14 June 2012

'The seed shall sprout and grow, he knows not how.' Sunday Reflections, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Though We Are Many - Official Hymn of the 32nd International Eucharistic Congress

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Mark 4:26-14 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." 

And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

During the week I saw a comment pointing out that 80 years ago a million people gathered for the closing Mass of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress in 1932 in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, one quarter of the population of the whole of Ireland at the time and about one third of the Catholic population. Last Sunday, at the opening Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress being held in Dublin and ending this Sunday about 12,500 attended the opening Mass. It is hoped that 80,000 will be at the closing Mass in Croke Park, Ireland's largest stadium. The writer pointed out that more than a million who describe themselves as Catholics live in the Dublin area and yet so few were present at the opening Mass.

The writer's implicit interpretation was that there has been a collapse of the Catholic faith in Ireland since 1932. There has been.

Yet the parable reminds us that the faith has had many small beginnings. Perhaps the greatest is the Twelve Apostles. The Congress Prayer in the video above prays that 'we may recognise you in the Scriptures and in the breaking of bread'. It goes on further to ask us 'to walk humbly on the earth, in justice and love, as witnesses of the resurrection'. This is exactly what the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did. The listened to the Scriptures explained by the Word himself, recognised him as the Risen Lord in the breaking of bread and set out on their first missionary journey that night to be witnesses of the resurrection back in Jerusalem.

As a Columban I'm very conscious of our history. Fr Edward Galvin from Ireland went off to China with Canadian Fr John Fraser. Fr Fraser went on to found the Scarboro Missionary Society in Canada and Fr Galvin, with Fr John Blowick, was to set up the Missionary Society of St Columban within a few years, both societies working to bring the Gospel to the people of China.

The Columbans, along with all other Christian missionaries, were eventually driven out of China after 1949 but have a presence there again, in a different way. And a year ago, as I wrote for last Sunday, the first two Chinese students came to Manila to prepare to be Columban missionary priests. Another small beginning in the service of the mission that Jesus gave to the Church.

70 years ago my parents were married. Another small beginning in faith, a faith nourished, at least in part, by the Eucharistic Congress ten years earlier in their native Dublin. Without that beginning I would not be here. 

Today, Friday, I visited a friend in Cebu City whom I hadn't seen in more than twelve years. When we last met she was single. Today I met her husband and seven children, the youngest born last month. She and her husband have both lost their mothers in the last couple of months. Her husband will be going into hospital on Saturday for a procedure on one of his kidneys.The house they were living in before was burned down and they are now in a very small temporary house from which they will have to move soon. Yet I saw a house filled with love, the older children when they came home from school giving the mano po, the hand to the forehead, a sign of respect in the Philippines and in East Timor, to their parents and to me - and then going to kiss their two youngest brothers. And we shared bread together, pandesal, small pieces of bread that are very popular for breakfast and for snacks.

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.

We just don't know where the seed will be scattered and where it will bear fruit. I once met a young woman from Japan in Manila. She was moving towards the Catholic faith and the seed was being nourished in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. But the seed of her faith came to fruition in Thailand where she was baptised during an Easter Vigil. Thailand, like Japan, is a country where only about one person in two hundred is a Catholic. 

And there is a Thai version of the Official Hymn of the 32nd International Eucharistic Congress.

May we be aware of the many 'mustard seeds' that the Lord has scattered in our lives, that he nourishes through the Eucharist and that he brings to fruition in the most unexpected ways.

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