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Monday, June 18, 2018

Patience and Fatherhood (11th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Before I begin the homily today, I want to wish all the Fathers present a very happy and blessed Fathers’ Day. I'd like to thank you for your faithful witness and willing self-sacrifice, which has been an integral part of your family’s formation in the faith. Unfortunately, we live in a society that often minimizes the role of the father in family life and makes it easy for men to shirk their responsibilities. We see the hurtful effects of these decisions on our young people! But today in our culture and in our Church, we want to reaffirm your essential role in the family and in the world for all our dads. After communion we will offer a special blessing of appreciation for all of our fathers.

One of the essential characteristics of fatherhood is patience. A good father learns to be patient very quickly so the members of his family can have a safe environment to grow and develop. But even the best dads lose their patience sometimes. And certainly all of us, even the most mild-mannered, struggle to be patient in certain circumstances and with certain people. I think this is even more so in modern times, where we have grown used to things happening right away, as soon as we want them. Think about how quick communications have become with instant messaging, text messages, skype, and the fact that most people expect a response to their message right away. We can see the same impatience in the way we shop, the way we eat, the way we drive, and even the way we pray.

Compare this with Jesus’ description of the kingdom of God. He says, “it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow.” To drive his point home, Jesus offers another image for the kingdom of God, of which, we are called to be members. Once again he says, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade."

The Hebrews would have understood the point of these parables instantly because they understood agriculture. Their lives depended on the crops they cultivated and the animals they raised.  Yet, they knew the wonder of growth belonged to the Lord. The people who heard Jesus tell the parable of the farmer's life also shared the wonder of the soil. The farmer worked hard during the day, but he couldn’t make the seed grow into a plant, nor the plant produce fruit. It is God and God alone who caused the growth. The people of Jesus’ time would have been acutely aware of how little control they had over their crops, the weather, and even the harvest they could expect. Whether they liked it or not, they had to be patient and trust that God would provide for their needs.
This is a necessary lesson for us modern people. We have grown used to thinking we are in control and the false sense that we will master any situation with enough time and research. We have grown so impatient as a society believing we must take charge and seize what we want. But how much mystery still remains in the world!? And how little we actually control?

The people of the ancient world were often a step ahead of us when it came to openness to the kingdom of God. They constantly came into contact with their helplessness and knew how much they depended on God for their basic, daily needs. The parables of the farmer and the mustard seed would have described a way of life that many experienced each and every day: It is God who plants the seed and God who makes it grow. We can cooperate with his grace but ultimately it is God who controls everything. We have to be patient, acknowledging that things happen in God’s time and according to his plan.

It is good for us to reflect on God’s patience with mankind and how patience is built into a true understanding of the kingdom of God. Imagine how easy it would have been for God to make us the way he wanted right away, to make us perfect instantly. Instead, God is patient with us, he gives us many opportunities to grow, and forgives our failures if we are truly sorry. Truly, God’s patience is one of the great gifts that he shares with us and one we certainly don’t deserve. But like so many of God’s gifts, his patience cannot be hoarded for ourselves. It must be shared freely.  

With the example of God’s patience, we might look at our own approach to life’s setbacks and annoyances. Do we exercise patience when things don’t go our way? Or when God asks us to wait for what we want? Or when we have to absorb the impatience of others? Since God is so patient with us, we must learn to be patient with ourselves and others. The root of the word patience is “patio” which means “to suffer” and if we want to have patience in our day-to-day living, then we must also be willing to accept suffering in our lives. If we try to run from every suffering then we will be unable to be patient as well. 

Let us pray for this gift of patience each and every day so we might live the truth taught in today’s parables. And let us embrace the opportunities that come our way to exercise patience, even if it means suffering, knowing that they can teach us something and lead us closer to God.