HOMILY ILLUSTRATIONSFR TONY'S COMMENTARYHOMILIES FOR CHILDREN

11th Sunday of Year B

THE TINY SEED RITA RIZZO PLANTED

You probably don’t recognize the name, Rita Antoinette Rizzo. Rita was born on April 20, 1923. She had a rough childhood which she spent mostly in poverty. When she was a young woman, Rita decided to become a nun. At 21 she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a Franciscan religious order for women.

She believed that God was calling her into television ministry. At the time she didn’t know anything about television except how to turn one on. But she prayed about it and decided to go ahead with the project, believing that everything would fall into place. With only two hundred dollars and a handful of other Sisters, she became the only woman in religious broadcasting to own a network.

She went on to found a new house for the order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama, where the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), is headquartered.

In 1996 she initiated the building of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. This Sister, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, although she died, semi-paralyzed and unable to communicate, is seen by millions of people on her prerecorded twice-weekly program, Mother Angelica Live.

Her network, EWTN, is available 24 hours a day everywhere in the world. Visitors to the EWTN complex in Irondale, Alabama or the Shrine in Hanceville, cannot help but be impressed with what God has accomplished using this little nun – a monastery, network facilities complete with satellite dish, a print shop and a Chapel.

Whoever would have thought that Rita Rizzo, coming from an impoverished background, and starting on her own with only a few hundred dollars, could reach out and help millions of people to learn and appreciate their Faith? Whoever would have thought that such a tiny seed would become such a large shrub? That is the way the kingdom of God works.

AN OAK TREE OR SQUASH?

A Community’s Farewell to its Ancient Great Oak. – A historic 600-year-old great oak tree was cut down at the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church. The iconic tree was believed to have been the oldest in the nation and was the centerpiece of the community. While the loss of the tree was emotional for many, there was a silver lining to this story. The offspring of that ancient tree was planted at the church.

PREACHING ANECDOTES:  James A. Garfield, prior to serving as President of the United States, was president of Hiram College in Ohio. One day a father asked Garfield if there were a short-cut whereby his son could get through college in less than the usual four years. He wanted his son to get on with making money.

The college president gave this reply,

“Of course there is a way; it all depends on what you want your boy to do. When God wants to grow an oak tree, he takes 100 years. When he wants to make a squash, he only takes two months.”

[Emphasis (Lima, Ohio: The C.S.S. Publishing company, Inc., June 1982), page 27.]

DIARY OF PRIVATE MARTIN TREPTOW

At Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the President read for us an entry from the diary of Private Martin Treptow. We were ready to hear such energetic words. Private Treptow was an obscure World War I hero. The new President read this entry from his journal:

“America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure. I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended upon me.”

MEGA-MALLS, MEGA-CHURCHES and MEGA-STORMS IN CONTRAST TO TINY MUSTARD SEEDS

In a popular culture consumed with other worldly avatars, Apacolyptic prophecies, and giant transforming robots, how did a 83 year old drama about a small town in New Hampshire, filled with average people living unremarkable lives, become America’s most produced play?

Part of the reason we get discouraged is that we are victims of bigness. Cities vie with each other to claim the greatest growth and the fanciest entertainments. Corporations are proud when their company occupies the tallest building in the city. Every day we read in our newspapers about famous people doing famous things. We have mega-malls, mega-churches, and mega-storms.

In contrast, Jesus spoke of the importance of small things: a mustard seed, a cup of cold water, a widow’s mite, a kindness done to the least of people. Jesus knows what we too often forget: the size of the bush and the healthy spread of the branches depend on the vitality of the seed.

When it comes to the seed of the Kingdom of God, Jesus speaks of it with an unshakable confidence, hands holding the future – and the seed, and you. That’s how much God trusts you to go on planting the seeds: a mother’s prayer, a father’s encouragement, a little girl’s joy, a young boy’s imagination, a Vacation Bible School teacher.

That’s how much Jesus trusts God to bring in the harvest. Just keep planting the seeds of the kingdom, leaving the outcome in God’s hands.

“A SEED HERE, A SEED THERE…”

In the movie, Oh, God! God, in the person of George Burns, has prevailed on Jerry, (John Denver), the assistant manager of a supermarket, to carry God’s message to the world. Toward the end of the film, Jerry is lamenting to God that nobody seems to be listening to the message. He tells God that he thinks that they have failed. But God doesn’t see it that way.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” God says. “You never know; a seed here, a seed there, something will catch hold and grow.”

