THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH
(A biblical refection on THE ELEVENTH ORDINARY SUNDAY – June 14, 2015)
Gospel Reading: Mark 4:26-34
First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalms: Psalm 92:2-3,13-16; Second Reading: 2Corinthians 5:6-10
And He said, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’’
And He said, “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything. (Mark 4:26-34 RSV)
No one has actually seen a tree grow. Its growth is too slow for the human eye to perceive. Nor, for that matter, has anyone ever seen a child grow. It is only after you have not been with a child for some time, that you notice how tall he has become. Living things grow slowly.
The Church, too, grows slowly because it is a living organism. It is made up of human beings who, like the cells of human body, form the mystical body of Jesus Christ. Growth is what our Lord is talking about in today’s Gospel. He started with the twelve apostles, a very small group of men. Those men after Pentecost went out and began the conversion of the whole world, so that today the Church has really many people as its members. Based on the July 2013 world statistics, total world population is estimated at 7.1 billions, of which 31.5 % are Christians (Roman Catholic Church alone: 16.85%; source: WIKIPEDIA). When Pope John summoned the Second Vatican Council, more than two thousand bishops from every nation responded to his call. If the apostles could come back to earth today, they would be amazed at the growth of the Church.
The growth of the Church is of course due to the power of God, and God’s power cannot be frustrated by either the evil or the incompetence of men. As a seed planted in the earth has an almost mysterious ability to develop while the farmer sleeps, so the Church has an inner divinely given dynamism which ensures its continuing and spreading from age to age. And yet the role of the members of the Church is far from passive in God’s plan. What God could do all by Himself, He has decided to do with and through the members of the Church.
Back in 1943 when he wrote his encyclical on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII put it this way: “Dying on the cross Christ left to His Church the immense treasury of the redemption; towards this she contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this task of sanctification with His Church, but He wants it in a way to be due to her action” (46), That we (you and I) are Catholics today is traceable to the action of those who have preceded us in the faith. That the Church spread from Palestine over the centuries to all the countries of the world is due, under God, to the goodness and holiness of the members of the Church.
When we think of how the Church began with such a small group and see what it is today we are indeed amazed, but we must never become complacent. Now it is our turn to do something, for we bear the responsibility for continuing the spread of Christ’s Church. We know that we should give good example and try to talk to people about the Church. Today, however, let’s try to focus on something very important, something that may escape our realization.
The Church is like a human body. As the vitality of the body depends on the health of its cells, to the vitality of the Church depends on the holiness of its members. We may think that the sins we commit offend God alone and harm only ourselves. That is not true. Sin damages the whole Church, just as an infection in any part of the body affects the whole body. On the other hand, we may feel that we are not very important, that our prayers and penances cannot accomplish very much. That too is not true. When we try to live good lives as Jesus has taught us, we are very instrumental in the building up of the whole Church.
Listen to these words of Pope Pius XII from the same encyclical on the Mystical Body: “Deep mystery this, subject of inexhaustible meditation, that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ offer for this intention …” (ibid.). Deep mystery indeed: God wills that the salvation of others should come about through our prayers and penances. Subject of inexhaustible meditation, something we must never forget, that the goodness of our lives can ready benefit others.
Prayers: Heavenly Father, Your love gives us strength to follow Your Son, Jesus Christ. We rejoice in the faith that draws us together in the Church as His Mystical Body, fully aware that selfishness can drive us apart. Let Your encouragement be our constant strength. Keep us one in the love that has sealed our lives, help us to live as one family the Gospel we profess. Amen.
Jakarta, 12 June 2015 [SACRED HEART OF JESUS]
A Christian Pilgrim