Lessons on Grace from the Garden — Sunday Homily

I started something new this summer: growing a garden. Mom always had a garden growing up, despite the number of times my brothers and I mowed over her rhubarb, she continued to plant and water and weed and eventually harvest a variety of fruits and vegetables over the summer months. (Which means we also ended up having to can and preserve quite a number of things, too.)

Somehow, earlier this summer, the bug bit me to follow in her footsteps, for some strange reason, and a friend helped set me up with containers, pots, potting soil and plants so that I could enjoy the fruits of a homegrown garden as well. I wasn’t quite sure why I wanted to add something else to my plate at the time, but I found the time watering the containers to be somewhat therapeutic and a good way to relax at the end of the day. So no matter what time it was, when I got home that night, I would grab the hose and a few buckets and spend a few minutes slinging water around. And I have to admit, tomatoes grown on your own deck just plain taste better than tomatoes you buy from the grocery store!

But I had a problem. You see, in every other effort I have ever made to grow green things, I have killed said green thing. I had the proverbial brown thumb. If I touched it, it died. So I was facing quite the mountain in front of me: just how would I overcome this lack of ability and be able to enjoy the fruits of this nascent garden…

The secret, it seems, is this little concoction called Miracle Grow. Lately, the basil has been looking fairly terrible. But a few nights ago, in addition to the evening watering, I added some of this magical elixir, and low and behold, I think I could have a wonderful Caprese Salad this evening, if, of course, I wasn’t going to the festival!

And it struck me: that miracle grow is the grace my garden needed to grow. I could do everything in my own power to cultivate and nourish that garden, but there was a needed kick to get it over the edge; a little touch of this magical potion.

In our human life and in our spiritual life, God’s Grace is the equivalent of that miracle grow for the garden: it takes our own natural abilities and enhances them with a supernatural power to make them grow and flourish.

And I think this is part of the interpretation of today’s Gospel passage, because on the surface it all seems so contradictory. Are we supposed to plan out things or are we supposed to renounce all of our possessions to be a disciple of Jesus?

In short, the answer is: ‘Yes.’ We plan out what we need to plan out (example: I write out my homilies), but we have to follow and obey the promptings of the Spirit who gives us that nudge to zig when we thing we should zag.

Or, quite simply, do I ask God to complete the work of my hands, whatever that work might be? Do I pray for the efforts I give, even if in secular affairs and/or work?

Do I let God transform the garden of my heart as miracle grow transforms a stagnant garden of basil?



Approach the Throne in Humility

Growing up, my mom had a little plaque the hung between two of the kitchen windows, no more than 2 inches square. It read simply: ‘Lord give me patience, and make it snappy!’

(Now, as one of six children, I like to think it was all because of my siblings, not because of me, that my mother needed patience, but I’m probably fooling myself…)

I think of that little plaque often, to tell the truth. And I wonder if anyone else has the experience that the one prayer that Jesus is swift to answer is the one on that little plaque, eh?

Pray for a million dollars? nothing.
Pray for an answer on a test? crickets.
Whisper one little thought about humility and patience? Fall down steps in front of a room of people!

Really, Lord?!?!?!?
If that prayer gets answered so frequently and so swiftly, it must be vitally important for God, eh? And how often we forget our need to approach the Lord in humility and ease, instead of coming to Him in pride and hubris!

Certainly the lesson of the first section of today’s Gospel reflects that. There is a certain sense of knowing our place in the world, knowing where we fit and being ok with where God has placed us; not getting too big for our own britches, as my grandmother might say.

In fact, that awareness of approaching the Lord in humility is certainly a mark that unites all the saints. St. Bernadette Souboris, the visionary at Lourdes, entered a convent a few short years after the visions completed. Her tasks were changing bed pans, mopping the floor, cleaning wounds in the infirmary. So basic were her chores in the convent, another sister remarked to her: ‘Don’t you find it below you to do all these things, after all the Blessed Mother appeared to you?!?!’

Her response was of that great simplicity she had throughout life: ‘The Blessed Mother used me for the simple task she needed, and put me back into the drawer.’

St. Bernadette knew her role, knew her little place in God’s Kingdom; just content to sit at the farthest spot from the center, just knowing she had a spot there.
On the other hand, St. Jerome, the great Biblical Scholar, continues to be known for his fiery temper. He could light into his interlocutors with great passion and zeal. But knowing his disposition, he knew he couldn’t be around large crowds, so he left Rome and set up a small group of disciples in Bethlehem, people, mostly women, whom he could form and instruct regarding the Bible.

