labor, will have gone forth, like their Father Francis, and they will have planted such fragrant seeds for the kingdom!

In 20 years, from a celestial crest, that friar will look upon all that God has made, all that God has planted in Christ, and he will see, in the light of glory, the fulfillment of what Christ promises for his kingdom.

It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs (Ez 17:23).
More: Scripture / Age

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