11 Sunday B - Birth and Growth of KOG

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

Introduction: Today’s readings are about the birth and growth  of the reign or rule of God (Kingdom of God), in human lives and about the gigantic growth of the  Church   from   very   humble   beginnings.   Both  growths   are  slow   and mysterious, guided by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture lessons: The first reading, taken from Ez 17:22-24, is a messianic prophecy. The prophet  tells us how  the Lord  God of Israel will allow a descendant of King David to become the Messiah  and savior  of the world. In contrast with the parable of tiny the mustard seed in today’s gospel, Ezekiel sees the Messiah  originating in a royal  family (lofty Cedar, David).  In the second reading, St. Paul teaches the Corinthian Christians that they are to please God by doing His will (thus advancing the growth  of God’s kingdom and His rule in their lives), so that they may be amply rewarded in the final judgment. In todays gospel, Jesus compares the growth of the kingdom of God to the germination of a wheat seed and that of a tiny mustard seed. Both have very small beginnings. The wheat seeds, by gradual but steady growth help the farmer to get a bumper crop. In the same way, the life principle in a tiny mustard seed enables it to grow into a large  bush. The reign  of God in human hearts and the growth  of the Church in the world also have small beginnings. But the Source of all life, God the Holy Spirit, gives to both a steady, persistent and gigantic growth.

Life messages: 1) We need to cooperate in the growth  of God’s kingdom: The Kingdom of God is the growth  of God’s rule in human hearts that occurs when man does the will of God and surrenders his life to God. The seed of faith lies dormant within each of us. When we permit the Holy Spirit to nurture  it with TLC (tender loving care), it grows miraculously into gigantic proportions. The growth  is slow and microscopic in the beginning. But the seed grows by using the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us through the word of God, the Mass, the sacraments and prayers. As we learn God’s will from His words and try to put these words  into practice,  we participate  in the growth  of God’s kingdom on earth which will be completed in our heavenly life. But since we need the special anointing of the Holy Spirit to be doers of the word of God, let us offer our lives before God every day, asking for this special anointing.

2) We need not get discouraged:  Since  the acceptance God’s rule  by human beings  is  a very  slow  process, there is  the  danger  of  discouragement  and hopelessness among preachers, evangelizers and believers. The conviction that growth  of the kingdom of God is the work of the Holy Spirit with our humble cooperation,  should  make us optimistic in continuing our work  of witnessing. We should  continue  sowing  tiny seeds in the form  of words  of love,  acts of encouragement, deeds of charity, mercy and forgiveness. (L/12)

Anecdotes:  1) Do  you  know  what  happened to  the tiny seed Rita  Rizzo planted? You probably don't recognize the name, Rita Antoinette Rizzo. Rita was born on April 20, 1923 She had a rough childhood  which  she spent mostly  in poverty. When she was a young woman Rita decided to become a nun. At 21 she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a Franciscan religious order for women. She believed that God was calling her into television ministry. At the time she didn't know anything about television except how to turn one on. But she prayed about it and decided  to go ahead with the project, believing  that everything would fall into place. With only two hundred dollars and a handful of other sisters, she became the only woman in religious broadcasting to own a network.  She went on to found a new house for the order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama,  where  the  Eternal  Word  Television  Network   (EWTN),  is headquartered. In  1996 she initiated  the building of  the Shrine  of  the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. Today this sister, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, is seen by millions of people on her prerecorded twice weekly program, "Mother Angelica Live." Her network, EWTN, is available 24 hours a day everywhere in the world. Visitors to the EWTN complex in Birmingham, Alabama cannot help but  be impressed  with what  God has accomplished  using  this  little  nun  - a monastery, network  facilities  complete  with satellite  dish,  a print shop and a chapel. Whoever would have thought that Rita Rizzo, coming from an impoverished  background, and starting  on her own with only a few hundred dollars, could reach out and help millions of people to learn and appreciate their faith? Whoever would have thought that from such a tiny seed would become such a large shrub? That is the way the kingdom of God works.

2) "Don't ever stop. It means a lot to those around you." In a restaurant, a family of five bowed their heads in prayer before beginning to eat. One of the children, a girl of about ten, expressed thanks for the entire family in a hushed voice, her head bobbing expressively. A few moments later a couple, on their way to pay their check, paused at the family's table. "It's been a long time since we've seen anyone do that," said  the man, extending  his  hand to the father. The father smiled and replied, "It was strange at first, but we always express thanks at home before we eat. The children continued it when we went to restaurants, so we just went along with it, and now it's our way." The woman who had come up to the table patted the little girl on the shoulder and, obviously touched, looked at the mother and said, "Don't ever stop. It means a lot to those around you." It seems like such a little thing, but it was a witness. The seeds of the kingdom are little, and we are called to scatter them.

Introduction: Today’s readings are about the birth and growth of the reign or rule of God (Kingdom of God), in human lives and about the gigantic growth of the  Church   from   very   humble   beginnings.   Both  growths   are  slow   and mysterious, guided by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture lessons: The first reading, taken from Ez 17:22-24, is a messianic prophecy. The prophet  tells us how  the Lord  God of Israel will allow a descendant of King David to become the Messiah  and savior  of the world. In contrast with the parable of tiny the mustard seed in today’s gospel, Ezekiel sees the Messiah  originating in a royal  family (lofty Cedar, David).  In the second reading, St. Paul teaches the Corinthian Christians that they are to please God by doing His will (thus advancing the growth  of God’s kingdom and His rule in their lives), so that they may be amply rewarded in the final judgment. In todays gospel, Jesus compares the growth of the kingdom of God to the germination of a wheat seed and that of a tiny mustard seed. Both have very small beginnings. The wheat seeds, by gradual but steady growth help the farmer to get a bumper crop. In the same way, the life principle in a tiny mustard seed enables it to grow into a large  bush. The reign  of God in human hearts and the growth  of the Church in the world also have small beginnings. But the Source of all life, God the Holy Spirit, gives to both a steady, persistent and gigantic growth.