LIFE MESSAGE FROM FR. TONY

AVOID GETTING DISCOURAGED

Since the acceptance God’s rule by human beings is a very slow process, there is the danger of discouragement and hopelessness among preachers, evangelizers, and believers. The conviction that the growth of the Kingdom of God is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our humble cooperation, should make us optimistic in continuing our work of bearing witness to Him. We can all plant tiny seeds in the form of words of love, acts of encouragement, and deeds of charity, mercy and forgiveness. Parents and teachers can plant a lot of seeds in the minds of their children and students. The Holy Spirit will touch the hearts of the recipients of these seeds sown by us and He will effect the growth of the kingdom in their souls and lives. As the apostle Paul once said of his ministry, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Fr. Tony’s 8-minute Homily in 1 page

AN ACTION SO SWEET AND SIMPLE

The seeds may be little acts of kindness which take root and bear fruit. Oscar Wilde tells of an incident that had profound meaning for his life. He was being brought down from his prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen, when he saw an old acquaintance waiting in the crowd.

“He performed an action so sweet and simple that it has remained with me ever since,” wrote Wilde. “He simply raised his hat to me and gave me the kindest smile that I have ever received as I passed by, handcuffed and with bowed head. Men have gone to Heaven for smaller things than that. It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love, that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor or stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek. I have never said one single word to him about what he did … I store it in the treasure-house of my heart … That small bit of kindness brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world.”

We plant the littlest of seeds and it helps the Kingdom to grow. You never know. You never know how something you or I do will affect someone else. The funny thing is that we might not even think that what we did was all that important, but to another person it could have made a world of difference. Jesus taught us that the Kingdom of God is like that: seeds are scattered on the ground and the very tiniest of seeds produces an enormous harvest.

FAMILIES WHO PRAY IN RESTAURANTS

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? An atheist harasses a Christian family for praying in public before eating their meal.

In a restaurant, a family of five bowed their heads in prayer before beginning to eat. One of the children, a girl of about ten, expressed thanks for the entire family in a hushed voice, her head bobbing expressively.

A few moments later a couple, on their way to pay their check, paused at the family’s table.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anyone do that,” said the man, extending his hand to the father.

The father smiled and replied, “It was strange at first, but we always express thanks at home before we eat. The children continued it when we went to restaurants, so we just went along with it, and now it’s our way.”

The woman who had come up to the table patted the little girl on the shoulder and obviously touched, looked at the mother and said, “Don’t ever stop. It means a lot to those around you.”

It seems like such a little thing, but it was a witness. The seeds of the Kingdom are little, and we are called to scatter them.

SEEDS OF LIBERATION

 “The Rosa Parks Story” aired on CBS Television on February 24, 2002. This is a clip of the ARREST SCENE.

In December of 1955, an Afro- American seamstress by the name of Rosa Parks stepped into a crowded, segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama and sat in an empty seat reserved for whites. When the bus driver ordered Rosa Parks to move, she said, “No.” She was then arrested, handcuffed, and jailed. This incident triggered the Civil Rights Movement.

Under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr., a bus boycott and other non-violent demonstrations were organized that eventually led to the abolition of racial segregation laws in transportation, housing, schools, restaurants, and other areas.

When Rosa Parks said a simple “No” to a startled bus driver, she started something far more significant than anyone could possibly have imagined in 1955. At a freedom Festival in 1965 she was introduced as the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement.

This story about Rosa Parks and the plight of her Afro-American brothers and sisters is very similar to the situation of God’s people in today’s readings. Both the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel and the New Testament evangelist Mark are writing for a persecuted community, a people who are outnumbered and oppressed by their pagan neighbors. [Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho.]

MASTERPIECES COME FROM THE SMALLEST OF BEGINNINGS

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VIDEO: Watch a sculpted portrait come to life in this mesmerizing short from production company Eyes & Ears.

Someone has noted that masterpieces come from the smallest beginnings. From eight notes come every hymn, song, and symphony ever composed. Arguably the greatest piece of music ever written is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – all of it from eight notes. All Western literature is born from the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. From them came the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

GOLDEN BANTAM YELLOW CORN

You’ve nurtured your corn, from when it was a mere seed, to it now being over 6ft tall. It’s got ears of corn and they are looking fat and just about ready to harvest; but how do you know when the real right time to harvest your corn is? Join me as I share with you my tips for knowing when the right time to harvest your corn is.

In the Midwest, they plant more corn than mustard seed. One variety of corn is called Golden Bantam. Apparently, all the Golden Bantam corn in this country came from one stalk discovered on a Vermont hillside. How it got there is anybody’s guess. But appreciating its special qualities, the person who discovered it carefully preserved its seed and planted it year after year. Now it is available to the whole world.

