Translation of the Epistle for the 6th Sunday After Epiphany
Brethren: We give thanks to God always for you all, making a remembrance of you in our prayers without ceasing, being mindful of the work of your faith and labor and charity, and of the enduring of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ before God and our Father: knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election: for our Gospel hath not been unto you in word only, but in power also, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much fullness, as you know what manner of men we have been among you for your sakes. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in much tribulation, with joy of the Holy Spirit: so that you were made a pattern to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you was spread abroad the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but also in every place your faith, which is towards God, is gone forth, so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves relate of us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven (whom He raised up from the dead), Jesus, who hath delivered us from the wrath to come.
Translation From the Holy Gospel According to Matthew
At that time Jesus spoke to the multitudes this parable: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which is the least indeed of all seeds: but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in the branches thereof. Another parable He spoke to them: The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes: and without parables He did not speak to them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.
Transcription of Sermon
The saving words of the Gospel.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Just as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila wrote their best mystical theology in poetry form, because they were able to get certain concepts across better through poetry, so Our Lord, in these linguistically economical parables, gets much more across about His doctrine than He would had He written a catechism for us. And He speaks of very banal things that we can all relate to, for the most part; salt and light, and mustard seeds, and wheat fields, leaven, dough, wedding banquets, and ultimately, he’s speaking about His Kingdom, He’s speaking about Himself.
This Gospel in Jerome’s translation says, And yet He spoke to them another parable. In other words, it’s an ongoing practice, so it’s pedagogical, but it’s also an exercise in Our Lord’s patience and His kindness in constantly going back to these same truths, approaching them with different figures.
A seed is planted in the ground; it’s invisible to our eyes, it’s out of sight, it’s hidden, and it takes time to develop, and, nonetheless, things are happening. There’s no way to rush the process, but the process is underway, nonetheless. We, in this country, like things immediately, we don’t like to wait. When we think of projects, they’re often in rather grandiose terms. We like concepts, we like things big. And, Our Lord wants us, in a certain way, to think small, and this thinking small does not mean to have great endeavors. It means to think small in terms of what is before me right now in terms of God’s will.
We can easily get lost in grandiose ideas and projects and neglect the will of God right before us. What sense does it make to have great plans if His will is manifest in my life, according to my state in life, in the here and now and that’s not consuming me?
In Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which has been appropriated and attached to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, he says Seid umschlungen, Millionen. Be ye embraced millions. He’s talking about this kind of generic, nameless, collective called humanity. And that doesn’t work, right? There is no humanity. There are individuals. And it’s precisely to individuals that Our Lord comes. He doesn’t work with nondescript masses. He works with individuals.
When He came to you in your baptism, you were the one being baptized. When you go to confession, you’re the one being forgiven. When you receive Our Lord, you’re the one who receives Him. It’s very personal, it’s very intimate. It’s always individual, but in the context of the Mystical Body, in the context of the Kingdom, the mustard seed, κοκκος (kokkos) in the Greek, is a fraction of the seed itself. It’s the part that makes everything work. But it’s less than the seed itself. It’s just a fraction of it, but that’s where the life is. And the disproportion between that fraction of the seed and its produce is disproportionate. But it starts small. It starts with this seed in this soil. When you are baptized, Our Lord sowed His seed in the soil of your soul. And what you make of that, you make of it. No more, no less.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American author, had a daughter named Rose, who grew up in a rather comfortable milieu. And, as a Catholic, she was awake to the needs of the Mystical Body, and when she realized that people with, at the time, incurable cancer, that they were abandoned because there was, so to say, nothing that could be done for them, she thought this is not right. And she didn’t start with founding an order to take care of them. She didn’t start with a hospital or a chain of hospitals. She started with one person. She took this one person into her home, gave her the couch as her bed, cleaned her, served her, let her live and die in dignity with this new incarnation of the face of Christ serving her, day in and day out, in this last chapter of that dying woman’s life. But it started with one person.
As a result of this cooperation with grace, Our Lord worked through her to found the Hawthorne Dominicans, these heroic nuns who serve the dying, especially cancer patients. But notice that this was somebody who is acting in the here and the now. She didn’t start with ideas. She didn’t start with concepts, with grandiose projects, or business plans. She started with God’s will here and now. And this is what Our Lord means when He speaks of the seed that bears fruit. This is cooperation with grace.
When Our Lord sowed the seed of grace in our souls, in our baptism, we were made members of the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is not a geographical reality. It’s not a dominion. It’s not a place. It’s a person. It’s the person of Christ. And it’s the person of Christ then, the Blessed Trinity, that comes to dwell in our souls, wanting to make of us not only a dwelling place, but a place of work, where He can work and do His work, but not without our cooperation.
When we start to understand our relationship with Christ as precisely this, a filial, spousal relationship with Him, then we understand what it means to be a member of the Kingdom, because we become extensions of this Kingdom. We become extensions of Christ, as a modern theologian said, We become Christ in time. What a noble vocation that is.
But it also obliges us to examine our consciences, my thoughts, my words, my actions. Are they worthy of Christ? Do they really reflect this living divine inner reality in my soul? Or is there something at odds with the King? When we’re tempted, we’re given an opportunity. Do I want to grieve the heart of my King? Or do I want to give Him great consolation? Those are the two choices when we’re confronted with our passions, with our temptations. Those are the two choices. There’s no spiritual Switzerland. There’s no neutral territory. We can only serve one king. We can only belong to one kingdom. And so, who is the master that we decide to serve?
This is something that we’re constantly deciding. It ought to be already decided, but certainly, because of our fallenness and a certain disorder that each one has within us, we’re afforded many opportunities to renew that choice for Him. If I were to choose a sin, in a certain sense, I’m exiling myself from the Kingdom, and I’m casting the King out of my soul. On the other hand, when my passions are piqued and I’m forced to make a choice and I choose Him, what happens? That fidelity to the person of Christ doesn’t mean I just dodged a bullet, I’m keeping my head above water, I’m surviving, I’m maintaining a state of grace. No. It means that I’ve grown in that corresponding virtue, and as a result, my vantage point of the Beatific Vision just got better. So, each virtuous choice we make alters, improves, the quality of our eternal life.
Think of this throwaway line from Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians. He says, So that you were made a pattern to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For us they just sound like faraway places, but that’s actually rather profound because this is the first time that the Gospel was preached on European soil. And we know how we are indebted to our own forefathers who were Europeans and, for the most part here, Europeans and Catholics who received the faith because Paul went to Macedonia briefly, sowed the seed there, and those generous souls cooperate with it, and with the Church the Kingdom spread. These things don’t happen in a void.
But then he says, To serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven. This waiting, again this is something that we Americans don’t like to do. We want things done right away. I remember reading some literature, promotional literature for a community of Carmelite hermits, and they said, Our vocation can be defined simply as waiting for the Lord. I thought that’s gonna be a hard sell to Americans. We don’t like the wait. We want things now. And in silence, forget it. Well, in a certain sense that’s our vocation, to wait for Christ.
This waiting is not empty space. This waiting, then, is anticipation. And the Church as a good mother gives us the season that we’re about to embark upon, Advent, as a distillation of our vocation, of waiting for Christ. Unlike Lent, which is penitential in the sense of reparation, this is penitential in the sense of preparation. It’s a joyful penitence as we wait for the coming of Our Lord.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
— Fr. Ermatinger