Here's my homily for our "CIA- CATHOLIC INTERCOLLEGIATE ADORATION" a monthly gathering of the campus ministries from the Archdiocese of Newark for Mass and Adoration. This month, we're hosting it here at the Newman Center at MSU - on the day of the MARCH FOR LIFE. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012717.cfm
Thanks for reading, sharing and your feedback! Fr Jim
Not too long ago, there was an attempt by a group of Christians to kind of update the New Testament - using modern day language or more contemporary images in a somewhat understandable even noble pursuit to try to make the scriptures more relatable to modern day audiences and contemporary readers. There’s multitudes of reasons why this well intentioned pursuit was (and remains) doomed to fail. But I can’t help but appreciate the reasons why these authors, writers and preachers tried in the first place.
For example, reading tonight’s Gospel, my initial reaction was “great - seeds - farming again...” For most of us here in New Jersey - I doubt the imagery really speak to us, to our experiences. For most of us if we have any experience with “gardening” it’s that we have a few plants around our homes. I would suspect a great majority do what I do: go to Home Depot, purchase already growing plants, follow the nice little 3 or 4 step guide on the side “DIG HOLE, DROP PLANT IN HOLE, PUT DIRT AROUND, WATER...” And somehow boast at how beautifully our house or garden looks... proudly share tomatoes “from MY Garden”.
We’re far too busy, far too impatient to actually do the frustratingly long, involved, slow process of trying of growing something from seeds. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons that Gospel passages like today kind of fall on deaf ears or we zone out thinking about something else. And so the temptation to try to come up with something relatable comes to mind “the Kingdom of God is like snap-chat... “ (No... No it’s not... #NeverSnapChat) That demonstrates us trying to make Jesus fit into our world our lives - rather than the other way around. Letting our lives be shaped by Jesus; transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. And the more you think about how messed up our world is, how distracting our lives can be – why would we even want to do that in the first place?
Thinking about this Gospel again, and coming from an Italian family, I started to think about how my great grandmother and my grandparents and their siblings (who lived in Nutley and Lodi when I was growing up) used to have huge gardens - zucchini, tomato, basil, grapes (yes, homemade wine) - as well as flowers.
To this day, I can remember in the fall having to plant bulbs out in the backyard and covering them with branches and stuff so grandma’s tulips would come up in the Spring. Or even better, I can remember some of my older relatives teaching me how to take a dead marigold flower, break open the flower and get the seeds from it, put it out in the sun for a day to dry the seeds out, and then planting them.... As a little kid, I remember planting them and two days later going back to look to see if anything came up.
There was a sense of pride and excitement about that... And it’s sad for me to realize that I doubt I would have the patience to do that today. Just thinking about it, truth be told, I don’t have to doubt that I would have the patience... I know I don’t have the patience... And I know if I did push myself to do this, I’d probably be frustrated driving past Home Depot and seeing how much nicer, fuller, and so much easier it would be to simply pick up one of their pre-planting plants and drop it into the ground (or even better, pay the landscaper to do it, and run to the supermarket on those rare days I want to have fruit or vegetables. Heck, you can go to the store and even buy fruit and vegetables cleaned, cut up and ready to eat)
The thing that strikes me with all of this is that it’s not about plants or seeds or gardens. Because don’t we in the sense think the same thing about our faith lives? About our relationship with Jesus. All of us being here together on a Friday night for Mass and Adoration - it’s a beautiful thing. But isn’t there at least some part of ourselves that kind of looks at it like going to the gas station, expecting to fill up on Jesus, get some grace and then just kind of pull out of here and hope that somehow that protects us, keeps us going as we simply go about our “real” lives? Rather than truly letting Christ take root in our lives, letting that change us as we go about changing that “real” world?
What Jesus is telling us in these images these parables is that being faithful people is hard work. It requires patience, perseverance. It’s not neatly packed or easily maintained. And it’s a daunting task.
Our personal faith lives, for most of us, began before we even knew how to talk, walk, sit up. Our families made the decision to share the seed of Christ and we’re told it was up to them to keep that growing within us, till we were ready to take over... We probably are tempted to think that some did it better than others, but you know what, that’s unhelpful. We’re here. We’re here now. So the different gardeners that helped along the way simply deserve our thanks, our love - and our prayers of appreciation. And now we’ve been charged to continue that hard work of lovingly caring for that faith life. To notice the weeds and extricate them (i.e Confession) - to make sure we’re nurturing that faith life through prayer - and through continuing to grow - by how we let this faith life of ours continue to spread to others.
Not to simply go out and expect that I’m going to bring a friend to Mass this Sunday and they’re going to want to be Christian. That’s the Home Depot-garden approach to Christianity. The harder, more challenging task of continuing to nurture my own faith life and at the same time, to be loving to others.... to be a witness to others... to be an example, even in my failures, of someone who is simply here by God’s grace and sustained by it as well. That takes time, that takes effort. It takes persistence and perseverance.
And in our day and age, it takes courage. Looking at the hundreds of thousands of people who descended on Washington DC today in the March for Life to witness to the sacredness of life - when others wish to ignore that as simply a “hot button issue” that is too divisive to discuss... Who have marched for decades as others try to ignore them, minimize them and hope to outshout them... Who day in and day out try to create a culture for life with homes for crisis pregnancies, adoption agencies, health care services when others advocate and fund abortion mills under the most deceptive of names, corrupting the word Parenthood with something that is far from it...
It’s hard to be pro life.
It’s hard to be Christian. It is much easier to be discouraged and give up. But when we look at the examples of faithful people... we see how they haven’t given up we see their efforts and are inspired by their stories. We see how Jesus works with and through the persistence and perseverance of his faithful people in trying to eradicate a moral evil that has plagued our nation for as long as I’ve been alive.
As Catholic Christians, we know that is just one example, one evil that plagues us. There’s countless others that we can all think of... Personally... locally... globally. There are threats as there has been since the day Adam and Eve first listened to Satan’s voice instead of the voice of God their loving Creator. And humanity continues to fall for the same temptation, continues to struggle. The Good News is that Jesus has saved us and redeemed us. He calls us to be his faithful gardeners in His Kingdom. May you and I not grow weary, discouraged, disillusioned in that long, hard, challenging but life-giving, both now and for all eternity, work that Jesus has entrusted us with...