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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

I’m not much of a gardener. I have a perhaps superficial interest, but there are

lots of things that I don’t know. In my last parish there was only a very small

strip of grass around the edge of the presbytery, plus a few bushes and trees,

and that suited me fine. I’m glad that in this parish, others have stepped

forward to help me out.


Two Christmases ago I was given an Amaryllis bulb by one of the housebound

parishioners I used to visit. If you don’t know what an Amaryllis is, it’s a plant

that has a bulb, just like a daffodil. The idea was that it comes with its own pot,

already planted, and you take it out of the box and water the bulb in the pot

once a week. After a while it produces a few long leaves, and then you get a

few flowers. If you’re not careful, one day you come back home only to find

the plant has fallen over. Since I was moving parish and trying to cut down on

what I took with me, I left the plant behind, but I harvested some of the seeds

from the flowers.


When I got here I discovered that you should plant the seeds within about three

weeks, and I’d now left them for a good while longer than that. But I used

some of the home-made compost in the garden to fill two large pots and put a

good few seeds in each one. Some of them started to grow. Some have died

since, but the ones that have grown I’ve put into separate pots. And then

something else happened. I also had a few tomato plants start to grow, so

someone must have put a few tomatoes into the compost mix. And then, more

recently, in the pots where the tomato plants are, a month or two later, another

two tomato plants have started to grow (plus another round of weeds).


“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.”


Our parish is a bit like some of my attempts at growing plants. God plants, and

we can be surprised at what grows. And not all the plants grow at the same

rate, or appear at the same time. The Holy Spirit is at work beneath the surface,

and you can’t see what’s going on until the shoots emerge.


A little illustration of this is from the parish where I grew up, St Thomas’ in

Walsall: there was a mother and her son, both grown adults, who became

Catholics, and at one point I spoke to the son and asked him how he became a

Catholic. It turned out that his father was a Catholic, and the parish priest two

or three priests ago used to go to visit him. That was what led to him and his

mother deciding to become Catholics. For the priest at the time, maybe he

didn’t see anything happening. The next priest came and went, and nothing

happened. And then a priest or two later, then they both became Catholics. It

just goes to show that we never know the impact of our ordinary, day-to-day

actions.


From Tuesday to Thursday I was at a hotel in Leamington Spa for a Clergy

Gathering. At the end of the three days, the priest who was part of the

organising committee said that he had had positive responses from the hotel

staff. We hadn’t done anything particularly out of the ordinary, we had just

been ourselves, but the way we had conducted ourselves had been a witness to

the staff. Perhaps seeds have been sown. And I’m sure your lives too are a

witness, without you necessarily being aware of it.


We don’t live in a perfect world. Trying to grow plants for the kingdom of God

is more like trying to plant them outside rather than in a greenhouse or on your

windowsill. All sorts of things can happen. The first reading begins with:

“From the top of the cedar, from the highest branch I will take a shoot and plant

it myself on a very high mountain”. Now you might think that a high mountain

will be a safe place, free from harm, or maybe not. Take a look at the

presbytery garden. Fr David told me that Fr Mark planted various Christmas

trees over the years, and there is one that is the biggest of them all, and rather

impressive. But if you look closely at the top, somehow, the top branch of the

tree had been snapped and is hanging down. Probably a squirrel went up there

to get food and the branch gave way. But the tree still stands. It might happen

that in our work of planting seeds for the kingdom of God, someone else comes

along and spoils the perfection of our work, or maybe we manage to do that

ourselves. We don’t live in a perfect world. But just like the cedar tree in the

garden, it’s not the end of the world. Not even the betrayal of Judas and the

denial of Peter could bring an end to the Church. If we have messed up, we

have to remind ourselves sometimes that God is in charge.


Gardening does not take place in laboratory conditions, and neither does

spreading the kingdom of God. And that’s why, when we look at ourselves, we

might sometimes appear to be wobbly flowers and lop-sided trees.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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