Today is Father’s day. I want to wish all you fathers, grandfathers, uncles and Fr. _________a Happy Father’s Day. I also want to recognize the widows, single mom’s, grandmothers and aunts who, because of some circumstance, do double duty as both a mother and a father. Father’s day is the day we celebrate the male side of the parental couple. Last month we celebrated Mother’s Day. We all know that especially in today’s world, the traditional male family leadership role has changed. Parenting is now much more than a division of labor based on gender. In fact I would bet that most women who have had children often cringe at the word ‘labor’. I don’t know any guy who can factually appreciate it.
Parenthood has existed since God created man and woman. We trace our physical and spiritual lives all the way back to Adam and Eve. At the time of our birth our souls bore the stain of Adam’s original sin. We pray to “our Father who art in heaven.” Out history is from the beginning when God created man.
I do not believe in coincidences but I do think today’s readings, particularly from Ezekiel about the cedar tree, and St. Mark’s gospel about the parable of the mustard seed, are divine providence because this year we hear it on Father’s day. A day that we celebrate the male contribution to leadership in our families. A day when the readings use seeds and trees as a way of demonstrating how living things produce more living things and little living things grow into big living things. Parents have children who become adults and often parents and then as parents have their own children.
The dictionary describes the words ‘dad’ and ‘mom’ as nouns. I think those words are verbs. God has given dads and moms the role of active leaders and doers in their children’s lives. They are not to be passive and uninvolved. Their lives are forever altered from the moment of conception. Their lives are no longer about their roles as individuals or a couple. It is about their roles as leaders of their family. The young lady who cuts my hair had a baby about 2 years ago. We were recently talking. She was telling me that as she grew up her mother used to tell her that “you are mine.” As a young girl she thought her mother was being domineering but after having her own child she saw that comment in a new light. She is her mother’s in the same way her son is hers. She brought him into this world and it is her, and her husbands, responsibility to raise him. That is a serious obligation, not an option and not to be taken lightly. We claim our children the same way God claims us. At our baptism the celebrant says “I claim you for Christ our savior by the sign of the cross…” We are claimed by Jesus Christ for the kingdom of God our Father and to grow that kingdom. We claim our children with the same love and desire we grow our families. Jesus commanded the disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.”
In today’s first reading from Ezekiel we see the Lord God talk about planting a new tree from an existing tree, watching it grow, bear fruit and provide shelter for the birds and animals. Ezekiel writes that the trees will know that the Lord will take care of them, make them healthy and make them bloom. Just substitute the word parent in place of tree and we can see the comparison to our parental obligation. We see that the Lord is talking in ways the listener can understand. We are Ezekiel’s tree. God will grow us and help us to grow others. We know that because He says “all the trees shall know…” and then “As I, the Lord, have spoken, so will I do.” That promise has been handed down for thousands of years. It is now with us. It will continue until the end of time.
The Lord sent His son Jesus not just to die for us but also to grow, and teach, us. Those same responsibilities have been handed down through generations. My father once told me “I (but really meaning him and my mother) will give you a good name, a good education, morals and ethics. After that it is up to you. With God’s help you will succeed.” I think that is a great lesson and still applicable today. Our parents are the tree of our family. God is the nutrient, the strength of its growth. We are its branches. The tree provide food, love and shelter and often bloom. Those blooms become another tree and so life goes on. The tree is Trinitarian- God, His word and us.
In St. Mark’s gospel Jesus wants the crowd to understand His story through the parable of the mustard seed. A parable is defined as “a fictitious or made up story designed to teach a lesson through comparison. When you hear the story, you can relate it to your own life…It conveys its message of truth through analogy, through comparison or contrast“. In this story God is the farmer, the sower. The mustard seed is the word of God- the Gospel. The word of God comes into our hearts and minds. It sprouts as we listen to its meaning and teachings and then act in accordance with God’s desires. We have become the seed because we are putting God’s words into action through the way we live our lives. We come from the scattered seed which blooms into fruit and produces more seed. All the fruit is eventually harvested by the sower. We are God’s children, the fruit of the tree and our goal is to be harvested by God so we can spend eternal life with Him. Living the word of God will help us to achieve that goal.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the crowd that kingdom of God is like a farmer scattering seed and then doing nothing. The seed would sprout and grow. The farmer does not understand the science of it yet it grows, produces fruit and is harvested. Jesus then gives an example of the mustard seed- at its beginning it is the smallest of seeds- then it is planted and grows. His word, the Gospel, is the mustard seed and since it is divine it has no limitations. It will grow and become large because of its divinity. We are the fruit that grows from it. The kingdom of God gets bigger through us absorbing and exemplifying His word. Similar to the trees growing and blooming in today’s reading from Ezekiel.
We do this every day, often unconsciously, through acts of kindness and self-sacrifice. Today’s obvious example is right outside. The St. Louis Men’s club Hole-in-One charity fundraiser. I had the privilege last Saturday to work with a group of men who volunteered their time in the heat to erect fences and put up signs and buildings for their largest fundraiser of the year. The funds raised support many activities, particularly for our youth, and charities here in the parish. These men, many of their spouses, and many other parish organizations will work at their jobs all next week and still come here in the evening to volunteer. This volunteer effort is for the benefit of others. The women’s altar guild voluntarily cleans the altar every week. Adult males lead boy Scouts and Fishers of Men. Adult females lead American Heritage Girls. Adult males and females lead cub scouts. There are many ministries here and they all serve the kingdom of God. They are examples of self-sacrifice, the volunteering of time which is a most precious commodity. Our children see these examples and with God’s seed will continue them in their adulthood. One of the people helping last weekend was a young lady who is 23, married and an engineer. She has been helping her father set-up for the hole in one for seven or eight years. It is something she can do so she is giving back to help others. She saw the effects on church activities of the words gospel being put into action.
Do you remember that a few years ago we used to close the Mass with the Priest or Deacon saying “Go in Peace the Mass is ended.” That changed because the Mass does not end. Now we close with “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Or sometimes with “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” In either case we no longer say the Mass has ended. In fact when we leave the church building the Mass continues as we go forth to proclaim and live the Gospel. That is serving the Lord. That is planting and nurturing the seed of the word and growing the kingdom of God.
May God Bless You