That’s how the Kingdom of God works. There are some things that are certain. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is one of them. Our job is to plant the seeds of the Kingdom and then trust God to bring in the harvest. Trust is a helpful ingredient. If we have it, we can go to bed and sleep well. Columbus had it. When he set sail, there was a group of people gathered to watch him leave the harbor. They were probably saying it was anybody’s guess whether he would find anything out there besides scary storms and fish and boring food. Columbus had just enough evidence to trust that India was out there, waiting, and to risk everything to find it.

WHO GOVERNS THE CHURCH?

Pope John XXIII was one of the great leaders of the last century. Someone said that he ended his prayers each night by saying to himself, “But who governs the Church, Angelo? You or the Holy Spirit? Very well then, sleep well, Angelo.”

Small Things Can Make a Big Difference.

BE PATIENT: PEOPLE GROW AND MATURE AT DIFFERENT RATES

Thomas Edison’s teacher said he could never amount to anything and advised his mother to take him out of school.

Winston Churchill was admitted to school in the lowest level classes and never moved out of the lowest group in all the years he attended Harrow.

Albert Einstein seemed so slow and dull that his parents feared that he was mentally deficient.

One observer has said, “Great minds and high talent, in most cases, cannot be hurried and, like healthy plants, grow slowly.”

It is so with God’s Kingdom. We scatter the seed, but we are not ultimately responsible for its growth. We cannot make things happen. The process by which the kingdom of this world becomes the Kingdom of God proceeds very slowly, and that exasperates us. But, at the same time, if we have faithfully scattered the seed, we are not to blame for its failure to appear in its fullness. We are being cautioned, in these words of Jesus, to be patient.

“ANYTHING NEW?”

On the one hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, John McCutcheon drew a famous cartoon. He showed two Kentucky backwoodsmen standing at the edge of a wood in the winter. One asks the other, “Anything new?” The other man replies, “Nothing much. Oh, there’s a new baby over at Tom Lincoln’s. But you know, nothing significant ever happens around here.”

Centuries before that someone might have asked in Bethlehem, “Anything new?” And the answer might have been, “No, nothing new. Oh, they say a woman named Mary had a baby in a stable last night. But nothing significant ever happens around here.”

And when that Child grew up and taught, it was about little things: salt, a cup of cold water, a fallen sparrow, a widow’s offering, a lost coin, kindness done for “one of the least of these.” So many of the greatest happenings begin in just such a fashion. They are no more than the planting of a mustard seed. Yet, in God’s good time, the seed becomes a plant and puts forth its branches for the benefit of all.

“I DO NOT SELL FINISHED PRODUCTS HERE, ONLY SEEDS!”

A man walked into a store. To his great surprise he found Christ behind the counter. He asked, “What do you sell here?” Christ replied, “You name it.” “I want food for all, good health for kids, adequate housing for everyone, and abortion to cease.” Gently Jesus answered,

“Friend, I do not sell finished products here, only seeds. You must plant them and water them. I will do the rest.” (Fr. James Gilhooley).

NO ONE SHOULD SAY, I CANNOT BE USED

An old song says, “If you can use anything Lord, you can use me.” And old litany says, The next time you think God can’t use you, remember:

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses was murderer and had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer

Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt and was depressed
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zacchaeus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer.
Lazarus was dead!

No excuses then — God chooses the weak and makes them strong!

View More Homily Starter Anecdotes compiled by Fr. Tony

11th Sunday of Year B

Fr. Tony’s 8-minute Homily in 1 page

Today’s readings are about the birth and growth of the reign or rule of God (Kingdom of God), in our human lives and about the gigantic growth of the Church from very humble beginnings. Both growths are slow and mysterious, guided by the power of the Holy Spirit.

FIRST READING

First Reading – Ez 17:22-24

Ezekiel’s cedar tree: source of Jesus’ mustard shrub

According to Dr. Reginald Fuller, together with the more usually cited Daniel 4:10, 20-21, Ezekiel’s allegory of the cedar tree is a source of the imagery of the mustard shrub in the Gospel reading. The cedar stands for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the exile. The shoot or twig (see Isa 11:1) refers to a descendant of Jehoiachin, the last Davidic king before the exile. In this reading, Ezekiel prophesies the better days coming for the Chosen People, when Yahweh will take back His people once more and dwell in their midst forever and transplant the exiled people of Israel, returning them to the land of their fathers. Today’s extract is also a Messianic prophecy in which God says that He will raise up a descendant –- a sprig from the lofty cedar, David — who will, nevertheless, be the glory of Israel.

