11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When we hear about faith, sometimes you get the impression that it is something we do. We grit our teeth and say we believe in things we cannot see. We wrestle with seemingly impossible beliefs proposed by the Church and finally give in and say ‘yes’ to them.
The Gospel today paints a different picture for us. Faith is a seed planted in us by someone else. It is a gift. Because it is a seed, and a really tiny seed it is barely noticeable. It does not announce its arrival in us with a grand fanfare. For most us, baptism was something that happened to us. The seed was planted then and for a long while it lies fallow.
But the seed is there and like a seed it begins its life slowly in us. The important thing is because it is a gift, it is not under our control. God is watching over this gift. He embeds us in the soil of the Church. And the Church with her maternal care takes care of this seed – with the sacraments, with her liturgy, with her preaching, with the witness of the saints we live with and the saints who have gone before us. I think the Church is so close to our skin at times that we are not able to really see the marvelous organization of life that she brings. Today we see the warts and there are many. But we never see what She does all the time – passing on to the souls the graces of the Lamb in a very human and therefore ordinary and hidden manner.
The seed is meant to grow in us. But its growth is a mystery. As the Gospel tells us ‘and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how’ He knows not how. We cannot control a whole lot. We can be faithful to grace but we cannot run ahead of grace. The seed is the mystery of divine life in us and this is totally beyond our imagination.
Even if we are unfaithful, God who planted the seed does not abandon us. Grace always pursues us. If God cannot attract us. Then He shakes us up. Sin cannot keep us away from Him forever for He can use the very way by which we wandered from Him to draw us back. Suffering is a message from Him. C. S. Lewis called pain, God’s megaphone. The whole purpose is to shake us make us grow into spiritual adulthood. For the longest time, the seed lay small and tiny in the ground when we were young. But faith is not meant to be unconscious in us. It is meant to grow slowly but at some point we must own the journey. We cannot be asleep on the wheel. At some point, we know not when or how, God wants us to be intentional about faith. He wants us to struggle for the faith. He wants us to stop going with the flow. To turn from the standards of the world to His standards. And this requires a conversion. A conversion from our thoughts to the word of God. And to believe the word of God means believing the unbelievable, hoping against hope, loving the unlovable, pardoning the unpardonable. This is when faith becomes life within us that gathers momentum.
Which brings me to the Lord’s image of the mustard seed that is fully grown. It becomes the largest of plants so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade’ Faith begins as a seed but it is meant to draw more and more of our unconverted self within the ambit of God’s action. There are many parts of ourselves that we know about. But there are also parts we do not know or parts we do not want to know about – the shadow side of our personality. We live with compartments. But God wants it all. His light pursues us into the darkest corners to bring more and more of us into the light. It is not just our minds and our wills that must be converted – our memories need to be healed, our imagination must be converted, our passions must be regulated according to law of God and not according to our whims and fancies. All this is not easy. Much of it lies outside our conscious effort. But God can do it all if we allow Him to. Much of our cooperation with grace is to surrender to the will of God, to say yes to His action in our life, to the circumstances He puts us in, to trust Him. Someone made a very insightful comment about faith – faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.
Faith is a seed but if we trust it will bring more and more of us into the light so that one day we grow to spiritual adulthood and faith now is the largest of plants. And the birds of the sky – that is all the various known and now unknown facets of ourselves can dwell in its shade. That is every part of us is animated by faith.