A Mustard Seed: Mark 4:26-34


He said,”This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.” He said, “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.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Jesus now moves His hearers from the parables of about the word of God , to parables about the kingdom of God . The two parables above are presentations of how God goes about growing His kingdom.

In looking at this scripture text, Jesus explains how the growth of His Church will come about; undetected, yet very visible.

To the unsuspecting world, the crucifixion/death of a carpenter in first century Palestine meant little, if anything at all. Yet, there was all this excitement about a “Christ,” a Jewish Messiah. A man named Jesus of Nazareth, who had been condemned and put to death by Pontius Pilate, had risen from the dead! His Apostles were going throughout the city and the region of Judea, to proclaim this good news ; that this Jesus who suffered, was crucified and buried had risen again, to atone for the sins of humanity and that by belief in Him and baptism in His name, may have eternal life.

This good news (gospel) message was spread through persecution, travel, evangelism and by miracles, to the center of civilization at the time, Rome. It spread eastward to Turkey, Iran and India while spreading westward to Egypt, Britain and France. By the fourth century, Christianity went from being a tolerated religion under Constantine (Edict of Milan) to the official religion of the Empire under Theodosius. What started out in obscurity, ended up changing the world. Only God, my brothers and sisters, could accomplish such a feat!!

Isn’t this the precise meaning of the mustard seed  parable? The smallest of seeds, growing into the largest of garden plants; large enough for the birds of the sky to dwell in it’s shade?

And now…. Isn’t the Church, large enough for the nations to dwell in it’s shade – to hear the good news – the gospel of Jesus Christ? This living organism we call the Church, has grown from the plan of the Father in eternity past, into a small seed, planted by Jesus Himself, and nurtured (as well as guided) by the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t that exciting news? It is indeed! In fact, it’s part of the gospel that Jesus proclaims here, as well as in St. John’s gospel  14:18: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. And come to us He did, as The Church, The Body of Christ! God’s Kingdom family, here on earth. How great is that?!?!

As The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“The Kingdom of God is at hand”
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“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel.'” “To carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth.” Now the Father’s will is “to raise up men to share in his own divine life.” He does this by gathering men around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church, “on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom.”
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Christ stands at the heart of this gathering of men into the “family of God.” By his word, through signs that manifest the reign of God, and by sending out his disciples, Jesus calls all people to come together around him. But above all in the great Paschal mystery—his death on the cross and his Resurrection—he would accomplish the coming of his kingdom. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Into this union with Christ all men are called.

The proclamation of the Kingdom of God

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Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations. To enter it, one must first accept Jesus’ word:

 

    The word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear it with faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ have truly received the kingdom. Then, by its own power, the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest.
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The kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly, which means those who have accepted it with humble hearts. Jesus is sent to “preach good news to the poor”; he declares them blessed, for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To them—the “little ones”—the Father is pleased to reveal what remains hidden from the wise and the learned. Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross; he experiences hunger, thirst, and privation. Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering his kingdom.
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Jesus invites sinners to the table of the kingdom: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” He invites them to that conversion without which one cannot enter the kingdom, but shows them in word and deed his Father’s boundless mercy for them and the vast “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” The supreme proof of his love will be the sacrifice of his own life “for the forgiveness of sins.”
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Jesus’ invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching. Through his parables he invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough; deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for man: will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?What use has he made of the talents he has received? Jesus and the presence of the kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables. One must enter the kingdom, that is, become a disciple of Christ, in order to “know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” For those who stay “outside,” everything remains enigmatic.

So this week, Let us thank God for His gift of The Church ! Let us pray for her diligently, as she continues to proclaim the gospel; the gospel which she has proclaimed faithfully for the last two-thousand years. Let us also personally proclaim  this gospel of Christ; in our words, our actions our good deeds and our worship.

God’s richest blessings to you through Christ this week,

Amen.

Happy Birthday Humanae Vitae


Pope Paul VI’s encyclical turns forty today!

If you’ve never read it check out the link. It’s an insightful and prohpetical letter.

Here is the opening:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.

Enjoy! 

Jesus Gives Us His Mother: Part I


When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.   John 19: 26-27

It is said that we as Christians have become the family of God (Eph. 3:15). We’ve been adopted as sons (Gal.4: 5). Now I am aware that we live in the days of dysfunction, but I can confidently declare:

GOD IS NOT DYSFUNCTIONAL!!!

