Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
First Reading: Ez 17:22-24
Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:6-10
Gospel Reading: Mk 4:26-34
God’s kingdom grows slowly from small seeds without our knowing how, we hear in this Sunday’s liturgy. It should comfort those of us who long for “the good old days” before Vatican II, when churches, convents, and seminaries were full; or the centuries before the Protestant rebellion, when “everybody” in Europe was a practising Catholic.
Appearances are deceptive. In the late 1960s, many priests, nuns, and married couples realized that their vows had been void, and the Church confirmed it. When Luther revolted, half of Europe accompanied him. When King Henry VIII declared himself “head of the Church in England,” only one bishop, St. John Fisher, and one government member, St. Thomas More, opposed him.
We cannot always see or understand what is God is about. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” St. Paul says.
By faith, we know that Jesus has already vanquished Satan. He won the victory when he “freely gave himself up to death to give us his life,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “The prince of this world is already cast out.” Jesus reassured his apostles just before he died, saying, “Take courage; I have overcome the world.”
God’s kingdom will become visible to us “not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil” at the Last Judgment, says the Catechism. We must shun anything that claims to manifest this victory “within history.”
In the meantime, let us co-operate with God in sowing the good seed, not seeking vast increases in Church attendance or influence, but trusting God.
We can do it in many small ways: saying the prayer “Eternal rest” as we pass a cemetery or a roadside cross; saying “Hail Mary” when we hear a siren; inviting people to programs like RCIA or Alpha; and, “in situations that require witness to the faith,” professing it “without equivocation,” as the Catechism says.
A man I know always reads store employees’ name tags. “Rafael: where is that name from?” he asked one recently. Receiving the answer, “Brazil,” he said, “Oh, so you’re probably Catholic. Do you know that they say Mass in Portuguese at Our Lady of Fatima in Vancouver every day?” He looked up the Mass schedule when he got home, made a copy, and gave it to the employee the next time he saw him.
“When you look at the world of today and even the Church of today, with all their problems, are you encouraged and optimistic or discouraged and pessimistic?” St. John Paul once asked Archbishop Emeritus Adam Exner, OMI. “The world and the Church today have enormous problems, more serious perhaps than ever before,” he went on. “However, the reasons for hope, courage, enthusiasm, and optimism are stronger and more convincing.”
“Despite the increase of sin, grace has far surpassed it,” St. Paul says.
As I fill in for priests at various parishes, I see 30-100 people at weekday Mass. At Catholic Christian Outreach’s monthly Summits, 200-300 young people go to confession. Filipino caregivers phone me when Catholics are near death. In department stores, other shoppers see my collar, smile their good will, and often ask for a prayer.
A nun I know, agreeing that many families no longer pass on the faith, said, “But Jesus seems to be doing more and more on his own.” She told me of two young women who visited the convent chapel, knowing nothing of God. “What do you keep in that box (the tabernacle)?” they asked. “We can tell that power comes from it.”
In the Church, “the Kingdom of Heaven, the reign of God, already exists, and will be fulfilled at the end of time,” says the Catechism. In the meantime, it “grows mysteriously in the hearts of those incorporated into him.”
If we doubt it, we ourselves are part of the problem.