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Homily for Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Dear friends. I love this time of year; the long evenings, the beginning of the summer and the whole countryside bursting with new life. As we watch the leaves on the trees grow and the corn in the fields grow taller almost by the day, it is a source of awe and wonder of how the spirit of God is at work in his created world. At times we humans might think that we are at the centre of everything or that our problems are all that matter. The truth is that we are a tiny part of a magnificent enterprise that is God’s creation that is alive and breathing with his Spirit.

In the Gospel today, this is precisely the message that Jesus wishes to communicate with the familiar parable of the sower. ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps and when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how he does not know. Of its own accord, the land produces first the shoot, then the ear and then the full grain in the ear’. Jesus’ message is clear: we can sow the seed but it is God who grants the increase and brings to fruition the seed that was sown. St Paul repeats this teaching when he wrote to the Corinthians about his own work: ‘I planted, Apollo watered but God granted the increase’ (1 Cor. 3:6).

What does this teaching mean for us today? It means, to quote Mother Theresa, it is much more important to be faithful than to be successful. We all like to see the fruit of our work, to know that what we do makes a difference and to be successful. But we must not try too hard as if we, not God, are the ones who make our lives fruitful. What Jesus is emphasising is that God’s action is always at work in the world and while we have a crucial role, ultimately it doesn’t all depend on us. When we are faithful to God’s word and his grace and live each day according to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit then God can do great things with our witness that can bear fruit long after we are dead and gone.

A few examples to illustrate the point, beginning with Jesus himself. He never wrote a book, he never held an office, he never went to college, he never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things usually associated with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. At 33 years of age he was tortured and was killed on a cross and died as an utter failure, or so it seemed. Yet nineteen centuries have come and gone and today the seed that was the life of Christ crucified, is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned put together, have not affected the life of humankind on earth as powerfully as that one solitary life.

Look at the life of St Francis of Assisi. He never intended to form a new religious order. All he wanted was to live the Gospel fully and radically in solidarity with the poor. Today, there are thousands of Franciscan brothers, priests and sisters around the world; there are millions of people who visit Assisi every year and continue to be inspired by the amazing life of St Francis. We see something similar in the life of Mother Theresa. Little did she know that her first house of charity for the poor of Calcutta would be the first of hundreds that would appear all over the world within her own lifetime. Similarly, little did Bill Wilson know that when he met with fellow alcoholics in America to discuss how best to free themselves from that terrible addiction, that Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve-Step programme would become the template used all over the world to help millions of people beat the drink.

And so friends, never doubt what God can do. Our faith is not an ideology or social system that depends on human action alone. Never allow yourself to be determined by what appears only in the present but live with a confidence that once we are faithful to God, then he will make the seeds grow and bear fruit. Yes, we are called to be responsible and active in making the world a better place but not to such an extent that God is excluded or no room is left for his initiative and action.

I conclude with words from a man who will be canonised a saint in October this year – Blessed Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador who was murdered on 24th March 1980. 38 years after his death, the words and witness of Oscar Romero have become a beacon of hope for South America and for the whole world. Shortly before his death he wrote a beautiful reflection entitled ‘Prophets of a Future not our own’.

‘It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master-builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own’.

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