As Jesus describes the ordinary mustard shrub, grown into a size large enough so that “the birds of the air can make nests in its branches,” the words echo a similar description found in the first reading (Ez 17:22-23). In Ezekiel’s text, however, the Divinely rooted plant is a towering, noble cedar—-a tad more imposing than a mustard bush, no matter how large! In that cedar, “every kind of bird will live,” an image used in Ezekiel and in other Old Testament texts (see Ps 104:12; Ez 31:6; Dn 4:9-21), to suggest the future inclusion of the Gentile nations in God’s eternal plan.

Cedar/Mustard Imagery and Jesus’ Ministry

Jesus’ use of a mustard plant instead of a great cedar continues the image of humble beginnings for the great power that is to come. Mark’s community would have recognized the mustard plant as appropriate for Jesus’ own earthly ministry. The Messiah came as an itinerant teacher/rabbi who gathered a few ordinary people as close disciples.

Jesus’ Incarnational presence was like that of a mustard plant, not an imposing cedar. He was not a Messiah of towering strength with great political, financial and military power. Yet the Divinely-ordained growth of that small beginning resulted in the same kind of exponential growth and presence—inviting all the “birds of the air” to make their nests within its branches.

  • The first parable emphasizes that the farmer can do nothing to produce or hasten the end of the growth process,
  • The second emphasizes exclusively the contrast between the small beginnings and the final consummation.
SECOND READING

Second Reading – 2 Cor 5:6-10

St Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that his constant desire and motive in his earthly life is, and in his Heavenly life will be, to please God. In this, he wants them to imitate him. The main reason Paul strives to please Christ is the prospect of appearing before His judgment seat (2 Cor 5:10).


What we believe about the future should affect our lives today.

The knowledge that Paul possesses an eternal house in Heaven allows him to have a positive attitude toward life’s adversities. Paul’s cheerfulness stems in part from knowing that as long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. Death for him is not an enemy but a friend. This is because death, or being away from the body, means being at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).


For Paul, to “live by Faith” is to walk in the realm of Faith

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Paul teaches that the Divine Judgment is a certainty, not an option. Nor is this Judgment to be taken lightly. Paul’s intention is to remind the Corinthians that all those who serve Christ will have to give an account of what they have accomplished for the Lord, not of how they have increased their own reputation ( 2 Cor 5:12). Even the Corinthians are not exempt from this Divine scrutiny and assessment.


How will we be judged?

According to Paul, we are to receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. It is not clear here whether this judgment will occur at death or at the Parousia. Paul does not say one way or the other.

GOSPEL READING

Gospel Reading – Mark 4:26-24

Context: Jesus’ disciples were feeling discouraged

Sure, crowds were gathering to hear their teacher, but there was little evidence of progress and a lot of evidence of resistance. Jesus had been talking about the Kingdom of God, the time when God’s reign would be manifest upon the earth, and people would live in conformity to God’s will. It was apparent that this wasn’t happening then.

It would be even more difficult at the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry for these close disciples to believe that the Kingdom of God had come any closer to being a reality. They would be a small, discouraged group of fugitives without a leader. Now was the time to provide them with a message that would give them hope in times of discouragement and sustain them in the face of future persecution.

Hence, Jesus told them the parable of the mustard seed. His words have a message, not only for the apostles, but for us as well. The first parable concludes with an allusion to Joel 4:13; the harvest is the Day of Judgment


The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God for Pharisees was the absolute observance of the Mosaic Law. The Zealots saw it as a political state established by force of arms with God as Supreme Ruler. The Essenes, despairing of the society of their day, imagined the Kingdom of God as heralding the end of the world, and so they withdrew to Qumran and elsewhere, in the Dead Sea wilderness, to await its coming.

Jesus proclaimed this Kingdom as God’s rule in human lives begun here on earth and completed in Heaven. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of is not only the afterlife but life here and now; it is the way God wants the world to be.


Intro to the kingdom (or seed) parables

Jesus’ Kingdom parables in today’s Gospel point to the Kingdom as a Divine act rather than a human accomplishment. They call on man to be patient with the delay of the Kingdom in coming. They are called “Kingdom parables” because they announce, “the Kingdom of God is like . . .”

Chapter 4 of Mark

  • 1st parable: Parable of the sower
  • 2nd parable: the parable of the harvest (Mark 4:26-29). Here, Jesus describes the farmer planting the seed and harvesting the crop, but not even knowing how the seed secretly sprouts and grows.
  • 3rd parable is the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32).