The first  reading is taken from Ez 17:22-24. In this reading, the prophet Ezekiel prophesies the better days coming for the Chosen People when Yahweh will take back His people once more, and dwell in their midst forever. Today's extract is a messianic prophecy in which God says that he will raise up a descendant–a sprig from  the lofty cedar, David,  who will,  nevertheless,  be the glory of Israel.  As Jesus describes the ordinary mustard shrub, grown into a size large enough so that the birds of the air can make nests in its branches, his words echo a similar description found in the first reading of Ezekiel 17:22-23. In Ezekiels text, however,  the divinely  rooted  plant is  a towering,  noble  cedar-a tad  more imposing than a mustard bush, no matter how large. In that cedar, “every kind of bird will live, an image used in Ezekiel and in other Old Testament texts (see Psalm 104:12; Ezekiel 31:6; Daniel 4:9-21), to suggest the future inclusion of the Gentile nations in God’s eternal plan. Jesus use of a mustard plant instead of a great cedar continues the image of humble beginnings for the great power that is to come. Mark’s community would have recognized the mustard plant as appropriate for Jesus own earthly ministry. The Messiah came as an itinerant teacher/rabbi  who  gathered a few ordinary people  to be his  disciples.  Jesusincarnational presence was like that of a mustard plant, not an imposing cedar. He was not a Messiah  of towering  strength with great political, financial  and military power.  Yet  the  divinely  ordained  growth   of  that  small  beginning resulted in the same kind of exponential growth  and presenceinviting all the birds of the air to make their nests within its branches.
In the second reading (2 Corinthians 5:6-10), St Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that his constant desire and motive in his earthly life and in his heavenly life will be to please God. In this, he wants them to imitate him. The main reason Paul strives to please Christ is the prospect of appearing before His judgment seat (v. 10). What we believe about the future should affect our lives today. The knowledge that Paul possessed an eternal house in heaven allowed him to have a positive attitude toward life's adversities. Paul's cheerfulness stems in part from knowing that as long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. Death for him is not an enemy but a friend. This is because death, or being away from the body, means being at home with the Lord (v. 8). For Paul, to live by faith is to walk in the realm of faith. (Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the  conviction  of  things not  seen  (Hebrews  11:1). Paul  teaches that  the Divine judgment is a certainty, not an option. Nor is this judgment to be taken lightly. Paul's intention is to remind the Corinthians that all those who serve Christ will have to give an account of what they have accomplished for the Lord, not how they have increased  their  own reputation  (5:12). Even the Corinthians are not exempt from this divine scrutiny and assessment. How  will we be judged? According to Paul, we are to receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. It is not clear here whether this judgment will occur at death or at the Parousia. Paul does not say one way or the other.

Exegesis:  The context: Jesus' disciples were feeling discouraged. Sure, crowds were gathering to hear their teacher, but there was little evidence of progress and a lot of evidence of resistance. Jesus had been talking about the Kingdom of God, the time when God's reign would be manifest upon the earth, and people would live in conformity to God's will. It was apparent that it wasn't happening then. It would be even more difficult at the conclusion of Jesus' ministry for his disciples to believe that the Kingdom of God had come any closer to being a reality. They would be a small, discouraged group of fugitives without a leader. Now was the time  to provide  them with a message that would give  them hope in times  of discouragement and sustain them in the face of future persecution. Hence, Jesus told them the parable of the mustard seed. His words have a message, not only for his original disciples, but for us as well. The first parable concludes with an allusion to Joel 4:13; the harvest is the Day of Judgment

The kingdom parables or seed parables: These parables point to the kingdom as a divine act rather than a human accomplishment. They call on man to be patient with the delay of the kingdom in coming. They are called kingdom parablesbecause they announce, the kingdom of God is like . . . After the parable of the sower in the fourth chapter of Mark comes the parable of the harvest (4:26-29). Here, Jesus describes the farmer planting the seed and harvesting the crop, but not even knowing how  the seed secretly  sprouts and grows.  The third  parable  in this chapter is the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32). The consistent factors in all three parables of response in Mark 4 are: the word of God is like a seed; God alone can give the growth; and great growth is possible in God's kingdom. We are called to do what we can do -- plant and nurture. God will do what only God can do -- produce the growth. In the 2nd and the 3rd  parables, the comparisons Jesus makes are startling in their simplicity.  The kingdom of  God, the great future  presence of  the divine,  is likened to a small seed, a dried up  kernel of potential. But the actual development from seed to stalk to ripened grain all occurs outside any influence by the sower. The grain’s  growth  occurs by  itself  without any observable cause. Clearly,  God’s  providential  power  ordains  the  growth  of  seeds into harvestable  crops, both in Leviticus  and here in Jesus  parable.  This  divinely ordered growth  gradually brings the small seeds to fully ripened grain heads, ready for harvest. The kingdom that grows to full fruition under God’s power will be ready for its completion and fulfillment at the moment determined by God for judgment.

Parable of the mustard seed: While the first kingdom parable (vv.26-29) is found only in Mark, the second comparison Jesus makes concerning the kingdom, the parable of the mustard seed, is found also in Matthew  13:31-32, Luke 13:18-19, and the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas (20). While growth itself was the primary focus of the first  seed parable,  the mustard  seed comparison  emphasizes  the contrast between tiny beginnings and tremendous endings.  The mustard seed was proverbially used to describe something of minuscule proportions (see Matthew  17:20), in first century culture.  Likewise,  the resulting  mustard plant was well known as a large, fast-growing herbaceous shrub, and one that could be quite invasive if left unchecked in the garden (see Pliny, Natural History, 19, 170-171).

