Monday, July 18, 2011

Sixteenth Sunday, July 17, 2011 Homily

We are in a three Sunday stretch of Gospel passages in which our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, speaks often of the Kingdom of Heaven. Last Sunday we heard about our own receptivity to the Word of God, our own openness to the Kingdom of Heaven. Today we should consider the following questions. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? Our Lord Jesus likens it to three things: a field, a mustard seed, and yeast. The field calls images a vast area with many souls but the weeds in the field provide a problem. The Kingdom of Heaven is not the same as Heaven itself; in heaven there will be no weeds for “nothing unclean may enter into heaven.” (Rev. 21:27). So the Kingdom of Heaven is here on earth. We can also say, quite plainly that the Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven itself because it starts small as a mustard seed- Heaven is by no means small. So the Kingdom of Heaven is here on earth and starts small. The Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven because it is called yeast and mixed into the dough to raise it up. Heaven is described as high, not because it is at the top of Mt. Everest but because it is removed from our human experience. So the Kingdom of Heaven IS NOT HEAVEN itself but is filled with good and bad, starts small, and is to raise up the world around us. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

The Kingdom of Heaven is the Catholic Church! The Church is filled with the faithful and the unfaithful. Laymen and women, priests, nuns, popes, many of them have been weeds that were trying to choke out the wheat of the saints—and I hope that at the end of our lives we will prove to be saints. We should never be surprised when our fellow Catholics fail—sad, yes, surprised, no. We should pray for their conversion, their return to the faith and their reconciliation with God, family, and community, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The Catholic Church started small. At the upper room on Pentecost Sunday, many years ago, there were 12 Apostles (including the replacement of Judas the Betrayer), one Blessed Virgin Mary, about 120 total at the birth of the Church (Acts 1:12-15). The Church is to change the world around, bringing every nation to Jesus Christ: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? The Catholic Church is the Kingdom. It may not seem that way because of our weakness but it is true. You too are the Kingdom of Heaven if you actively strive to live in the Church. It may not seem true because of your own weakness but it is true. I’ve been thinking a bit about this and observing this lately.

As I assisted at Discipleship Camp this past week—the same camp to which many of our young people attend—I noticed that many young people leave the Church after Confirmation. It is undeniably true because there is even a joke about this phenomenon. A Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister and a Methodist minister were talking about pigeons. The Lutheran tried to get rid of them by poison, the Methodist by the more humane fake owls. Nothing worked. The Catholic baptized, confirmed, and communed them and they haven’t been back.

Why don’t we expect the enemy to try harder to steal away the Kingdom when it is most near? Why don’t we warn our children to be on their guard when Satan most wants to attack them? Why do we give into this American notion of false freedom that says: “Well, I guess they’re adults and can learn their own lessons.” When we say “Amen” to the Kingdom of Heaven we should expect and prepare for the enemy to attack.

This should be part of our pastoral planning here at St. Paul’s parish. In the past four years we’ve had 28 students confirmed. How are we encouraging them against the attacks of the enemy who sows weeds in the wheat of their Catholic faith? How can we walk with them so that they can be brought to a full harvest and not be thrown out? I do not have specific answers for each case, but they must be asked before they can be found. The answers will always be in union with the Church.

Do not fret and think it falls totally on you. St. Paul says: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” Have we even begun to ask the Spirit on this? Have we even begun to act with the Spirit on this?

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center.

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