Cultivating the tender shoots

mustardseedThe readings today speak of planting and of growth. In the agrarian societies of Biblical times, everyone knew how trees and plants were cultivated, but we live in an age when we are disconnected from the patterns of cultivation and harvesting that put food on our plates. Patterns of planting and growing can be applied to our spiritual lives. Jesus makes that explicit when he uses these stories to illustrate the Kingdom of God.

The Gospel today tells us that the kingdom of God is fruitful, but we may not always know precisely how the fruit is to be borne. A man scatters seed on the land, Jesus says, and it sprouts and grows but the man knows not how. The Kingdom of God is not a place or a time. It certainly is Heaven, which is beyond space and time. It is also us, or perhaps more specifically, how we live out our faith each and every day.

We sometimes are resistant to doing the work of scattering seeds of love, patience, and kindness, because we want so much to know how they will grow into something beautiful. Jesus is whispering to us in this parable that we are to scatter those seeds trusting in his providence. Do the work, he seems to be saying, and leave the outcome to me. St. Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians when he tells them, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

The kingdom of God is so fruitful we cannot count all the blessings that will come upon us and the entire world. The cedar trees described by Ezekiel come from tender shoots that grow into majestic trees that benefit birds  of every kind. When we were baptized, we were those tender shoots. If we inhabit the kingdom of God, we will grow into majestic trees that provide shade and comfort for more than we can count. Jesus is whispering to us, “Do not try to be God’s accountant, adding up his graces or his judgments.”

These readings tell us we are just to work on growing, but they do not really give us a plan of cultivation. Growth is something we notice after the fact. Cultivation is the work we put into growth. In an agrarian society, tools like plows and shovels and hoes were all used to till the soil and plant the seeds. They built cisterns to catch the rains, and irrigation channels to move the water from the cistern to the fields.

What are the plows and the shovels for us to use as we cultivate the Kingdom of God? I think they tie back to the Latin slogan Fr. Neil gave us in his homily two weeks ago. We are to cultivate how we worship (the rule of praying), and we are to cultivate our understanding of our faith (the rule of believing). If we do these, we will see growth in our lives, the rule of living.

The Mass is our rule of praying, and here it is prayed reverently. And how we worship reflects and corresponds with what we believe. The silence before Mass is not only a good thing, it is the right thing if we believe the Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God who gave his only begotten Son to wipe away all our sins. When he prays, the priest says the words in the Mass book not because he cannot come up with good words on his own, but because he knows the focus of the Mass is Jesus Christ, not the priest. The music serves the Mass rather than the other way around because the musicians know they are liturgical ministers rather than performers. We all recite the Creed together because we are one body in Christ. Our rule of praying communicates and informs our rule of believing. In praying the Mass this way, we are preparing ourselves to serve God when we leave this sacred space. We are cultivating ourselves for spiritual growth through our worship.

Today is Father’s Day, and hopefully the kids are treating dad in a special way. I am a father myself, and I think the readings today speak to our growth as Fathers. An instructional manual would admittedly have been great, but most Dads had to cultivate themselves and trust that God would handle the outcome. We fathers have a perfect role model in our Heavenly Father. And through our personal behavior of worship and belief, we have taught our children the most important thing they can know: that God loves them and will take care of them.

And while this is Fathers’ Day, we cannot leave out Mom. Together, Dad and Mom have been living a life of self-sacrifice, of dying to self. That is just what Jesus did on the cross, and just what the apostles and saints did after Jesus rose to his throne in heaven. Parents show their kids that true love is a love of giving oneself to another for their good. True love is not always saying yes to whatever gets proposed. Sometimes the greatest thing a dad can do for his kids is to tell them no because he knows what they want to do is dangerous to their bodies or their souls. Parents teach their children wisdom, how to listen for God’s will and to respond to it, even if everybody else is turning away. Dad is here at Church when so many dads are on the golf course or on a boat fishing. By his rule of praying, Dad is communicating what he believes and who he worships.

So we thank our Heavenly Father for our earthly fathers, and we thank our earthly fathers for everything they do for us. We honor them, as we honor God. We pray that they continue to grow in their lives of faith, and we promise to keep growing in our lives, too.

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