The mystery of growth:  Only Mark  records the parable  of the seed’s growth. Using the mini-parables of the growth of wheat seeds and mustard seeds in the field, Jesus explains the nature of the growth  of the kingdom of God or rule of God  in human  beings  and  human  societies.  In  the case of  both  wheat  and mustard  seeds, the initial growth  is  slow,  mysterious  and unnoticeable.  But within days a leafy shoot will emerge, and within months a mature plant with numerous braches and leaves, flowers and fruits will be produced. The growth is silent  and slow  but steady, using  power  from  the seed in the beginning  and transforming  absorbed water and minerals in the later  stages.  Growth  doesn't take place because of our understandings or manipulations. It is God's initiative that brings forth growth.  We need to be patient and not give up, because sometimes growth  takes longer  than we expect. God works in ways we don't understan
Mysterious  but steady growth  of the kingdom of God: Jesus explains that the kingdom of God grows this way in human souls. The Kingdom of God is the growth of God’s rule in human hearts that occurs when man does the will of God and surrenders his life to God. The seed of faith lies dormant within each of us. When we permit him to nurture it with tender loving care, it grows miraculously into gigantic proportions. The growth is slow and microscopic in the beginning. But this seed grows by using the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us through the word of God, the Mass, the sacraments and prayers. Finally, God’s rule in the human heart transforms individuals and communities into God’s people doing His will in His kingdom.

The message of the parable: is quite  simple and direct.  The reign  of God will grow to its fullness, despite all obstacles. Those who accept Jesus as their God and Savior  will accept his rule  in all areas of their  lives,  with the help  of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. The church of Jesus Christ had a tiny beginning in the work  of an obscure teacher and a pitifully small group of ordinary people.  But one of the proofs of the divine  origin of the Church of Christ is its growth from such a very humble beginnings. No wonder the Church has become the greatest of all shrubs, the world-wide  church that welcomes people of all races and nations into her folds, celebrating the marvel of growth!

A  parable  of encouragement: The parable  of the mustard  seed is  a word  of encouragement for us. Things might not be what you and I want them to be, but there is still hope. God works in mysterious ways. God is still with us even when our efforts are frustrated, because He is the source of growth. Growth often starts out  small   like  a  mustard  seed and  then  blossoms   into  something   huge. The second thing these words of Jesus do is to remind us that while we are called to do something, we are not called to do everything. We scatter the seed, but the growth  is up to God. The same process works in the Christian life. We practice daily prayer and Bible  reading.  We find ways to be of service  to others. We pledge  money and time  to the church and charitable  purposes. We join the people of God at the altar regularly. These are some of the seeds that God uses to mold and shape our lives in love, peace and hope. But it happens at God's own pace and as we are able to cooperate with Him. 
Life messages: 1) We need to cooperate in the growth of God’s kingdom: The Kingdom of God is the growth  of God’s rule in human hearts that occurs when man does the will of God and surrenders his life to God. The seed of faith lies dormant within each of us. When we permit the Holy Spirit to nurture  it with TLC (tender loving care), it grows miraculously into gigantic proportions. The growth  is slow and microscopic in the beginning. But this seed grows by using the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us through the word of God, the Mass, the sacraments and prayers. As we learn God’s will from His words and try to put these words  into practice,  we participate  in the growth  of God’s kingdom on earth which will be completed in our heavenly life. But since we need the special anointing of the Holy Spirit to be doers of the word of God, let us offer our lives before God every day, asking for this special anointing.

2) We need not get discouraged:  Since the acceptance Gods rule by human beings is a very slow process, there is the danger of discouragement and hopelessness among preachers, evangelizers and believers. The conviction that growth of the kingdom of God is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our humble cooperation, should make us optimistic in continuing our work of bearing witness to Him. We can all plant tiny seeds in the form of words of love, acts of encouragement, deeds of charity, mercy and forgiveness. Parents and teachers can plant a lot of seeds in the minds of their children and students. The Holy Spirit will touch the hearts of the recipients of these seeds sown by us and will effect growth of the kingdom in their souls and lives. As the apostle Paul once said of his ministry, "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Joke of the week: 1) Tiny killer of a giant bull dog: President Reagan loves to tell the story of a lady who knocked on a man's door and said, "Do you own a black Pit Bull dog?" The man said, "Yes." Well, the lady said, "I have to tell you, it's dead." The man demanded, "What do you mean it's dead?" "What happened?" And the lady said, "My tiny dog Pekinese killed it." And the man said, "Your Pekinese killed it? How?" She said, "It got stuck in his throat."
2) Small plot and big plot of land: A Texan was visiting a friend who was a small Iowa farmer. "Is this all the land you have?" he asked. "Where I come from, I can get in my car at 6:00 a.m. and drive all day and never see the end of my land." "Is that right?" said the Iowa farmer. "I used to have a car like that too."
3) A visitor to the Vatican was quite impressed with the beauty and power of the place. He asked Pope John XXIII this question: "How many people do you have working here?" With a twinkle in his eye, the pope replied, "About half of them."

Homily from Father James Gilhooley

 A man walked into a store. He found Christ behind the counter. He asked, "What do you sell here?" Christ replied, "You name it." "I want food for all, good health for kids, adequate housing for everyone, and abortion to cease."  Gently Jesus answered, "Friend, I do not sell finished products here, only seeds. You must plant them and water them. I will do the rest."

 When Jesus told this parable of the smallest seed in the world, His disciples were in a downer. They had worked so hard and so little had happened. The famous mountain had been in labor and only a mouse had been born. Their work, begun with a bang, was about to close down without a notice.

Given their depression, the Christ told them this three verse parable of the minuscule mustard seed. Though its beginnings are modest, its final height is awesome.

He wanted them to realize that despite their few numbers and the opposition against them a great Church would arise from their labors. The history books show how correct He was.

Someone has noted that masterpieces come from the smallest beginnings. From eight notes come every hymn, song, and symphony ever composed. Arguably the greatest piece of music ever written is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - all of it from eight notes. All literature is born from the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. From them came the Declaration of Independence, the United  States Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.

 But one does not have to produce masterpieces to have an effect. Small acts make a difference. Graduating college seniors hear much nonsense from commencement speakers. However, Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prize journalist, whose reports formed the 1984 film "The Killing Fields," was a blessed exception.

