Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 July 2011
My dear friends,
“Let them both grow till the harvest”.
St. Augustine of Hippo was a hugely influential figure in the Church of his time. He was born in 354AD and grew up in what is now Algeria. He was brought up a Christian by his mother Monica and at sixteen he moved to Carthage to complete his education. He got involved with a young woman and had a much-loved son by her called Adeodatus. Augustine later moved to Europe where he took up teaching posts first in Rome and then in Milan.
He was torn between the prospect of worldly success and marriage on the one hand and on the other dedicating himself fully to God. He finally chose God. He was baptised at this point together with his son and moved back to Africa. There he set up a community, was ordained priest and soon was appointed Bishop of Hippo. He carried this responsibility with great care and understanding for the remaining
thirty-four years of his life. He wrote many books, letters and sermons which were to influence the thinking of the Western Church for centuries to come.
We sometimes have a rather machine-like notion of God. We think of God punishing or rewarding us rather like a spiritual slot-machine. Good is good and evil is evil and don’t confuse the two. But then life is not neatly divided like this. It is much messier than that and the parables in to-day’s Gospel reflect the way God works with us in the midst of our uncertainty and doubt.
In these parables of the kingdom we are given a picture of God gradually transforming us from within. He allows good and evil to coexist in us and waits patiently for the mysterious growth that occurs just as in the life cycle of seeds and the miraculous expansion of yeast in dough. The Lord coaxes us to turn to him but he is not impatient. He gives us time to develop all the skills and talents he has endowed us with so as to use them on his behalf.
Sometimes we act as if we have been created in total perfection and see the main aim of living as to avoid falling away from this pinnacle in any way. A great disservice was done to the Church by putting priests on that kind of platform and sainting them. A different reality was obvious to any observer seeing through normal vision. The apostles chosen by Jesus Christ to continue his work and the priests who followed in their footsteps were clearly made of the same clay as everyone else even as they aspired to imitating their master.
If we think of ourselves as being created in total perfection we will probably live in constant fear of doing wrong or not measuring up to the high standards of our calling. The patterns of life and God’s own expectations work differently. We are certainly created in the image and likeness of God but as we grow we will at times grow straight and true and at times veer off at a tangent. This can be painful and uncertain. It will certainly involve great changes in us, physically, mentally and spiritually.
The seed breaks open its kernel and goes through a variety of transformations until it reaches its full growth. In the yeast a vigorous fermentation takes place as it expands the dough or turns grape juice into wine. We ourselves undergo bewildering changes as we try to discern what we are called to be and to do with our lives. God waits patiently for this to happen for God has given us the gift of our freedom which allows us to stray as well as to grow true. When we find ourselves at our most erratic it may help us to remember that God can write straight on crooked lines.
For those who have a strong sense of belonging to and a deep affection for their Church these are difficult times. The earthly reapers have sharpened their blades and shown little mercy. The victims of abuse are understandably hurting deeply and finding it difficult to cope with the poison which has been forced on them and blighted their growth. We can only offer whatever inadequate help is at our disposal as an antidote to this poison. We can certainly endeavour to muster all our resources to seek to ensure that the mistakes and sins of the past will not be allowed to bring blight on the future.
Augustine himself, after many dissolute years, eventually changed his ways to the point where he was deemed worthy of being sainted. In his autobiography, he admitted that one of the major factors in this turnaround was his mother’s tears. We pray that our own tears will help bring a similar healing to our times and we leave it to God himself who “lets them both grow till harvest”, – we will leave it to Him, the life-giver and final judge, to effect the healing and to sort out the harvest.
+Liam S. MacDaid