11th Sunday Year B - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2012

I know that a lot of you are concerned that your children and grandchildren no longer get along to Mass much, if they go at all. You can feel guilty, wondering if it was your fault, and asking yourselves if you could or should have done more.

I suppose that the reality is that none of us is perfect. I have not been a perfect priest; you have not been perfect parents. But even if not perfect, we have at least tried; and possibly are no less perfect than our parents or mentors were before us. Even if we were perfect, the powerful influences of the culture we live in inevitably affect every generation. Anyhow, God has long ago factored our human imperfection into the equation, and is perfectly able to cope with our inadequacies.

Things are certainly changing in the Church. Numbers have dropped noticeably, for a variety of reasons – some quite understandable. The Church itself is seen by some as a scandal.

Confronted by what is happening, we can feel powerless, perhaps, dispirited, certainly saddened and often hurting. Thank God, the Kingdom of God is not the Church [though it is the Church's purpose to announce and to celebrate the Kingdom].

You can see the Church. You can measure and count it. You can see who belongs, who is toeing the line, who is keeping the rules and who is following the party line.

The Kingdom, however, is less tangible. The Kingdom primarily happens in people's hearts; and what happens in people's hearts translates into how we live, how we relate to each other, how we live together in society and even in the Church. The Kingdom is primarily about loving; and loving presupposes working for justice, for reconciliation and peace. The energy enabling and empowering the Kingdom is God's love for the world and God's burning desire to save people and nations from their mutual destructiveness and violence.

Jesus' overarching concern was the Kingdom. He was interested in Church only as the instrument missioned to announce the Kingdom and to identify and support its presence and its continuing consolidation.

Perhaps the important question, then, is: How is the Kingdom going? Statistics are of little help in approaching that question. Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who are no longer all that active in the Church and who are rarely at Mass, and others who have never belonged to the Church, who, as far as we can see, are still wonderful people, living the Kingdom, even if they are not consciously aware that that is what they are doing. We see them working for justice, reaching out to others, serving the community, caring for their families, and consciously striving for reconciliation and for peace. 

Today's parables throw helpful light on our present situation.  According to the first parable of the sower and the seed, when it comes to the Kingdom, God is the life-source, the one who enables. Like the farmer, we are not in control – though we do need to cooperate. As the second parable about the mustard-seed put it, we may not look much at any given moment and our prospects may not be promising. But the life-giving God is there, is always there, able and likely to do the totally unexpected.

As I reflect today on the parables, the message that comes to me is that I am always to do my bit, but I need to let go of the feeling that I can and must control outcomes. Outcomes can be safely left to God. As Jesus died hanging abandoned on the cross, he had few outcomes to show for all his labours; yet he was able to surrender to death, leaving the outcomes in the hands of his irrepressible, life-enabling Father.

Confronted with what is happening today in the Church and the world, my task is to remain as committed as ever, but to sit lightly with results. To do so peacefully involves real and continuing detachment. At the same time, I believe that it is also important to remain always hope-filled, basing that hope not on any desperate optimism but on the faithfulness and power of God.

In the meantime, it helps to learn to recognise the signs of the Kingdom, and to rejoice in the obvious goodness of so many people, who are such not necessarily because of the Church [sometimes, even, in spite of it], but because of the determined and constant love of God for us and for this world of ours.