He told the graduates before him, "You are often told you can change the world. But that is rubbish. What you can do is make the world modestly better." He went on to speak of their own classmates who assisted the homeless and fed the hungry over their college careers. These people made a difference. They themselves grew and developed. They were helping people one by one. Bigger is not necessarily better. His message was it is a great thing to do a little thing well.               
Find a cause. Go for it. Take Gandhi's advice: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh. Then they attack. Then you win." We wish to see objects grow in a flash. Yet, Christ is telling us that though you cannot see it, the mustard seed is maturing. It will become among the largest of all plants. It will climb to eleven feet. No wonder birds flock to its branches for R & R and travelers crawl into its shade for lunch and a nap.

 A story is told of an experiment performed by a physicist. She wanted to show her students the effect a small object can have on block of iron. The block was hanging from the ceiling. The physicist began throwing paper balls at the metal. At first nothing happened. Then after a time the iron began to vibrate, then sway, and at last move freely.

The poet Lucretius wrote, "Dripping water hollows a stone."

 Everything must begin somewhere. No one emerged fully grown from his mother's wombs. If Christians could learn to bring together their modest contributions to the commonweal, can you imagine what a force for good we would be for those about us?

 The Nazarene is saying to us, "Develop where you are planted." He warns us to that often we quit growing because, as James Tahaney said, we prefer groaning.    

Some years ago I heard of an Oscar winning actor. He owed his career to an elderly woman. As a young man, he received bad notices. Finally he resolved to give up his dreams of becoming an actor. Then a note arrived in his mail box from an anonymous fan. She had heard of his despondency. She wrote but four words. "Keep acting. You're good." That small note gave him the courage to continue. From her four words grew an Oscar winner.

 I have worked for years with teens. They often have sorrowfully spoken to me of how little or no encouragement they receive from their own families, friends, and even teachers. Cannot you and I substitute for those silent people?  Cannot we do for them what the fan did for the actor? Our compliment need be no more than four words.

 Begin today. Encourage others. And remember the advice of Winston Churchill, "The difficulty is not to be expected in the beginning but rather when one attempts to stay the course."

 Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino

Eleventh Sunday: The Lord Gives the Growth

 The ancient Hebrews understood agriculture. Their lives were dependent on the crops they cultivated and the animals they raised.  Yet, they knew that the wonder of growth belonged to the Lord. Paul would allude to this in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”  When, in today's first reading,  Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would take a sprig from a tree and turn it into a noble cedar, the people recognized in this prophecy that growth is always in God's hands.  He would do more for them than they could imagine.  Israel, a nation in exile at the time of this prophesy, would become the nation that the whole world would respect.  Every kind of bird, all the nations, would live under the tree of Israel.  God's wonders, like the wonders of agriculture, were too wonderful to understand.

 The people who heard Jesus tell the parable of the farmer's life also shared the wonder of the soil.  The farmer works hard during the day, but he can't make the seed grow into a plant, and the plant produce fruit.  God causes the growth.  In our modern terms, the farmer creates the best environment for growing, but God causes the growth.  Jesus' point is that the Kingdom of God is, like the plants, in God's hands. The workers in the Lord's fields must do their best to create the proper environment for growth, but God cause the growth.  The parable comforts the people of the early Church in face of discouragement when their efforts don't seem to be getting them anywhere.  They are a development of the Jewish faith and are rejected by that faith.  That is pretty hard to explain to the pagans to whom they preached Christ.  Persecuted on every side, they had to just trust God to give growth to his kingdom.

 And God does give growth.  The Church lives on despite the persecution from the Romans, despite internal dogmatic fights and debates of the second through fifth centuries, despite the Fall of Rome and conquest of the barbarians, despite the corruption from within and outside in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, despite the onslaught of rationalists in the last two centuries, despite the clergy sex abuse scandel, despite internal attacks, despite the new attack on priests and faithful by the "holier than thous", the Church still lives on, and grows.  God gives the growth.  He does wonders with our feeble efforts.  He turns that which is insignificant into that which is substantial.

 We are members of the greatest society the world has ever seen.  We are members of the Kingdom of God.  We are members of the Church.  No matter what the media may comment, we are part of the only truly relevant organization in the world.  We give meaning to the whole purpose of existence.  No matter what the media may say, the Church continues to grow.  For the Lord,  not people, gives the growth.

 Therefore, when you are confronted with media attacks upon religion, a media, which by the way, does not represent the basic perspective of the people but tries to formulate a perspective based on its own preconceived agenda, remember the Church is forever.

 And when you are confronted with those who compare the numbers of priests and priestless parishes and the numbers of Catholics to figures of fifty years ago, remember the Church is forever.  It will adjust and flourish in the future just as it has in the past.  And it will grow, for God gives it growth.

 Therefore, when you are confronted with immorality on all sides, when you are convinced that the world is coming to an end because so many people are behaving so poorly, because you, as we all, are often inclined to join them, do not despair, the church not only lives on through the muddle and the mire, it actually grows.  You and I also grow as long as we do everything we can to stay united to the Church.  For in the face of turmoil, outside us and within us, God gives his Church growth.  And you and I, right here, St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish, although a small unit, are still the Church.

As St. Paul tells the Corinthians in today's second reading: we walk by faith, not by sight.  May we always stay united to Church so God might work the miracle of His growth through us.

 Homily from Father Phil Bloom

 Meaning of the Mustard Seed

(June 17, 2012)

Bottom line: Two summer books can help us understand the meaning of the mustard seed. It is small like a "foothold of goodness" that can transform a wounded heart. And the mustard seed shows how something so seeming unattractive as the Church can be the reality of the Kingdom of God.

Happy Father's Day! In the Mass we are praying for our dads, living or deceased. And we especially want to pray for and honor the dads in our congregation. You are important not only to your children, but to all of us. We need to emphasize the importance of dads, especially as our world faces grave problems.

 This Thursday we begin an observance that addresses a major world concern - the increasing attacks on religious liberty. Our bishops have asked us to dedicate the days from June 21 to July 4 to what they call a "Fortnight for Freedom"* - fourteen days to focus on the first freedom: freedom of religion. This will fit naturally into our daily and Sunday Masses (homilies, prayers of the faithful, bulletin inserts, etc.**) especially next Sunday as we celebrate the birth of the man who heralded freedom: St. John the Baptist.

