Monday, July 21, 2014

Welcome Home.

Welcome Home!
Readings for Sunday, July 20/ 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

As I shared with you a couple of weeks ago, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and just a few days later made the long trek down to Denham Springs. I have seen that as rather providential, because I have always loved to travel. The joy of seeing new places, meeting new people, experiencing new adventures, and creating new stories are all wonderful things to do, but for me the best part is being able to come back and have that renewed appreciate for being home. As I was praying with the readings this weekend I was struck by that reality and the fact that home has so many levels which we can understand. For instance, if we travel overseas the customs agents will often say “welcome home” when returning to the United States; I can be in New York City, but I’m still home. If we just go on a road trip to another state, there’s that big blue “Welcome to Louisiana” sign to welcome you back to Louisiana – welcome home. Though there is no clear marker, when I start to get near the Baton Rouge area there is a sense of being home. And as of July 1, my final destination for ‘home’ is the rectory here at St. Ann’s.

That image came to mind because the Lord gives us today a series of parables on the kingdom of Heaven describing where it can be found. And then at the end of the passage He speaks of the kingdom in the future sense, as also being something in the future. There is a sort almost-but-not-yet reality; theologically we describe it as ‘liminality’.

The ultimate reality of the kingdom of heaven – the St. Ann’s rectory, if you will – is the experience of Heaven itself. It is the encounter with God that never ends and in which He has absolute reign and authority, such that there is no longer sin or death, sorrow or despair, doubt or fear. Those things will be completely conquered in the end and there will be simply peace, love, joy, and all of those things that we long for in this life but cannot attain in their fullness. Although we cannot attain these things in their fullness yet, it does not mean that we can’t experience a taste of them in this life. This is what Christ speaks to us about in the parables – that reality that is already among us and in our midst where the kingdom of heaven is present in a seminal form. He uses parables to help us to see where it can be found, its characteristics, if you will. And if we look at them with the eyes of faith, we can see that the kingdom of heaven is the Body of Christ on Earth – the Catholic Church.

The first clue is that the kingdom of heaven is like a field with good and bad seed. The Lord instituted the Church knowing that its members would not always be perfect, but that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ In the field that is the Church, there are many, many saintly people – the good wheat sown by God – but there is also that small group of people who are not godly people but have simply acted as such for some purpose. It shouldn’t surprise us to find that those who harm the Church the most these days are Catholics themselves. After all, it was Judas, one of the Twelve closest to Jesus who was the betrayer. And yet, the Lord was greater than that and the eleven continued to bear much good fruit in the salvation of souls and preaching of Gospel message. The Church is perfect in herself, but her members are sometimes flawed as individuals.

The second clue is that a small mustard seed shall become a large bush. Here, too, we can see how the Church began as a small see with the Apostles and disciples of the Lord and yet has grown today to include billions of people today and many more throughout history. The words of Jesus about ‘every bird of the air’ finding a place is symbolic of the fact that the Church reaches to the ends of the Earth and has sought to evangelize every people that she has encountered, welcoming them to find shelter in her.

Lastly, the Church is that insignificant amount of leaven added to leaven three whole measures of wheat flour. The Church has literally changed the course of the world; things would be drastically different were it not for the presence of the Body of Christ all throughout the world. This is no exaggeration, but a statement of truth and it fulfills that third characteristic expressed by the Lord.

The kingdom of heaven is indeed a place in the future and it is a place all around us and in which we find ourselves making a home as the other birds of the sky have done. But there is yet a third aspect to consider: that the kingdom of heaven is within you and me as individuals. We are each a sort of microcosm of the larger Body of Christ and the aspects evident in the whole are also detectable in ourselves. The weeds alongside the good wheat remind us that we are fundamentally good people, but that we have flaws, we sin. The good news is that we don’t have to wait until the end of the age to be separated by the angels, but rather we can go to that confessional in the back of the church and allow the Lord to forgive us our sins and to pluck up the weeds now so that we can become today the perfect field God desires us to be in Heaven. Too, our faith begins small but grows exponentially in size. Most of us were baptized as infants, so we were not even aware of the seed of faith that was planted in our hearts with those blessed words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And where are we today? Large bushes giving much fruit as we live our lives, grow in our understanding of the faith, and encounter the Lord God daily. And lastly, we are that leaven that changes everything. The other day I went to go visit one of our parishioners and in the course of our conversation she turned to me and said, “Father, when you can kiss your 90th grandchild on the head, things aren’t that bad.” It hit me because her simple yes to the Lord in her vocation as a wife and mother has brought into existence 100 other people who wouldn’t be here otherwise. We can say the same of each of our families, but the reality is that we can say in the life of faith too. If we let ourselves be used by the Lord, the world around us will also catch fire with the faith and others will have life in the Spirit because of us.

Now, all of this is fine and good, but the question is how to do this? How do we build up the courage to let the Lord pull out the weeds? To persevere in nourishing our faith? To say yes daily to being an instrument in God’s hands? At the sake of being overly-simplistic, I say the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ; the flesh of God Himself! Come to Mass each week and enter into the mystery that we celebrate. If you can, come to daily Mass, even if it’s only once a week. It changes us. He changes. The other day I stopped at Jack in the Box and got my usual cheeseburger combo with fries and a coke. That’s fine to do once in a while, but if I did that every day you’d soon recognize that I’ve been eating pretty well lately, right? The same with our spirits! If we fail to give our spirit the food that it needs, it will be completely unhealthy and will be starved for something wholesome. If, on the other hand, we eat of the Eucharist that can heal every ill and convert our hearts, we will be strong in spirit. Come to Mass, come to Adoration, come spend time in the church with the Lord Jesus! The Scriptures tell us that it is the Spirit who comes to aid us in our weakness and we get that Spirit every time we receive Holy Communion. Let us not be afraid of our weakness in this life, but rejoice in it and bring it to Jesus, because when we are weak, Jesus is our strength.

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