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June 8, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 16

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Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo:  Msgr. Timothy Keeney

believe as you pray

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 14, 2015

Ezek 17:22-24
2Cor 5:6-10
Mark 4:26-34

Over the past couple of months we’ve remembered and celebrated many of the key elements of our faith. During the Triduum and for seven weeks afterwards we celebrated the Paschal Mystery of our salvation, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We’ve celebrated the return of Jesus to the Father in the Ascension; the coming of the Spirit to the early Disciples at Pentecost and then as we slipped back into Ordinary Time we remembered and celebrated the Trinity and Corpus Christi. Now as we continue in Ordinary Time of the Church calendar and try to live out the Gospel in our world, the church presents us with two important messages about working in the Kingdom of God.

The reading from Mark presents us with the parable of the seed sown which grows though the farmer does not know how, and the more familiar parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed though the tiniest of seeds becomes a bush so large that birds can come and make their nests in it.

The reading from Ezekiel tells of the tender shoot that became a majestic cedar tree. God can take the smallest of things and produce something great.

God didn’t start with a great army to bring about our salvation, he started with one and that one, Jesus, started with twelve. The tender shoot of a church begun by a small band of people has grown to be something that can be found throughout the entire world.

The Scripture readings also tell us that God does the work. The farmer prepares the soil, plants and waters the seed and then the crops grow though he doesn’t know how. There is an old proverb, pray for rain but keep on hoeing. The farmer plants the seeds but must rely on God. Paul tells us in Second Corinthians that we walk by faith.

The readings also present a message to us on a personal level for our work in the Kingdom. Very few of us are called to “big” things in the eyes of the world. Rather we are called to do very ordinary small things in our lives. The key is how we do these things.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing,” and “do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”

God calls us to do certain things; it is up to us to say yes and to do those things as best as we can, with faith and love. God can take the smallest of actions and create important events in others’ lives. Like the mustard seed, the tiniest of things, God will turn them into great things, something beautiful for someone else.

In the Gospel we are also told that the seed we plant, this tiniest of things that God calls us to, when done with love will grow even though we are not aware of it. God doesn’t promise us success and he doesn’t promise us that we will see the fruits of our labor. God asks us to say yes, and then let God do the work and bring our efforts to fruition. Paul tells us to walk by faith.

It is not important for us to see how our efforts work or even if they are successful. God knows what God is doing; we need to have faith and trust in God.

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in light of faith

The Second Greatest Commandment

Currently there is an interactive stage play about a manufacturing company in China that has made its way to the London stage. Absent the usual theater style arrangement of seats, chairs are positioned around conference tables to facilitate conversation among audience members.

In what has been described as a combination of a casino atmosphere with components of a Monopoly board game, the audience, who are owners of the company, select cards that propose a variety of management dilemmas for which they must find a solution.

Eventually the solutions are digitally communicated to the cast and they become part of the play. As you might imagine, the results have been both entertaining and revealing.

The situation involves responding to a loss of capital for the company. The owner/management teams are entrusted with the task of deciding whether to lower wages by one third so that no one loses their job or keep the wages at the same rate, which, of course, would necessitate letting go a third of the work force.

The audience is encouraged to come up with more creative solutions, however most solutions would have a negative impact on the profit margin, at least in the short term.

During the play’s limited run, an interesting behavior pattern has evolved. The audience pretending to own the company inevitably opts for cutting the wages of everyone.

Some would argue that allowing everyone to keep their job is the fairest approach, but rarely does the management team look for a more creative solution that would infringe on their benefits. The results are telling and explain in part why the chasm between the rich and poor continues to grow in our current capitalist system.

While the play is a form of entertainment, it could be argued that it offers a pretty accurate portrait of human behavior. Those in charge find cutting wages and benefits for all equitable as long as it doesn’t infringe on their comfort level. The sense of entitlement that comes with ownership is undeniable, though often subtle. And yet, when it comes to programs that assist the poor, the word entitlement has become a dirty word.

In light of this tendency, it is no wonder that Jesus told us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. And when asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.

If we are truly honest, we have to admit that the way we live out this commandment is carefully measured, often selective and judiciously guarded, which is what makes living Gospel values so challenging. Like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we can justify our position or lack of involvement all too readily.

It makes hiding behind the philosophy that charity begins at home far too easy. Notice that Jesus did not condemn the actions of the priest and Levite who passed by the victim, he merely asked his listeners to identify the person who was acting like a good neighbor.

They all knew the answer, and so do we. It was the Samaritan whom the others looked down upon. Therein lies a lesson for us.

Some have accused Pope Francis of having Marxist tendencies because of his criticism of capitalism. It’s not that capitalism is bad, but when economic gain for those at the top is achieved at the expense of the working class, then reform is needed. And like every other reform, it begins with the individual.

We may not be sitting around the board room table at a Fortune 500 company, but we can all examine the way we reach out to those in need.

Last week my husband and I were helping out at the local Food Bank, and it was disheartening to see how many contributions from individuals and organizations ended up in the trash, all because expiration dates were way past due — in some cases by as much as seven to eight years. If food is not edible for those who can afford to purchase it, why should the poor be expected to consume it?

It is but one example of the double standard that exists between the haves and the have-nots, but there are more. We need look no further than the extreme disparity in wages that exists in our country.

We cannot claim to be pro-life and turn a blind eye to workers living below the poverty line despite the fact that they are working two and three jobs. And what about the unemployed and the disabled whose benefits are forever being called into question?

As Catholics in the United States become more affluent, the call to evangelize carries with it the mandate to practice what we preach. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In the parable cited earlier, the Good Samaritan didn’t give all his wealth to the man lying on the road. He did what he could, and that’s what each of us are called to do.

It is a matter of justice as much as a matter of compassion. And true compassion is based on respect for others and on the realization that every person has the same right to happiness that we do.

To be a Christian means we must observe the second greatest commandment, but this is possible only if we are faithful to the first and greatest commandment, which is to love God with all our heart and mind and strength.

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