This Sunday, however, we have a more modest task: to address the meaning of the mustard seed. To understand the mustard seed will help us appreciate the role of the Church - and lay a groundwork as we grapple with the issue of religious liberty.

 The parable of the seed is hinted in the Old Testament reading. Ezekiel prophecies a "tender shoot" that will "put forth branches and bear fruit." We see the prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. In announcing the Kingdom of God he uses the comparison of a seed - particularly a mustard seed - that grows mysteriously and sprouts many branches.

 To understand the mustard seed parable, I will quote two books. I am doing this deliberately because as we begin summertime, I want to encourage you to read books that will help you grow in your relationship with Jesus.

 The first book that will help appreciate the mustard seed is "My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints." In it, Dawn Eden courageously reveals her own traumatic childhood experiences. She tells how those experiences led to fear, anger and destructive behavior.

 How does a person overcome that negativity? Dawn had the benefit of therapy, but she discovered something more. As she embraced Christ in his fullness, she learned that some saints had experiences similar to hers. By God's grace, they were able to "change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness." The transformation begins with something small - a "foothold of goodness."

Dawn uses the example of St. Josephine Bakhita. Kidnapped and sold into slavery, Bakhita experienced abuse that few people could imagine. She eventually wound up in a non-religious Italian family. One day a man named Illuminato Cecchini presented her with a small crucifix. Before entrusting it to Bakhita, he kissed it with devotion. The young woman did not know who Jesus is, but the crucifix had a "mysterious force" on her. Bakhita gradually realized that she could take her own scars to Man depicted on the cross. That "foothold of goodness" led to an amazing transformation.

 In "My Peace I Give You" Dawn tells how St. Bakhita -and other saints - helped her find healing for her own wounds. They show how things small - like a mustard seed - can bring results beyond imagining.

Dawn's book tells about inner transformation. The other book describes a different kind of transformation. It is titled "The Heart of Catholic Prayer: Rediscovering the Our Father and the Hail Mary." In it, Mark Shea gives a line by line meditation on the two prayers. Like Dawn's book, I recommend reading it meditatively.

In the chapter on "Thy Kingdom Come" Mark addresses the common complaint that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, but instead we got the Church! To some the Church seems like "a mere 'human institution' cooked up by 'mere men...'" Well, as Mark points out, "Jesus thinks in a different way." He explains how the kingdom is nuptial, that "Jesus is the Bridegroom in the great Messianic wedding." And who is the bride? "None other than the Church."

 The Church began tiny, insignificant, but she has certainly put out branches. No other institution has had such an impact on the world, but that is not the real point. Today's Gospel speaks about a "harvest." We can only measure the Church by the harvest of souls. Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Sunday and daily Mass, homilies, classes, spiritual reading - they all have one goal: to bring people into a relationship with Jesus. When all is said and done, only two things last: Jesus and his Bride, the Church.

 I've done a lot of weddings - and I will be doing more this summer. So far, I have never seen an ugly bride. Even if she doesn't have extraordinary raw material, she looks radiant, splendid on the wedding day. There's a reason for that - she signifies a beautiful reality: the Church as Jesus sees her and as she will be. The Church is like the mustard seed. To really appreciate her, you have look deeper. She has an incalculable potential - the kingdom of God.

 In this homily, I have mentioned two books: "My Peace I Give You" by Dawn Eden and "The Heart of Catholic Prayer" by Mark Shea. They make good summer reading and help us understand the meaning of the mustard seed. It is small like a "foothold of goodness" that can transform a wounded heart. And the mustard seed shows how something so seeming unattractive as the Church can be the beautiful reality of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
*We will do our best to follow the lead of our bishops. Here is what they say:

 We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this "fortnight for freedom"—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

 **Bishop Tyson has compiled a helpful list of resources for the Fortnight for Freedom. Here is the Fortnight daily prayer:

 Almighty God, Father of all nations, For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1). We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty, the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land. We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness, and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 Homily from Father Andrew M. Greeley

 Mark 4:26-34

"With what can we compare the kingdom of God?"


It’s a little difficult to put ourselves into the scene of today’s Gospel. Jesus as attending a dinner at the house of a certain Simon who was a Pharisee.  It was obviously a major feast, guests reclining on couches around a group of tables, folks wandering in from the roads to watch what was going on – a gathering of celebrity watchers. Many wanted to get a quick look at the legendary rabbi from Nazareth. They were shocked to see a woman washing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and bathing his feet with oil.

While such things were done sometimes for distinguished celebrities, they were not done in the houses of rich Pharisees. Why did Jesus put up with such adoration?

 It is remarkable that the incident was remembered as vividly as it was because Jesus' followers were certainly embarrassed by it as some of them would be even today. Why didn’t he just chase them away?


Once upon a time a certain well known priest was seen coming out of a disorderly house in his parish. A photographer got a picture of him. A newspaper printed it. A group of Catholic laity put together a petition to the bishop to remove him as pastor. No priest should be seen emerging from such a place. The priest was summoned downtown. The bishop, the chancellor and the vicar general sat behind the bishop’s desk, staring at him implacably. They didn’t much like him because he was a bit of a trouble maker. They were delighted to have something with which to slap him down.

 They didn’t ask him to sit down. You’ve seen this picture, Father. Once or twice. What is that building from which you are exiting. It is a house of ill repute, he replied with a smile. What were you doing there? Visiting some of my parishioners. At 11:00 at night? That’s when they called me. And you felt obliged to visit them at that hour? At any hour of night someone in the parish calls, I respond. You were giving spiritual solace to those unfortunate women? No bishop. What were you doing?

 Administering the last sacraments of the Church. I said the funeral mass for her the next day and went to the graveside. Any objection. There wasn’t any. Well said the youngest of the troika, we must be careful of giving bad example. And Jesus said once that those who have been forgiven much love much. They didn’t say anything at all after that.

 Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Mark 4:26-34

 Gospel Summary

Jesus teaches the meaning of the reign or kingdom of God by way of two parables. In the first comparison, the reign of God is like seeds that a man plants in the soil. It is not the man, however, but the soil that makes the seeds sprout and grow in a way the man does not understand. In the second comparison, the reign of God is like the smallest of all seeds. Yet, once it has completed its growth, it is so large that birds can build nests in its shade. Mark mentions that Jesus further explained the meaning of parables to his disciples.

 Life Implications

An immediate life implication is present in the means that Jesus uses to help us understand the meaning of God’s reign -- that is, through parables. He uses images from our common experience whose truth is evident in order to give us some insight into a reality whose truth is not evident. A parable is a literary form that better fits the category of non-fiction, rather than fiction: it is not simply an imaginative story. Jesus uses parables to make us aware that we are a living part of a deeper, real story. Some response on the hearer’s part is thus inescapable – whether it be to ignore, to reject, or to accept the truth of the parable as pointing to the ultimate meaning of one’s life. Jesus had explained to his disciples that some people may hear a parable, “but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit” (Mk 4:19).

 In the two parables of today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an insight into the mystery of God’s reign. We have already learned that the purpose of Jesus’ ministry is to preach the good news of the reign of God (Mk 1:14). The good news is that God has not abandoned his human family, fallen and wounded, living in bondage under the reign of satanic powers (Mk 3:20-30). It is the will of God to liberate and to reunite the human family through a divine reign of parental love, which ultimately will prevail over satanic violence and deceit. We see the meaning and the complete realization of the reign of God’s love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. And in the Church that Jesus founded, we see the beginning of the complete realization of God’s reign in the entire human family.

 Because the reign of God is a reign of love, it is not realized unless the divine self-giving to us is accepted and lived in human freedom. The Lord’s Prayer beautifully expresses the decision to accept and to live in God’s reign. It is the necessary context of all the parables.

 Jesus in the two seed-parables addresses the human tendency to believe that human fulfillment comes mostly through our plans and efforts. As a result, when things do not turn out as we have planned and worked to achieve, we become discouraged and lose hope. Jesus reminds us that the coming and growth of God’s reign is the work of God’s love. Its complete realization will be evident only when the Son of Man comes in glory. Our response to this truth about the reign of God is to pray for its coming on earth as it is in heaven. Further, it is to do our utmost to prepare for its coming in the particular circumstances of our lives. The story is told that upon his election Pope John XXIII was unable to sleep because the seemingly insurmountable problems facing the Church were pressing upon him. Then the personal meaning of the seed-parables dawned on him. He was able to pray: “Listen, Lord, this Church is yours not mine. I’m going to sleep.” Only in this trust was John XXIII liberated to take courageous actions that were to change the course of world history.

 Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.

 Homily from Father Cusick

 Brethren in Christ,

 When you prayed in public last, did you make the sign of the cross, and did you look around to see if anyone noticed?

When you witness in action to the Gospel by prayer you become the fertile soil in which the Kingdom takes root. Your witness to the Kingdom will be undeniable. Such is of the Kingdom of God which all may see and so find shelter under its spreading branches.

 The seed is the Word of God. When the Word takes root the Kingdom grows. We are called upon receiving the Word to meditate upon it in prayer so that it way take root in us and bear fruit in joy and virtue. The Catechism teaches the principles of meditation.

"Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history--the page on which the 'today' of God is written. (CCC 2705)

 "To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: 'Lord, what do you want me to do?" (CCC 2706)

 There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower.' (Mark 4:4-7, 15-19) But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus. (CCC 2707)

 The principles of Christian prayer rule out some Eastern forms of meditation, sometimes called 'centering prayer' which deny the Incarnational aspect of prayer in which Christ sanctifies the whole person, thoughts, words, and actions. All of one's gifts are to be used in authentic prayer, including mental reflection. To attempt to escape one's thoughts in prayer, to attempt to escape the self in any way, is to deny the offering of that gift to God in prayer.

"Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him." (CCC 2708)

 I look forward to meeting you here again next week as, together, we "meet Christ in the liturgy", Father Cusick

 (Publish with permission.)

(For further reading on today's Gospel see also the following paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 546, 2707.)  


Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS

 Jesus speaks to us in parables. Indeed it says in today’s Gospel that Jesus wouldn’t speak to the ordinary people except in parables. However, we are told that he did explain everything to his disciples in private.

 This seems manifestly unfair! If Jesus had a message of real significance for the world then why did he not speak it in plain language for everyone to understand? Using cryptic forms of speech surely obscures the Good News of the Gospel and so runs completely counter to Jesus’ purpose.

 We are left asking: Why can’t the poor and simple ordinary folk hear God’s message in a way that they can appreciate?

 There are several answers to this question. One is that yes, poor ordinary simple folk can understand the message of Christ; in fact anyone can hear it. But in order to appreciate the full meaning of the Gospel you have to be correctly disposed. Only someone who is truly ready will understand the deeper significance of Jesus’ words and their very personal nature.

Parables are not literal stories. For example, it doesn’t take a minute before we realise that there is something fundamentally wrong with what Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading. In actual fact, the mustard seed is not the smallest of all the seeds and neither does it grow into the biggest shrub of them all.

The premises of Jesus’ story are all wrong. But this shouldn’t upset us because what we are dealing with here is exaggeration; if you want the technical vocabulary it’s called biblical hyperbole.

Jesus is a storyteller and storytellers are not required to stick to the precise facts. Like any good public speaker Jesus frequently uses exaggeration for effect. And we can easily visualise him enrapturing his listeners and painting for them a wonderful picture of this large tree emerging from a tiny, tiny seed. A seed which grows so big that, as he says, all the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.

What we who look deeper understand very well is that the truth is not to be found in the facts of the story because the facts here are plainly false. The truth is to be found in what the seed represents, in this case the Word of God planted in our hearts.

