Friday January 31, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 10:32-39) Gospel (St. Mark 4:26-34)
In the first reading, Saint Paul tells us that first we need to have endurance to do the Will of God and to receive what He has promised and that endurance is going to be tested; God is going to find out if we are going to be faithful, if we are going to endure and he tells us, We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life. Now when we look at the parable Jesus uses in the Gospel reading today, He talks about the mustard seed: the smallest of seeds, but when it is planted it grows to become the largest of shrubs; or the seed that is planted in the ground and the farmer knows not how it happens that the wheat comes up, but he watches night and day: First it springs up, then it has the ear, and then finally the wheat within the ear. So we see that, day after day and night after night, the farmer has to watch as the plant grows little by little, waiting for the time when the harvest is ripe. Or the person who plants the mustard seed and puts a tiny little seed in the ground, but before it will be full-grown, has to wait for quite a while. The same is true within each one of us. If you think about that mustard shrub, because it is not going to become fully grown in one season like the wheat will, it is going to have to endure the drought of the summertime in Israel and it will have to endure also the rainy season when it will be almost flooded out; it will have to survive all of those difficult times.
Saint Paul also tells these people that they have endured a great contest of suffering. They were publicly exposed to abuse and to affliction. They at other times associated themselves with others who were being so treated. They joined the sufferings of those in prison and even accepted joyfully the confiscation of their property. This is the exact same kind of thing that Our Lord is speaking of in the Gospel. There are seasons of drought. There are seasons where we feel like we are being flooded. There are other seasons where we grow rather peacefully. And through it all, we grow stronger and we demonstrate our endurance. If we were not going to be able to endure, we would have died in the drought or we would have died in the flood. But it is only those plants that are able to survive those difficult times that are going to be strong and healthy to be able to survive for the long run, to be among those that do not draw back and perish, but rather among those who have faith and possess life.
That is the way we need to be. The Lord allows these various trials to test us, to strengthen us, to prove us in what it is that we are about. He has planted that seed of faith within us, and it is growing in a way that we do not understand through all the difficulties and trials of life, as well as in the good times. It is an interesting thing for us that some people in the midst of difficulties turn to God in prayer; and some people in the midst of difficulties fall away from God. Some people, when everything is going well, set up a good prayer life; and other people, when everything is going well, think that they do not need God anymore and they stop praying. And so God allows both in our lives in order to help us to know our own weaknesses, in order that that seed is going to grow in good times and in bad times so that our faith will endure, that it will continue to grow stronger in a way that we do not understand.
Just like the farmer did not understand how the seed was going to grow and how the land was going to produce the fruit, we do not understand how God is going to be working in our soul. What we do know is that He is at work and that seed of faith is growing; it may not yet be fully ripe, but it is growing, it is developing, it is ripening and it is happening the way that God chooses for it to happen. What we need is to remain faithful, to endure in the good times as well as in the difficult times, to not pull back no matter what happens to us but to remain faithful to the Lord, to accept the afflictions and the sufferings even joyfully, as Saint Paul says because our sights should be focused somewhere else, that is, on the glory of Heaven to which we are called, which is assured by our faith. But that faith needs to be demonstrated, and it is demonstrated only through the struggles, the trials, and the tribulations of this life.
As we go through the various difficulties of life, that is what we need to keep in mind: that these things are there happening to us for a purpose in order to show that faith, to demonstrate it, to test it, and to prove it so that we will be able to be confident on the Day of Judgment knowing that we have survived the period of trial and that we have remained faithful. That is what Saint Paul was able to say at the end of his life, and if we remain faithful, we too will be able to say it at the end of our lives: that we have remained faithful, that we have not drawn back, that we have not perished, but rather that we are among those who have faith and will possess eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.