The consistent factors in all three parables of response in Mark 4 are: the word of God is like a seed; God alone can give the growth; and great growth is possible in God’s Kingdom. We are called to do what we can do — plant and nurture. God will do what only God can do — produce the growth.

In TODAY’S GOSPEL (the 2nd and the 3rd parables), the comparisons Jesus makes are startling in their simplicity. The kingdom of God, the great future presence of the Divine, is likened to a small seed, a dried-up kernel of potential. But the actual development, from seed to stalk to ripened grain, occurs outside any influence of the sower. The grain’s growth occurs “by itself” without any observable cause. This Divinely-ordered growth gradually brings the small seeds to fully ripened grain heads, ready for harvest. The Kingdom that grows to full fruition under God’s power will be ready for its completion and fulfillment at the moment determined by God for judgment.


Parable of the Mustard Seed

The Parable of the Mustard Seed was taught in rhetorical hyperbole because the largest of mustard plants, even under ideal conditions, can grow only to a height of about 15 feet. (Petunia, the Begonia and Orchid seeds are smaller seeds. But the white mustard species grew to ten or twelve feet with a stem the size of a man’s arm! This was well known in Israel). A tree, whose large branches offer a sanctuary for birds, was a familiar Old Testament symbol for a mighty Kingdom which would give shelter to the nations.

The tiny mustard seed, growing to be a tree, symbolizes Jesus’ offer of refuge and life in God’s Kingdom. Here, Jesus uses a shrub coming from a tiny seed (Jn 12:24), to represent Kingdom growth, consistent with other tree/Kingdom references (Ez 17:23 and Dn 4:11-21). While the first Kingdom parable  is found only in Mark, the second comparison Jesus makes concerning the Kingdom, the parable of the mustard seed, is found also in Mt 13:31-32, Lk 13:18-19, and the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas (20).


The Mystery of Growth

The picture painted in the Parable of the Mustard Seed by Jesus is of the humble beginnings of the Church experiencing an explosive rate of growth. While growth itself was the primary focus of the first seed parable, the mustard seed comparison emphasizes the contrast between tiny beginnings and tremendous endings.

Only Mark records the parable of the seed’s growth. Using the mini-parables of the growth of wheat seeds and mustard seeds in the field, Jesus explains the nature of the growth of the Kingdom of God or the rule of God in human beings and human societies.

In the case of both wheat and mustard seeds:

  • The initial growth is slow, mysterious and unnoticeable. But within days, a leafy shoot will emerge, and within months, a mature plant with numerous branches and leaves, flowers and fruits will be produced.
  • The growth is silent and slow but steady, using power from the seed in the beginning and transforming absorbed water and minerals in the later stages.

Growth doesn’t take place because of our understandings or manipulations. It is God’s initiative that brings forth growth. We need to be patient and not give up, because sometimes growth takes longer than we expect. God works in ways we don’t understand.


The Message of the Parable

The reign of God will grow to its fullness, despite all obstacles. In those who accept Jesus as their God and Savior, the Will of God will also be accepted in all areas of their lives with the help of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them.

The Church of Jesus Christ had a tiny beginning in the work of an obscure teacher and a pitifully small group of ordinary people. But one of the proofs of the Divine origin of the Church of Christ is its growth from such a very humble beginning. No wonder the Church has become the greatest of all shrubs, the world-wide Church that welcomes people of all races and nations into her fold, celebrating the marvel of growth!


Applications for Us Today

The Kingdom of God is the growth of God’s rule in human hearts that occurs when man does the will of God and surrenders his life to God.

The seed of Faith lies dormant within each of us. When we permit Him to nurture it with tender loving care, it grows miraculously to gigantic proportions. The growth is slow and microscopic in the beginning. But this seed grows by using the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us through the Word of God, the Mass, the Sacraments, and prayer. Finally, God’s rule in the human heart transforms individuals and communities into God’s people doing His will in His kingdom.

Things might not be what you and I want them to be, but there is still hope. God works in mysterious ways. God is still with us even when our efforts are frustrated, because He is the Source of growth. Growth often starts out small like a mustard seed and then blossoms into something huge.

While we are called to do something, we are not called to do everything. We scatter the seed, but the growth is up to God. The same process works in the Christian life. We practice daily prayer and Bible reading. We find ways to be of service to others. We pledge money and time to the Church and charitable purposes. We join the people of God at the altar regularly. These are some of the seeds that God uses to mold and shape our lives in love, peace and hope. But the shaping happens at God’s own pace and as we are willing and able to cooperate with Him.

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