Some of the listeners will remain at the surface; yes, they understand quite well that this is not a true story, they know that Jesus is exaggerating and they are aware that that the story works on a number of different levels. They will even realise that the seed represents the Word of God. But what they won’t do is follow through with the consequences of Jesus words.

They will fail understand that by the very act of listening to the story that the Word of God has been planted into their hearts and that the consequence is that they must change their lives.

They will not understand because they are not ready, they are not receptive enough; they are not at a point in their lives where they are prepared even to begin to make the personal changes that the Gospel requires.

 The private instruction that the Apostles receive is not some secret teaching about the hidden meaning of the story. No, it is private instruction on the implications of the Gospel message for their lives; it is instruction in about how to be a disciple of Christ.

 The Word of God is like a seed planted in our hearts. It is small because in the beginning we do not notice it; we only realise its presence gradually over a long period of time. It takes time before we realise that we have been marked out and chosen by God.

All of us gathered here have faith, it’s the very reason we are assembled in this Church. But not all of us have realised that God wants us to be his disciples. Some are too young to understand what this means and it hasn’t yet dawned upon some others of us.

God doesn’t only want us to conform to a few laws; to go to mass on Sunday, to say a certain number of prayers, to be faithful in marriage, to refrain from stealing or murdering anyone. Well, he does want all those things! But he wants something else as well. He wants the whole of us.

 He wants us to give our whole lives over to him. He wants us to realise the depth of his love for us. And he wants us to open up our entire lives to him so that he can possess us completely.

 He wants the lot! And he won’t be satisfied till he has got the lot! —not in any coercive way, but given freely in love to him.

This is what we are about in the Church. This is what discipleship means. It is about self-giving, self-emptying love; in the words of TS Elliot, ‘costing not less than everything.’

 This is not something that is just one-way, it is entirely reciprocal, and God gives as well as takes.

 Of course, God gives more to us than we could ever give to him. We owe him everything; he is, after all, the very author of our lives. Nothing we have came from our own doing; our entire lives and everything we have is his gift to us. And more than this, because, as we know, he gave his Son to us to suffer and die for our sins.

 And if that weren’t enough he is constantly showering wonderful blessings on us, if we were only aware of it.

In the face of these overwhelming gifts we can hardly refuse God anything. And yet! And yet we still hold back. We still try to keep something for ourselves. We still want to hold on to a private little corner and not let him in.

The important thing about that parable is that the seed grows. It doesn’t reach its full stature all at once. It doesn’t begin in a fully formed state. No it is always growing, always stretching, always developing.

 Our faith might be small or it might be large; but, whatever state it is in, it is organic. It changes, it grows. And this dynamic process continues our whole life long.
Let’s hope and pray that when we come to the Gate of Heaven, and by the time we get there we will probably find that there will be a lot of nests and birds and who knows what other creatures taking shelter in our branches. 
Mark 4:26-34 - "The Kingdom and the Seed"
Mark 4:26-34 - "Celebrate the Small Stuff"

Most of us have planted a garden or lived on or near a farm. In my case, I grew up in Chicago where they have to put cows in zoos because so many city people are shielded from agricultural life and would never otherwise get to see one. But for eleven years I served as the pastor of a church in the agriculturally-oriented community of Davenport, Iowa. Davenport is located in Scott County which is Mississippi River land. It is reported to be some of the richest soil in the world. I learned a lot about farming while living there. I learned about soil and seeds. I learned about the need for cooperation and balance between the various parts of nature - the sun, the soil, and the rain. Having returned recently from a trip to Iowa, I was very mindful of the soil

Every book on change says the same thing. Change has changed. Change is no longer incremental. Change is exponential.

 Here is what no one will tell you: change is not just incremental, or exponential. Change is infinitesimal.

 So you gained a pound or two this year. It happens. Then it happens again next year. And the next year. Suddenly a decade has passed and you realize that "a pound or two" has compounded into two sacks of flour sitting on your hips! Infinitesimal change has caught up with you.

 In the early 1950s farmer Clarence Mauerhan was known as the "Chili Pepper King" of Orange County ("Anaheim peppers," anyone?). A mysterious buyer was paying top dollar for all the farms in the area, but farmer Mauerhan would have none of it. He was the lone holdout against payments for land that no one had dreamed were possible...

 A Riddle

 About ten years ago, the youth director on our staff told me a riddle, and then he left town on a week-long camping trip without telling me the answer. He told me the riddle, and then he said "Oh yeah, only 17% of Stanford graduates figured out this riddle, but 80% of kindergarteners knew the answer." And then he left! I could have strangled him! But here' the riddle:

"What is stronger than God,
more evil than the devil,
poor people have it,
rich people don't need it,
and if you eat it, you'll die?"

The answer is: "Nothing." I knew I should have gone to Stanford!

Literally, the word parable means "a riddle." They are stories that leave the listener with the responsibility of figuring out just what they mean. Jesus told more than 40 parables during his ministry, and he only explained one of them to his disciples, so that left the disciples with a lot of figuring out to do. And then Jesus took the answers with him when he ascended into heaven. So here we are, some 2000 years later, still pondering what Jesus must have meant when he told the story of The Wedding Feast, or The Dishonest Steward, or The Good Samaritan.

Steven Molin, Yup, Them Are Mustard Seeds

 Mortals Only See the Beginning

All their lives the two young brothers had lived in the city behind great stone walls and never saw field nor meadow. But one day they decided to pay a visit to the country.

As they went walking along the road they saw a farmer at his plowing. They watched him and were puzzled.

"What on earth is he doing that for!" they wondered. "He turns up the earth and leaves deep furrows in it. Why should someone take a smooth piece of land covered with nice green grass and dig it up?"

Later they watched the farmer sowing grains of wheat along the furrows.

"That man must be crazy!" they exclaimed. "He takes good wheat and throws it into the dirt."

"I don't like the country!" said one in disgust. "Only crazy people live here."

So he returned to the city.

His brother who remained in the country saw a change take place only several weeks later. The plowed field began to sprout tender green shoots, even more beautiful and fresher than before. This discovery excited him very much. So he wrote to his brother in the city to come at once and see for himself the wonderful change.

