Meaning of the Mustard Seed

(Homily for Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B)

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.

Spanish Version

From Archives (11th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2018: We are Always Courageous
2015: Through Him Week 2: How it is with the Kingdom
2012: Meaning of the Mustard Seed

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Easter Season 2018*

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

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