Reflections for June are by Bishop Robert Kurtz, Bishop of Hamilton in Bermuda
Ez 17: 22-24, 2Cor 5:6-10, Mk 4: 26-34
The Scripture readings for this 11th Sunday of the Liturgical Year challenge us to hear God’s word, reflect on the mystery of life and growth in nature and relate that mystery to our life and growth in Faith. The parables of Jesus invite us to think poetically in images and comparisons rather than scientifically. Today, Jesus teaches us about the Kingdom of God, or better, the “Reign of God,” by means of parables and images of seeds, planting and the mysterious process of growth. The challenge comes in relating the mystery of life and growth in nature to the seed of Faith that the Lord has planted in our hearts.
To begin our reflection and response to the Word, we need to stand in awe and wonder before the mystery of life and growth in nature. I am sure you can think of many experiences in your life when nature caught you by surprise and even took your breath away. Let me share with you a personal experience. Two years ago I received a beautiful potted Orchid plant for Easter. It blossomed for a long time and then went dormant. I placed the plant in a shaded area on my porch and continued to care for it, but not very enthusiastically. It didn’t bloom for a whole year and eventually I forgot about it. Last October, when two hurricanes, Faye and Gonzalo, hit Bermuda in one week, thanks be to God there was no loss of life but all the vegetation of the Island was devastated. While cleaning up the debris in my yard, I found the Orchid plant lodged in the branches of a Hibiscus bush and the plant was sending forth a new shoot. So, for the last seven months, I have enjoyed the beauty of orchid blossoms in my kitchen! What awe and wonder we can experience in observing nature. As the Gospel says: the reign of God is like the seed “that sprouts and grows without our knowing how.” Isn’t it incredible that the tiny mustard seed, no larger than the head of a pin, falls to the ground, sprouts and grows in a mighty bush, so that even the “birds of the air can make their nests in its shade”?
In our first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the reign of the promised Messiah. He says that the coming and reign of the Messiah will be like God’s planting a sprig of a Cedar tree on a mountain top. God’s presence and action among his people Israel is like his presence and action in nature: “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and I make the dry tree flourish. I, the Lord, have spoken; I will accomplish it.”
The last words of Mark’s Gospel in today’s reading have captured my attention and have challenged me to a very personal review of my life. Mark says: “With many such parables Jesus spoke to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” What a beautiful image—our sitting before the Lord as his followers, his disciples, with the Scriptures in hand, praying him to explain everything to us “in private,” that is, in relation to the most intimate details of our lives, so that we might truly be and become ever more, his disciples.
In order for the reign of God to grow and manifest itself in our world, it requires that our faith—like the tiny mustard seed- grow and develop into a growing and imposing tree, producing abundant fruit. So we can ask ourselves: Is my faith today best described as “the blade,” ‘the ear,” or the “full grain in the ear”? How has the grace of God been at work in me to bring about this growth and development of my faith? Can I identify one particular event, occasion, or person, who has helped me to grow in my life of faith, bringing me to growth and maturity as a disciple of Christ?
As I come before the Lord, seeking his explanation of the parables and the word we have heard in today’s readings, the words of St. Paul resound in my consciousness: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” I have to admit that as a Bishop I often struggle to walk by faith, especially in my role as Minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation. I believe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament, but I also see that many of our young people eventually come to see Confirmation as “Graduation” from further religious formation and even the regular practice of the Faith. I share the pain of fervent practicing Catholic parents who have done all that they can to raise their children in the Faith and then suffer to see them drop out of Church life as young adults. God says through Ezekiel the Prophet: “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. (…) I dry up the green tree and I make the dry tree flourish. I have spoken. I will accomplish it.”
We are called to walk by faith and not by sight, as St. Paul says. God provides the gift of faith. God can make the dry tree to flourish. Our task is to be faithful and trust in the Lord.
Let us pray:
Loving and merciful Father, help us to walk by faith, faith in you and in your loving plan of salvation for each of us. Let us not be discouraged or disheartened by what we sometimes see. Lord Jesus, you are the Sower; we are the seed. Help us to grow and develop in our life of faith so that we may come to know, love and serve you. Give us courage, so that no matter how small we may think our faith is, we may grow into that mature and fruitful tree which bears witness to your Risen life in us and bears fruit for the kingdom of heaven. We ask this, O loving and merciful Father, in the name of your Son, Jesus, who is our Teacher and Lord, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.