27th Sunday Ordinary Time C

With the strength that comes from God.

St. Paul’s young friend and disciple, Timothy, gets a wonderful “pep talk” in today’s first reading. The Holy Spirit, says Paul, gives us the gift of courage, not the vice of cowardice. So we should never shrink from bearing our share of “hardship which living up to the Gospel entails.” And we should never be ashamed to praise God to others.

The Joseph P. Kennedy family of Hyannisport needs no introduction to Americans or to the world. They have had a host of admirers and a host of foes. But nobody can deny that this Irish-American family has assumed leadership courageously. And their mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, has clearly had a lot to do with setting for them an example of courage.

When Rose Kennedy, long a widow, reached the age of 93 in 1983. A reporter for Parade magazine interviewed this woman of strong convictions and strong practical Catholic faith. Rose, the interviewer knew very well, had known tragedy as well as glory. If most of her sons and daughters had made headlines, she also had one daughter under permanent institutional care. She had lost not only her husband, but her oldest son, Joe (in war), her daughter, Kathleen (in an air accident), her sons, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy (at the hands of assassins). But Rose had marched ahead despite her many griefs, and she still marched off to Mass each morning.

“I would rather have been” she said, “the mother of a great son than to have written a great work or painted a great masterpiece.” This is a forthright acknowledgement of the creative role of a mother in God’s plan.

Admitting her trials to the interviewer, she said “I have always believed that God never gives a cross to bear larger than we can carry. No matter what, God wants us to be happy. He doesn’t want us to be sad. Birds sing after a storm, Why shouldn’t we?”

That first sentence was an echo of St. Paul. The last four sentences are pure Rose Kennedy, a deeply Christian reflection.

If a secular journalist flattered me with an interview, would I make a point of speaking God’s praises? I really wonder, and just wondering makes me ashamed.

-Fr. Robert F. McNamara

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Q287: I always feel terrible when I hear this “Mustard Seed” parable (Lk 17:5-10)! My faith will never be so strong as to physically transplant trees.

You are misunderstanding the purpose and intent of this parable. Indeed, if the “goal” is always to go around “testing” our faith by commanding trees to be uprooted, one of two things will happen. Either we will experience a gigantic deforestation situation, or we will have a lot of unhappy people who think their faith level is demonstrably ‘zilch’!

Jesus loves to use exaggeration to make a point, a common literary device in every culture of every age. You will remember an example used by Jesus in the gospel five weeks ago (hate your father and mother, wife and children, etc…, Lk 14:26). We call it “hyperbole,” and use it regularly (e.g., “It’s raining cats and dogs”). It is legitimate to use if what it describes is really true.

The “truth” is that even though the Mustard Seed looks so tiny and powerless, compare that seed with the effect its planting will bring after a few years! Faith is like that: it may seem powerless, based on an image of a dead man on a cross. But it will produce incredible results when we live that faith and share that faith, because that dead man on the cross rose from the dead, and is our Salvation! Change is always possible, because His dynamic Spirit dwells within us. It is a power so strong that it can be compared to a person telling a tree to be transplanted into the ocean! So simply do your daily Christian duties, including sharing your faith, and let God take care of the growth.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our faith will grow if we nourish it by daily meditation on God’s word (CCC #162). The kingdom of God grows by our recognizing Jesus’ self-sacrificing love on the cross, and witnessing about that love (CCC #160). Share the treasure (CCC #3)!!

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Q600: Faith that can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Then why all the evil and suffering around us?

First let’s look at the images that Jesus uses in today’s gospel. The mulberry tree grows to an average height of about forty feet, and it has a root system goes about six feet deep and spreads out to quite a degree. On the other hand, the mustard tree grows to about ten feet in height; but every seed is very tiny, about the size of just one of those little round sprinkles on your kid’s birthday cake – or even smaller. In Jesus’ time the Jews believed it was the smallest seed in existence.

Jesus uses hyperbole (exaggeration in the usual Jewish fashion) on many occasions in his stories and parables, to make a specific point. Today’s gospel (Luke 17:5-10) is no exception. Jesus is saying that the quantity (or size) of your faith is not an issue. It is the quality that counts. Faith works; no matter how timid you might be, if you step out in faith and make your tiny gifts available to the Lord, it will result in a multiplication by the Lord beyond your wildest imagination! You may not even be around to see the results.

We face a very challenging society – and a very sick one at that. The odds against us seem to be overwhelming. “What can little old me do? I’m just one voice!” Jesus says, don’t worry. Just trust in Him! Do you really believe that he multiplied the loaves and fishes on more than one occasion? Then why do you doubt what he can do with your simple act of stepping out in faith, speaking the truth, and leaving the rest up to Him? It takes great humility, and a realization that all we have is gift from God, to recognize that just plain old simple faith is all we need to bring the Holy Spirit to bear on a circumstance with which we are confronted. Be faithful in your total, trusting dependence on the Lord!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! We walk by faith, not by sight, and our faith can be put to the test. When tempted to doubt because of the evil and suffering around us, we look to the witnesses of faith to see their example of patient perseverance under overwhelming obstacles (CCC 164-165). Trust in the Lord! Do you think that mulberry tree grew to forty feet overnight? Patience!

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We Are Worthless Slaves

I thought the gospel was good news, but the last line of today’s gospel sounds more like bad news — “worthless slaves”?  Me?  Yes, that’s what the Lord tells us today. In Jesus’ time slavery was taken for granted. The slave was not an employee who earned his living, but the property of his master. So he earns nothing when he does his job; the master owes him nothing for his labor. So it is with us. God made us and we are his. When we live out our covenant obligation to God we have put God under no obligation to us. Jesus goes even further in Mark’s Gospel 10: 44.  “Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

But there is Good News in this scripture passage. Slaves in the ancient world were part of the master’s household. They belonged to the household in ways no hired hand could. They were taken care of not because they had done this or that, but because they belonged to the household, the family. So too with us. In living the life of faith we belong to God’s household, God’s family. We belong! We are not getting exactly what we have earned as employees. The Good News is that we are saved by our faithful response to God’s call.

Lord God, help us to remember who and what we are, members of your family, members of the Body of Christ. Help us to treat each other as brothers and sisters with love and compassion.

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