Sunday Scriptures

Progress Not Perfection

By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise

THE PARABLE OF THE mustard seed presents us with an interesting paradox. The smallest of seeds becomes the largest of shrubs. That comparison, along with the introductory analogy of the Kingdom of God being like a seed that is planted and left to grow by God’s grace, presents us with not only an interesting perspective on the Church, but also a challenge to our daily lives.

The emphasis is not on the smallness of the seed or how large the shrub becomes but on the comparison between the two, the growth that takes place. A growth, however, that takes place in time. The seeds are sown, the shells dry and break, the sprouts form and the plant begins to grow. It is nourished by the soil, the water and the sun until the growth is complete and it is ready for harvest. The farmer waits day and night for the harvest season to come; the seed ripens with passage of time.

As we read the Scriptures, it is somewhat surprising to think of how little geographical area Christ actually visited. Granted, a lot of the world as we know it today had yet to be discovered, but He actually saw much less of the known world than the Apostles did, which might be what He was referring to when He told them they would do even greater things than He.

He planted the seed of faith in the Apostles who then passed it on, spreading the message so the Church could grow from a small, scattered band to the Pentecost-driven community of believers that continues to grow today. Certainly this is a rallying cry for the New Evangelization. It is a vivid reminder that much of the world still needs to hear the message of Christ’s sacrificial love and of the promise of a Kingdom.

But I suggest that for this to happen authentically, perhaps we are being called to see the paradox in a different way. Unless this first happens within us as individuals, the possibility of our transmitting the message is small. That is, we cannot give what we do not have.

Step by Step
Actually, we already live this in many areas of our lives. We know that fad diets do not last. Healthy weight loss demands a combination of proper diet and exercise over a sustained period of time and then a program of maintenance. Unless we have been blessed with a rare form of genius, we do not solve calculus problems and read Shakespeare in the first grade. We start with arithmetic and age-appropriate reading. Then we work our way up to bigger things.

The same holds true for our spiritual lives. Before we go out and proclaim the Good News for all the world to hear, we pray and study and learn.

As much as I may have thought myself a soldier in the army of Christ on the day of my Confirmation, I might not have been as well equipped for hand-to-hand battle with Satan as I may have thought. As a matter of fact, I hope that the process of growing in holiness is still taking place because my awareness of my own human weakness makes me wonder if I am entirely ready for that battle now. Although I am not hoping to enter into that arena just yet, I can confidently say that I am more prepared than 45 years ago.

I suggest for our thought this weekend that that is the point of the parable – not have we grown into the biggest and best, but have we grown?

Have our prayers matured and our communication with Christ deepened? Has our involvement in parish life – our dedication of time, talent and treasure – increased as our abilities allow?

One of the slogans often used by men and women in 12-step recovery programs is “Progress not Perfection.” That, I believe, is the challenge of the Gospel to us as individuals and as a Church today.

May the love of Christ, rich as it already is, continue to grow within us so that, as we grow in God’s grace, we can reach out more sincerely to our neighbors and forming a more perfect union, build a stronger Church, more capable of spreading the Word to those who have yet to receive it.

Readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 17: 22-24

Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-14, 15-16

2 Corinthians 5: 6-10

Mark 4: 26-34

Msgr. Joseph P. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.

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