we’re the birds

God has planted the trees and caused them to grow. It’s not all on us.

Homily for June 13, 2021.

we’re the birds

God tells us today, through his prophet Ezekiel, that he will take a tender shoot from the highest branches of a cedar tree and plant it in the mountains of Israel, making a home for birds of every kind and every sort of winged thing. Christ also mentions a tree to us today, a tree which grows large enough so that all the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. When we read such things, it is tempting to think we are somehow related to the seeds or the trees. For example, we can understand the mustard seed as a seed of faith planted in our hearts so that virtue, represented by the birds, may find shelter in our souls. This is, certainly, a good way to understand the parable. When we put the parable into a greater Biblical context, I think a somewhat different reality emerges: We are the birds.

Credit: El Golli Mohamed, via Wikimedia Commons

We human beings love to do things. We like to build stuff. (Unless we are 3 year old boys, in which case we like to destroy stuff.) We like to be able to say, “I did that!” and maybe slap our name on the thing. It is no different in our spiritual lives. We like to claim that we are in control. That our hard efforts at prayer and asceticism led to us being good Christians. While this is, to an extent, true, we must recognize one very important thing: We are the birds. We aren’t in control. And that’s OK. God has provided a place for us to find refreshment and rest from our labors. He invites us to stay and make our home with him in the shady branches he has provided for us. The tree is the Kingdom of God, and we are invited to live there.

When we look at what God spoke through Ezekiel, we learn that the topmost branch of the cedar refers to the King of Israel. When God says he will take from the crest of the cedar and plant it on the highest mountain in Israel, (New Jerusalem Bible) he is undoubtedly giving us a glimpse of Calvary, where Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, was planted on Calvary. God tells us that this cedar he has planted shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. From Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, the Church gushed forth from his wounded side, and she spread through all the world, giving refuge to all the poor ones suffering from the tyranny of evil and sin. God finishes his speech through Ezekiel by saying I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. God wants us to remember that he is in control, no matter what the political powers of this world might want us to think. Our trust belongs in God.

While we are still on this earth, though, we do not see God clearly, and it can be hard to trust him. Many things block our sight of God; so, we must walk by faith. St. Paul exhorts us to be courageous, and we certainly must be courageous. The Christian life is not easy. We stumble and fall constantly. Sometimes we fall flat on our face and lose the way entirely. We must pray always, asking God to show us the way and to have the strength to continue following him. No matter what sin we fight every day, we must bring it to prayer, surrender it to God, and ask for his help in finding our way back to him. For mortal sins, we bring them to confession so that the gaping wound in our soul can be sewn up and healed.

As we work to find our shelter in the Kingdom of God, let us also remember one more thing about birds. Birds help to scatter the seeds as well. As Christians, we are called to take the Good News and bring it to those around us, so that the Kingdom of God might grow. Most of us do this within our marriages. The love of spouses should be an image of the love of God: fruitful and beautiful. There are many, though, called to spread the Good News in a different way. Those of us called to religious life or to the priesthood are called to love just as fruitfully and beautifully. No matter what your vocation, do no be afraid to follow God. Do not let society deter you. If we follow society, we’ll find ourselves in a dead tree with no shade and recognize that we’re just a whole bunch of angry crows.

Instead, let God be in control. Fly into the branches of his kingdom. Let God lead you to his lush garden, full of beauty and peace.

Cedars of Lebanon from Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Readings:
June 13, 2021
Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:25-34

The World Needs Catholic Prophets

Without the prophetic witness of Catholics, we don’t stand a chance.

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

The abundant harvest

As the seventy-two disciples return from their mission, they are rejoicing! They tell Jesus that even the demons are subject to them. Jesus responds positively, saying he’s seen Satan fall like lightning, but then he cautions the disciples. “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,” he says, “but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” What does Jesus mean by this? Isn’t casting out demons a good thing? Shouldn’t we rejoice over that?

Imagine this scenario with me. A good man has run his own company for many years. He has many employees and has been very successful. He and his wife are getting older, though, and they have decided that it is time to retire. For years, the man’s daughter has been working alongside him, learning the business, but not really in charge. A few days after the man retires, the daughter—now in charge of the large and successful business herself—comes to visit her father. She says to him, “This is amazing! As soon as I decide something will be done, hundreds of people make it so!” The man says to his daughter, “This is good, as it should be. But never forget, that power you wield is for a greater purpose.”

Brothers and sisters, it is all too easy to rejoice in the gifts we have been given by God and to completely miss the whole point of the gifts. Why does God give us all the gifts he has given us? The answer is right in the Gospel: “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are dew; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.” This verse is often used in reference to priestly and religious vocations, but it applies to each and every one of us here today. We are all called to be laborers for the Lord. We are all called to bring souls to the Lord. All of us, disciples of Christ, are called to be missionaries. God gives us our many gifts so that we can labor in his harvest. He gives us our many talents so that we can not only bring our own soul to him, but so that we can go out into the world and bring ever more people to Him!

You may be thinking, “I have no idea how to be missionary! I don’t know Catholic doctrine and church teaching nearly well enough to be a missionary! I don’t know the Bible nearly well enough to teach others about it!” I understand your concern, but the first part of being a missionary is becoming a living witness of Christ. Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.”1 We don’t have to be Ms. Happy-all-the-time or Mr. Always-has-the-Catholic-answer. We must simply live in the hope that our Savior gave us when he wrote his law on our hearts and made us new creations at our baptisms. Maybe today, or this week, or this year, or even this decade, was rough, but I have something amazing waiting for me on the other side of this life. When we live this way, knowing what Jesus did to make that possible for us, we radiate an inner peace. That peace attracts people. Everybody is in search of that peace. They might ask us what it is that is different about us, or even about our faith. This is our chance to give a joyful witness to Jesus! If we don’t have answers, seek them out, but above all, trust that the Lord will supply what you need.

I mentioned a writing of Saint Pope John Paul II above. That wasn’t the end of the letter. He continued, writing, “Today, as never before, the Church has the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations. I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time.”2

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

Today’s Readings:
July 7, 2019
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66:10-14c, 19-21; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

​Reflection for Easter Thursday

We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”

An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.

In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.

This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.

Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48