Fathers and the Seed of Faith

Father recently planted a garden at the rectory. It looked like a lot of work! First, he picked a good spot. It had to get lots of sunlight, and be far enough from the tree to discourage birds and squirrels from stopping by for lunch. Next, he prepared the ground. He cleared the grass and weeds. He tilled the soil, making it loose and fresh for new plants. Then came the planting. That part is pretty straightforward — you put the plants in the ground. Now, though, it’s up to the plants to grow. No human can tell a plant to grow, or even explain how a plant “knows” to grow. They just do. Father can help those plants. He can fertilize them, make sure they’re watered, put in trellises for the tomatoes, but he can’t make them to grow. He just watches them grow, like the man in Jesus’s parable today. Slowly but surely, the plants grow. Now, Father could also hurt the plants’ chances of growing by not watering them, by letting weeds overtake them, or by planting too many plants in the space, but he also can’t make them stop growing. Such a plant could overcome the odds against it and survive.

Paul says to the Corinthians today that “we walk by faith.” This faith is a gift from God. Faith is one of those seeds God plants inside us. It will do its best to grow in us whether we want it to or not, but like a plant in a garden we can nurture it or hinder it throughout our lives. Paul tells us that when we die each of us will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Christ will ask us for the harvest, for the fruits of the faith that he planted inside of us. Our answer decides whether we go to an eternal reward or punishment. Our actions in this earthly life have such an important effect on our eternal life, the stakes are so very high; so, we must do our best to nurture the gifts God gave us. We must let our seed of faith grow into the big mustard plant Jesus talks about, that Ezekiel’s majestic cedars, or into the big ‘ole tomatoes that I hope show up in Father’s garden! To do this, to nurture the seeds of faith in ourselves and let them grow, we must live virtuously and morally; we must pray; and, we must make use the sacraments God gave us. All these things, especially the sacraments, give us grace. Grace is kind of like Miracle-Gro® for the seed of faith that God has planted inside of us.

Nurturing these seeds of faith is a good thing, but nurture is not the only part of gardening. The ground must be made ready. Jesus left these steps out, but he assumes that we will know these things. This leads to some questions. Who prepares us for receiving the first seed of faith? Who clears out the weeds and junk that’s in the way of God planting these seeds in our soul? Who tills the ground in our souls to prepare us for the gifts God wants to give us? Who nurtures our faith when we are too young to do it ourselves, and then teaches us how to nurture it? God certainly plays a part, but these critical activities are entrusted to a couple of very important people in everyone’s life: our parents.

We humans depend on our parents for a long time. Not only do we depend on them for our physical development, but also for our emotional development, for our mental development, and for the development and training of our souls. 1 Our parents teach us not only what is true, but even how to learn. Our parents teach us how to behave properly, to do good things, and how to live in a community. Both our mother and the father have important, but unique, roles in raising us. Each of them contributes in their own special way so that each of us grows to our full potential. Today, though, we celebrate Father’s Day. Since society’s understanding of fatherhood often ignores our fathers’ impact on our faith, I thought that we should take a look at the special ways that our dads contribute to us growing in faith.

Our fathers are providers and protectors, but those are not their only jobs. In nearly every culture that has existed—especially the Roman culture on which western society is based—the father was paterfamilias, the absolute and unquestionable household leader. After two thousand years of Christianity, we’ve figured out that even though our dad is supposed to be a leader, he is not supposed to be an emperor or a dictator. He is supposed to lead as Jesus taught his apostles to lead: with love and kindness, but also firmness and strength. A father’s goal, ultimately, should always be to give life to others, both physically and spiritually. 2 In the oldest stories of the Old Testament, the father was the one who offered sacrifice to God: he was the religious leader. Modern studies have shown that when dad is faithful about coming to Mass and practicing his faith, the rest of the family is much more likely to do so as well. The example of our fathers is powerful, and our dad’s example is one of the most powerful ways that he leads us. In leading us by example, with love, gentleness, and firmness, our fathers teach us. They teach us how to act when the time comes to act. They teach us that force is not the first way to resolve a problem, but they also teach us to be courageous and stand up for ourselves and others. They teach us how to love others. A father teaches his sons how men should treat women, and a father teaches his daughters how they should demand to be treated by men.

A Christian father’s duty to teach is so foundational that it is mentioned in the rite of baptism. At the end of a baptism, the celebrant gives three blessings: one to the mother, one to the father, and another to everyone gathered. The prayer over the father says: “God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The father teaches his children, together with his wife not only with words, but also their example.

All men are called to some sort of fatherhood, either as a biological father or as a spiritual father. Men, do not be afraid of this work. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched” 3 How are our hearts stretched? Fathers are called to sacrifice for those entrusted to their care. Fathers are called to purify their lives from all sin. Today, fathers are called into a fierce battle with the sins against chastity. Fathers are called to be courageous and die to themselves in order to teach, to love, and to bring life to their wives, their children, and to the whole world. Men, we are called to follow the ways of our Lord, our Commander in the battle against evil, and our one true King, Jesus Christ. “[T]he ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 4

Sadly, many of us no longer have our father with us—for any number of tragic reasons. If our human fathers are no longer with us, we need not fear. God, our perfect, heavenly Father is always with us. He loves us so much that He became one of us. He showed us what life looks like without sin. He sent his only Son to us to protect us from our enemies and to teach us how we can purify our hearts and our minds. He sent his Holy Spirit to continuously and gently lead us back to him. He sacrificed himself, and willingly died so that we might learn what true, life-giving love is.

Today, let us thank God for planting the seeds of faith within us. Let us thank our earthly fathers for tilling the soil of our souls and nurturing the seed of faith as it grows in us. Finally, let us make a conscious decision to do everything we can to nurture the seed of faith in our hearts and in the hearts of others by living virtuous lives, virtuous lives in which we seek the will of God and do it.

Note: Into the Breach is an excellent apostolic exhortation written by Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix. I read it in preparation for this homily. While I did not directly quote it, it was influential in the development of this homily.

Today’s Readings:
June 17, 2018
11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (USA: Father’s Day)
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23