His brother came and was delighted with what he saw. As time passed they watched the sproutings grow into golden heads of wheat. Now they both understood the purpose of the farmer's work.

When the wheat became ripe the farmer brought his scythe and began to cut it down. At this the impatient one of the two brothers exclaimed: "The farmer is crazy! He's insane! How hard he worked all these months to produce this lovely wheat, and now with his own hands he is cutting it down! I'm disgusted with such an idiot and I'm going back to the city!"

His brother, the patient one, held his peace and remained in the country. He watched the farmer gather the wheat into his granary. He saw him skillfully separate the grain from the chaff. He was filled with wonder when he found that the farmer had harvested a hundred-fold of the seed that he had sowed. Then he understood that there was logic in everything that the farmer had done.

The moral of the story: Mortals see only the beginning of any of God's works. Therefore they cannot understand the nature and the end of creation.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, quoting from A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, Edited by Nathan Ausubel Copyright, 1948, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York


Let the Gospel Run Its Course

For me, one of the classic interpretations of this Biblical passage about the seed growing automatically (Mark 4:26) was written by Martin Luther when he said about this text: "After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course." I like that. Luther said that after he pounded on the pulpit and expounded the gospel, he would go home and pull out the Sunday newspaper, and pull out his glass of warm Wittenberg beer and start to drink it and enjoy the afternoon. Luther knew that the power of his sermon was not based on the power of his theological acuity. He knew that the power of his sermon was not based on his eloquence or his abilities. He knew that the power of the sermon would have no effect whatsoever unless the very Word of God got into a person's heart. Luther knew that he couldn't do that. It was the Holy Spirit who did that. Luther keenly understood the power of the Word.

Edward F. Markquart, The Mustard Seed

 Small Ways Every Day

I hate to bring up The Ten Commandments when I'm preaching on the Gospel of Mark, but...remember that they are very rarely Cecil B. de Mille, big-screen, neon-sign events. They really aren't. They are small choices made on small days, over and over and over again. Such as choosing to remember that God made us for freedom and gave us as a gift, not a punishment, rules to live by. Small things such as remembering God made us, so we don't make God. Such as remembering that we had better not put God's name on anything in a vain show of power. Such as remembering that if God made the universe from a little marble and rested, then we are just created and hard wired to let go of our tiny universes and rest too. Little things, like remembering not just to honor your parents when they are old and gray, but also to train your own children to honor you. And don't let them get away with small, crummy, petty things. And don't lie in small things. Then the great truths within you have a shot. And don't strike up teasing, betraying relationships. Almost every adulterous relationship that people bring to pastors like me is when their miserable family is imploding. Every one of them begins with small, careless choices. And don't murder, which may mean more than we want it to mean. And don't steal. I know that means more than any of us want stealing to mean. But if we don't steal in small ways, we won't get all messed up in big ways. And then this last one, which this year I think is the biggest one. Don't covet. Don't waste your life wanting another life. An old friend calls it a case of the "I wants." Whatever "I wants" you have right now-bigger, better, more, different-find little ways of not renting that room in your head. Little ways, like I will not think about this for five minutes kinds of ways. Things perhaps no bigger than a mustard seed.

I follow the God who showed up two thousand years ago in small ways on days of small things. A healing touch here. A compassionate word there. Small things like not giving up on flawed friends. Like praying every day. Small things like enjoying life. Jesus really enjoyed life. Small things like speaking truth to power. Like giving his small, mustard-seed-sized life so that the great labor of the new universe of resurrected, reborn life could be created.

Martha Sterne, A Day of Small Things

 What It Takes to Grow

 James A. Garfield, prior to serving as President of the United States, was president of Hiram College in Ohio. One day a father asked Garfield if there were a short-cut whereby his son could get through college in less than the usual four years. He wanted his Son to get on with making money. The college president gave this reply, "Of course there is a way; it all depends on what you want your boy to do. When God wants to grow an oak tree, he takes 100 years. When he wants to make a squash, he only takes two months."

 Emphasis, CSS Publishing


 We Are Called to Plant

 When it comes to being God's fellow workers, the first thing to realize is that we are not in control of the growth. We are called to plant. God gives the growth. God gets the credit. We cannot boast about the success that comes when the seeds are planted. We must be very cautious about taking too much credit for apparent success in the spiritual area. A visitor to the Vatican was quite impressed with the beauty and power of the place. He asked Pope John XXIII this question: "How many people do you have working here?" With a twinkle in his eye, the pope replied, "About half of them." We must never get puffed up with ourselves in the spiritual realm. Only God produces growth. Real spiritual growth comes from God. We just plant seeds and try to nurture them as my farmer friends have taught me over the years.

 Ron Lavin, The Advocate, CSS Publishing


 Humor: Size Is Less Important Than Spirit

 A small fellow, not much over 5 feet tall, applied for a job as a lumberjack in Alaska. The foreman, thinking to discourage him, gave him a large ax, set him before a tree hundreds of feet tall, and yards in diameter, and told him to chop it down. Within minutes the tree had been felled. The amazed foreman asked him where he'd learned to chop trees so powerfully. The little fellow replied, "When I worked in the Sahara forest." "You mean, the Sahara desert." "That was after I got there," said the small lumberjack.

The point of the story is that size is less important than spirit, or intelligence, or courage -- a point made when King David was selected at a young age: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature ... for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

A faith that grows has heart, a heart that belongs to God. Faith grows from the inside out.

Merritt W. Ednie, God's Program In Process

 Trifles Make Perfection

 Michelangelo, one of the world's great artists, was also a great sculptor. One day a visitor was looking at a statue that Michelangelo was making. The visitor said, "I can't see that you have made any progress since I was here last time."

Michelangelo answered, "Oh, yes, I have made much progress. Look carefully and you will see that I have retouched this part, and that I have polished that part. See, I have worked on this part of the statue, and have softened the lines here."

"Yes," said the visitor, "but those are all trifles."

"That may be," replied Michelangelo, "but...