Perhaps one of the most famous depictions of St. Jerome is by the great master Caravaggio, the master of light vs. darkness. In this painting, Jerome is portrayed over his great texts and tomes, translating the Scriptures into Latin. And atop the books is a skull. He had to constantly focus on his own death so that he could live in right relationship with God and with others.
While humility is many things, it is NOT thinking badly nor poorly of yourself! It is not constantly whipping your own ego and making yourself mud! That is false humility!

It is knowing your gifts and talents, and freely sharing them with those you meet. And above all keeping your eyes on the prize that awaits: the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven!
As we gather today, let us approach the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem; in peace, in confidence, in trust; that having been made clean in the Blood of the Lamb, we might have the strength that comes from knowing, loving and serving Jesus Christ in this life, so that when we approach Him in the next, He might lovingly say to us: ‘My friend, come up to a higher place!’

Christ amid the Uncertainties of Life — Sunday Homily

Delivered at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, but only for the Vigil Mass, as the Deacons are preaching on Sunday:

There is an ancient Chinese proverb, that in reality is probably more like a curse than anything: ‘May you live in interesting times.’

It seems that the more ‘interesting’ the times, the more restless the spirit. We become more anymore anxious as the calm serenity we desire in the world fades further and further from the current situation.

As I look around our world today, it seems that we do indeed live in very ‘interesting’ times, do we not? Listening to a podcast earlier this week, the commentator argued that the ‘global hate index’ has only seemed to grow higher and higher over the last years. We have a global war on terror, we have increased rioting in streets, natural disasters, the political world seems to be more interesting in having a bully pulpit rather than civil debates about actual issues that need to be solved and addressed.

It makes me look at the world and think: ‘Where are we truly going?’

But then I also realize all that angst that exists out in the world, affects the Church as well; impacts our relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church, too. With everything ‘out there’ being in such chaos, it is natural to translate that into what we do ‘in here,’ too. How can Jesus remain the same when everything we know is in constant flux?

How are we as Catholic Christians to react? This question and thought has been on my mind for some time. How do we handle the chaos and uncertainty of this world? If we truly believe that Jesus is the victor at the end of time, what are we to do?

As I pondered all of this…  Stuff…. over the last week, I looked at the Opening Collect, the Opening Prayer for Mass today, and I would like to read it again, maybe a little slower:

O God, who cause the minds of the faithful

to unite in a single purpose,

grant your people to love what you command

and to desire what you promise,

that, amid the uncertainties of this world,

our hearts may be fixed on that place

where true gladness is found.

Through our Lord…

Let’s take a look at that line by line:

‘Who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose’

In John 17, Jesus prays that we might all be one as He and The Father are One. When we unite in Christ Jesus, we unite in that inter play of relationship between Jesus and the Father, through the Holy Spirit. And a Church bounded together in them is unbreakable; is able to take on the the chaos of the world that we find ourselves in.

‘Grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise’

If we want to seek that true happiness and peace that is our deepest desire, it is only available to us by living in right relationship with Jesus. His commands (and by extension the commands of the Church) do not trap nor ensnare, they bring us to a greater and deeper freedom! And by living in Jesus, we come to desire Him even more!  Nothing compares to the Love of Christ Jesus!

‘Amid the uncertainties of this world’

Psalm 146:3 states ‘put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save.’ Perhaps this is the greatest source of our anxiety and turmoil in this world: instead of relying on the God of the Universe, we rely on political machinations, we rely on the strength of the self, we rely on the powers of this world, to solve our problems and issues; instead of bringing them to Jesus in prayer, in trust, in love. When we dwell in Jesus Christ, the uncertainties of this world are no more than water flowing off a duck’s back.

‘Our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.’

As Catholics, as Christians, our destiny is not here in this world, but in the glory that awaits in heaven. The good things of this world reflect and help us to keep our eyes fixed on that prize, but we can only get there through Jesus Christ. He alone is the one we are to put trust in, for He alone is the Faithful and True God! He alone is able to calm the storms of our lives and bring us that peace that is found in the depth our hearts and souls.

Therefore, when we look out and see storms, waves, chaos and uncertainty; we turn to cling more faithfully to Jesus and to the Church that He gave us to guide our way back to Him. Then, and only then, are we able to rise above the storms of this world and triumph in Him; and despite the interesting times that we find ourselves in, are we able to keep that peace and serenity that comes solely from Christ Jesus Our Lord!