Today at Mass I got a rather unusual complement. A little boy who came up with his mother for Holy Communion and said “You are a magic priest!” I had been in the school recently and asked the children if they’d heard about the magic tractor? “It turned into a field!” True, as a priest I do have supernatural powers like those to absolve sins and change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. “Magic” is probably not the best way of describing it though!
Here is my homily for today followed by the gospel itself.
A week ago last Friday I attended a 50th anniversary Mass for Fr Seamus Murphy in Creeslough. At the end Bishop Alan said a few words and quoted Venerable Matt Talbot (+1925). Matt had a rough childhood and ended up a hopeless alcoholic. By the sheer force of will and the grace he got from prayer, penance and the Eucharist he was able to transform his life. In his time there were no Alcoholics Anonymous or detox programs to help such individuals.
Venerable Matt said: “With regard to the things of God, constancy matters the most.” Let me repeat that: With regard to the things of God, constancy matters the most.
Who came to mind at mention of this was a former parish priest from my home parish. He had a rather severe speech impediment and homilies & public speaking in general must have been a torture to him. Yet, he made the best of his gifts and stuck at it. He was renown for visiting the elderly and those in hospital and was much loved for this. He stayed on in the parish to his late 70s – well past normal retirement age. Afterwards he was glad to fill-in for priests on holidays. As far as I can remember, he “died with his boots on”, so to speak.
I tell you this because it links in directly with today’s gospel. Both parables tell us about seeds that are planted. Once they remain in the ground and continue growing, God’s power and presence brings them to a successful conclusion and harvest. In a world of broken promises and quitting, it is so important to realise that constancy and faithfulness will always win the day.
In my 21 years of being a priest and having the privilege of knowing people’s inner lives and trials, the individuals who impress me the most are the women who have persevered in difficult marriages – be it due to a lack of respect, alcohol abuse problems, etc. In today’s “walk away” culture, it would have been easy to quit but they didn’t. In many cases their dedication was able to bring about positive change in their husbands.
Other heroes include parents with special needs children. I know one woman with a severely autistic child who is lucky to get 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Yet she is always cheerful and grateful to God that she can manage. There are those single mothers who accepted their unplanned child and didn’t take the easy way out. Children who care for their parents in old age – especially in the cases of dementia – deserve much credit.
I also marvel at the constancy of past generations in the practice of their faith. Older men and women here present may remember the time when people would walk miles to Mass every Sunday morning – hail, rain or sunshine. They may be fasting from midnight before if they wanted to receive Holy Communion. In my home parish in Kenmare there is a Mass Rock where a Fr John O’Neill was beheaded whilst saying Mass in the Penal Times.
In this era there was dedication to personal and family prayer. When I was young it was a fixed part of the daily routine that after the cows were milked, we would all gather in the kitchen and pray the Rosary. Before the 10am tea, my father and grandfather would kneel on the back of a chair, rest their elbows on the top of the chair and with their heads buried in their hands, say their morning prayers. Sometimes the sunlight would flood through the kitchen window and illuminate dust particles in the air. It was a holy sight that no doubt inspired me to remain faithful to daily prayer later on in life.
When life is a struggle, there is a temptation to think that it is all in vain, nobody sees or cares about all the hidden sacrifices. Today’s second reading from St Paul about the Final Judgement shows that God remembers and cares about all the hidden details of our life: “For all the truth about us will be brought out in the law court of Christ, and each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad.”
So in summary: With regard to the things of God, what matters most is not – good looks, charm, great success and popularity, intelligence, learning, etc. Rather, what matters most is CONSTANCY, sticking at it.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 4:26-34
It is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all.
Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
The Gospel of the Lord.