What kind of family would God be adopting us into, if He brought us into one that had no mother? Do we render Jesus’ promise null and void,  “I will not leave you as orphans;”  (John 14:8, from the Greek word, orphanos – without parents-plural)? We also know that God is not a God of disorder (I Cor. 14:33) and that He created the family (Gen. 1:27-28, 2:24).

So, what is not to understand? God is our Father. Jesus, His Son, is our brother. The Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, is our mother.

This doesn’t make her divine. This doesn’t make her the fourth member of the Trinity. It simply means she is our Mother, The Mother of all the faithful.

Before we can continue with this train of thought, we must clarify some early Christian teaching brought to us through Judaism.

                  

               The Communion of the Saints 

 

In the Apostles Creed, there is a line that states; “[I believe in] the communion of Saints.” This phrase refers to the bond of unity among all those, living and dead, who are or who have been committed followers of Christ. This should lead us to understand the Ephesians 3:14-15 passage a little better, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” along with others of Paul’s writings of being one Body (Rom. 12:5, I Cor. 12:26).

 

Then may come the argument of, “Well, Paul is talking about (and writing to) those who are living, not dead.” To which I would respond, “He was speaking of both.”  For two major reasons:

 

First, as a Pharisee, and a devout Jew, Paul (and even the other apostles) was more than aware of the Jewish practice of praying for the dead and even for the intercession of the saints in heaven (2 Maccabees 12: 39-46, 15: 11-16, normally I wouldn’t make reference to a deuterocanonical book but, since I’m speaking of earlier Jewish religious practices I will. The Maccabean revolt and their defense of the Temple, is where the celebration of the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah, originated).

 

Secondly, since God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32) and to be “absent from the body and to be present to the Lord” (2 Cor.5:8 ) those who have died in Christ are truly in His presence. Who better to pray on our behalf (intercede for us) than those in the presence of the Lord Himself!?

 

So, in understanding the Communion of the Saints, we can better grasp the concept of “praying to the Saints.” As a Catholic, I ask Saints to pray for my family and I. I do not pray to them as an end, for they are not God, but as a means to an end. Much like I would ask a faithful friend to pray for my family or I.

 

“The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” (James 5:16) and again, who better to intercede for us than those present with our Lord already.

 

This should help clarify this aspect of the role of Mary (and the Saints) in the lives of Catholic Christians, though it does go a little deeper with our Mother. And we will look at her role specifically in our next post.

 

Amen.

Lenten Reflection Week 3: John 19:26-27


When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

As we’ve seen the past two weeks, Jesus is extremely forgiving and merciful….and this week is no exception. So far we’ve heard, Father forgive them… and Today you will be with me in Paradise. Now, we hear His words to His mother, Mary and His beloved disciple, John. “Woman, behold, your son” and “Behold, your mother.”

What are we to learn from this passage? They are, after all, the words of Sacred Scripture. They were written for a reason. Why put this in his gospel narrative? It’s the same John the Evangelist, that writes, There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written(Jn. 21: 25). What made this important enough to include and dismiss the others?

Of course, it starts with honoring your [father and] mother, one of the ten commandments. We also see the great mercy and compassion He has for others – as He’s suffering, again in extreme pain, He sees His mother, weeping her own tears of great pain (Lk. 2: 34-35) He did not want her to be alone and uncared for. So He gives her to the care of His disciple, John. Why would Jesus give His mother to one of His disciples? It was Jewish custom for family to care for family. Jesus surely brought about change as to religious customs, but didn’t try to implement change so much on the social or cultural ones.

I’ve heard said the reason was that His “brothers” (not holding to the teachings of the early Church Fathers of Mary’s perpetual virginity…even Luther, Calvin and Zwingli taught this) were not believers [in Christ] yet; but wouldn’t that change after His ressurection, wouldn’t He then return her to His family? No, Mary moved to Ephesus with John. I’m sorry…I’ve digressed. This is a Lenten Reflection. If you would like to know more about this teaching check out this and this

Let’s make this practical. We see Jesus’ concern for His mother and her well being in a physical sense and we see Jesus even place His “faith” in John to be able to accomplish this. Not unlike God the Father, putting His “faith” in Mary at the Annuciation.

