I went to high school at Mount St. Joseph in west Baltimore. I recall early on, when I began as a freshman, I noticed the seal of the Xaverian Brothers, who staffed and ran the school. Around the seal was their motto, and like any good motto it was in Latin: Concordia res parvae crescunt. I asked one of the few brothers who were there at the time what the motto meant. He was happy to tell me.
“In harmony small things grow.”
I liked that. It has stuck with me all my life. How fitting for a group of people who teach young men and women to use this as their motto.
It came to mind to me again when I read the readings for this weekend. We hear about “small things growing,” and how that is very important to God. In the First Reading, Ezekiel tells us about how the tiny sprig is clipped from the top of a mighty cedar and transplanted; and how it also is cared for and grows into its own mighty tree.
Jesus presents us with the image of seeds sown – seemingly insignificant and small – and how they grow fruitful in time. The mustard seed reminds us that God always starts small in His work with us, but that His work will bear fruit in God’s time.
As the farmer plants, he is not the one who produces the blade, the ear, or the grain; it is God’s work, and it is done in God’s time. God starts small, in everything. We begin life the size of a pinhead, and slowly we grow and grow (some of us do very well at that growing!). The mustard bush begins as a little seed, tiny, and grows into a great shrub that gives life and joy to others. There’s nothing we can do to slow or speed it, so it might be frustrating.
Today’s readings call to my mind the Church’s task of evangelizing – of sharing our faith in and relationship with Jesus. How many of us have family or friends who have fallen away or left the Church, whom we try to bring back or at least share our faith, and it doesn’t seem to be doing anything? How many parents have agonized over their kids who seem to have wandered and wondered “What have I done wrong?” How many of us hear that little voice that says, “This isn’t doing any good. Give up! It isn’t worth it.” We want to see fruit immediately, and it frustrates us to encounter resistance and time.
But remember: this is God’s work! He starts small, so we can start small. Remember that mustard seed? Jesus uses it elsewhere to represent our gift of faith. Doesn’t that surprise you? Why would God only give us that size? Why not the whole bush? Keep doing what you’re doing, friends! Keep talking about Jesus to your friends and family. Let them see your faith at work; let them see you pray; keep sharing books and prayers with them. The little things grow, when we have harmony in our own hearts and lives.
Naysayers would have us abandon that field in which we’ve planted – maybe pave it, or build a house, or erect a statue to our own past work. No! The field is God’s; we only have to share, to scatter that seed. We’ve been given those seeds by God, and He wants us to keep planting.
In our parish, we look too soon for fruit sometimes. We begin programs and worry when they roll out slowly. We hear our renewed call to be an evangelizing community and balk because the task seems too big or to daunting – or that it will take us away from our comfortable way of doing things. This is the Devil whispering to us. Why? Because he does not want to see the Kingdom grow. His very job is to discourage us and disturb our harmony of life and faith. This cannot be!
Let these readings remind us that the gift of the mustard seed is a lesson in faithful patience. When we are discouraged, we hear St. Paul calling us back to evangelical courage: “Yet we are courageous. … Therefore, we aspire to please [God], whether we are at home or away.” The field is God’s; the gift of the seed is God; the one who transplants that cedar sprig is God; it’s all His work! We become coworkers when we take up the task of evangelization ourselves and share our life-giving relationship with Christ in the fields where God has planted us.
“In harmony small things grow.”
We are blessed to share the encouragement that comes from this harmony of faith that has the Spirit as its source and the Eucharist as its nourishment. May we all be strengthened to share the joy of the planting, so that we may also share the joy of the harvest!