Year in and year out we celebrate the liturgical cycles. Year in and year out the cycles do not change. We do. With each round through the sacred liturgical year, we are different. We’ve had our ups and downs, our good and bad, our growth and decline, our gains and losses. We therefore are able receive in a fresh way what God through Holy Church wants to give us in our worship.
Though the cycles and feasts renew, though the same readings flow about us repeatedly, year in and year out, we are new terrain for the planting of their good seeds. We are in charge of making sure that the rocks are removed, the soil is broken up and moistened and fertilized so that when the seeds of Scripture and of orations and chants, when the grains and the kernels of beauty in the furrows of silence and speech and song are sown, they root down into our deep hearts and minds and they bear their fruits.
Our active receptivity to what God sows in our sacred liturgical worship bursts and blooms and matures in our outward actions in the sacred precincts of church and of home and out in the wider world we are commissioned to transform.
We now swiftly draw closer to the close of another liturgical year. We should examine ourselves to see what progress we have made as liturgical members of Christ’s Mystical Person, the Church. Do you prepare during the week, looking at your texts before your upcoming Sunday Mass? In the days that follow, do you review the prior Sunday? This is how we ready and then tend the ground of our liturgical lives, preparing for and then cultivating what God has sown.
In our 6th Resumed Sunday after Epiphany we are presented with the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Matthew 13. We heard of the Wheat and Tares from this same chapter last week. It contains a cluster of parables, these two as well as the Parable of the Yeast, leaven, and, speaking of terrain the Parable of the Sower and the different kinds of soil.
These parables have something in common: something very small grows with great effect. Last week’s wheat and weeds started from seeds, as does this week’s mustard. Just a little yeast can leaven a large amount of dough.
A parable has a little twist, a mashal, a riddle within the comparison being made. Our Lord, in this Parable of the Mustard seed, says that the Kingdom of God is like “a grain of mustard.” Not many seeds. One. A man sows this singular seed in a field. At this point the amused 1st century Jewish audience was wondering what was coming next. After all, no farmer would purposely plant mustard in his field. Like darnels or cockles or tares, mustard is an undesirable and invasive weed which can also be toxic. He planted just one. Who does that? In another mashal, the mustard seed becomes the greatest of Greek laxanon, cultivated garden herbs, and even a dendron, a tree. To be sure, mustard can grow into a tree even some 20 feet high and wide, though they don’t produce seeds useful for condiments. Otherwise, usually, they remain rather small, like shrubs. Tenacious invasive shrubs.
The Church herself began with a small group of small and tenacious men who, bearing the Holy Spirit in their minds and hearts as His temples, preached fruitfully in Jerusalem and later beyond. Like tiny seeds or a little yeast, the first Christians shifted individuals, families, towns, tribes, cultures. As Paul says in Sunday’s Epistle,
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere (1 Thess 1:6-8 – RSV).
It was not automatic. It took elbow grease, tears and blood. The first few centuries brought frightening persecutions, but as Tertullian (+ c. 220) explained in his Apologeticus 50,
Plures efficimur quotiens metimur a vobis; semen est sanguis Christianorum…. As often as we are reaped by you [persecutors], we grow in numbers; the blood of Christians is seed.
As our liturgical year comes to its close in these next two weeks, let us take stock of ourselves as disciples of Christ, with our vocations, and our role in the Church as sharers by baptism in Christ’s Priesthood as liturgical Christians. How can I be a better active recipient, a good furrow ever ready, and in turn a cultivator and sower for others?
Since these columns are directed especially to those who participate in the Vetus Ordo on Sundays, it would be risible not to address the attacks on the Traditional Roman Rite which are multiplying in some certain, especially ultramontanist and even quasi-papalotrous spheres. One is reminded of the prophetic words of the Savior in John 6,
They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God (v. 3)… I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (v. 33).
Those who are clamping down on the Vetus Ordo are doing so even on the foundation of falsehoods. In short, they are building on a foundation of sand and their works cannot endure.
For your part, if you are spiritually furrowed in the Vetus Ordo, make sure you are that good furrow: get rid of the rocks and dead roots and debris. Make sure your conscience and soul are clear of the deadly invasion of weeds.
We can turn the parables of the seeds and sowing and leaven inside out and learn also that if good things can start from very small origins, so can bad things. St. Gregory the Great (+604) teaches that if venial sins become habitual, afterwards we will not avoid even mortal sins.
We must remain steadfast in the face of the ill-treatment that is bound to continue for a time. As Paul wrote, remain in the “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1:3). Be joyful and confident in these troubled days. Joy attracts. Be inviting to others. When you love something you want more people to have that joy. If the program of the naysayers is to repress through sheer power, let your program gently, cheerfully, be to make the numbers grow at what Masses of the Vetus Ordo remain.
Do you recall the other genre of story with a moral, fables? Fables include also anthropomorphized animals and plants and so forth, while parables do not. In a fable from the legendary Aesop (+564 BC), the North Wind and the Sun challenged each other to see which of them could make a traveler take off his coat. The harder the North Wind blew, the tighter he clutched his protective covering. But the Sun simply shone on him, gradually warming him until he took his coat off.
A note to Novus Ordo adherents. Hurt one, all are wounded. You also are being wounded by the persecution of those who love the Traditional Roman Rite. You should defend your brethren out of both self-interest and charity. It is wrong to stand by in silence and watch your best brothers and sisters being cruelly bullied.
The Lord says, “The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard,” I repeat, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Whatever others will tear down, will be rebuilt. They may sow darnels. We will with patience and prudence look to the harvest. Whatever tribulation is on the horizon, be of good cheer.
Plures efficimur quotiens metimur a vobis; semen est sanguis Christianorum.
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