Since God is relational ,we being made in His image and likeness, are relational as well. We are also called to, “… love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39). These aren’t just mere verses to memorize, or to glance over. It’s our responsibility to live them out! Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He’s not talking about lip service and no action here, He’s not talking about meeting two or three times a week telling each other, “I luv you“. The world can’t see that! They see us in their world – loving and caring for one another the way Christ loved and cared for others while He was here on this earth, and as He cares for us now; healing and restoring our soul.

So in this third week of Lent, let us put our love in action, as Paul reminds us in Titus 3:8 & 14, “This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these points, that those who have believed in God be careful to devote themselves to good works; these are excellent and beneficial to others. But let our people, too, learn to devote themselves to good works to supply urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.

Openly loving and doing good for others in all the ways we can, is an opportunity for us to let “ [y]our light shine before others  that they may see [y]our good deeds and glorify [y]our heavenly Father. ”

Amen.

The Doctrine of Universal Salvation also known as Apokatastasis


I came across an article that references the Roman Catholic Church as teaching this doctrine. The article seemed very slanted in it’s presetation of the facts, particularly when quoting the Catechism and John Paul II documents even our Catholic prayers.

I called upon my former Pastor to explain this to me in layman’s terms. Here is his reply:

The bottom line is that according to Catholic teaching one may and indeed must hope for the salvation of all things (cf. Rom. 8:19ff.).  But that does not mean there can be salvation “against one’s will,” so to speak, nor against God’s will, either.  True, God wills (desires/wants) all to be saved (I Tim. 2:4—yet cf. I Tim. 1:3-11 for a balance).  But God has also created us with free will, and we can freely reject His love and gift of salvation.  Repentance & transformation will ever be pre-requisites for entry into the Kingdom (the 1st is our willingness to surrender, the 2nd is God’s power to heal).  But what if I reject God and His love?  God will not force Himself on me [love by definition cannot be forced, either in giving or in receiving]—and my state is that of one in hell—separated from Eternal Love.  

 A few years ago I wrote an essay “Is There Room In Heaven For Hitler?”  My conclusion was “Yes, but…”  I think it’s still in the archive section of “Pastor’s Corner” on the Our Savior web-site, Tim.  You might want to look at it. 

In the long run, we need not be concerned about anyone’s being in or heading toward hell other than ourselves.  To think that God somehow is compelled to welcome me, no matter what kind of person I am, is to tie the “hands” of God and make the sense of justice meaningless.  “Universal salvation” no matter what takes me off the hook for living the life of the Beatitudes or even the old Roman “cardinal” virtues of prudence, temperance, justice & courage.  In its own way, it is a version of Gal. 2:20-21—justification “through the law” here would become “justification, no matter what.”  Both would mean “Christ died for nothing.”  St. Paul was not happy with that conclusion, nor is the Church.

A New Forum


Check out an exciting new forum here.

Thanks Amber!

If the March For Life Ain’t News….What Is?


Remarks by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson at the 2008 March for Life
Washington, DC – January 22, 2008 

“Thank you, Nellie, for your tireless energy and devotion to the pro-life cause.
 
We first met 30 years ago at the March for Life and I am proud that thousands of Knights of Columbus have volunteered to help stage this march over the years.
 
We have followed your example.  We help organize Marches for Life all across North America – at the West Coast March for Life three days ago in San Francisco, in Mexico City last fall, and in the Canadian capital of Ottawa each May.
 
We gather here today at the beginning of another election year, a year in which almost all of the candidates promise “change.”  But we have been coming to Washington for 35 years asking for change – asking to change Roe v. Wade. 
 
Thirty-five years ago, the Supreme Court imposed a change on our nation that is at odds with our history, our Constitution and our humanity.  And it is time to change Roe v. Wade.
 
Abortion is wrong because abortion hurts everyone.
 
It takes the life of the innocent unborn child.
 
It victimizes the mother and the father.
 
It compromises doctors and nurses.
 
It undermines respect for judges.
 
It implicates the taxpayer who pays for it.
 
It coarsens the society that tolerates it.
 
No woman should feel that she must have an abortion. 
 
We can find a better way. 
 
We can build a society in which every woman and child can find the support and care they deserve. 
 
We can build a culture of life. 
 
We can give hope to every woman and every child. 
 
Today I see thousands of helping hands ready to make this hope a reality and I know there are millions more.
 
Together we can bring change. 
 
Together we can build a new culture of life in our hearts, in our homes, and in our laws.”

I saw nothing about the March on the news reports…..did you?