Fr Thomas’ Reflection for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shelter in the Shade

I am now meeting with First Communion families.  I ask them what they think of the parish.  A number of the families speak of the solace the Church is providing them as they come for personal prayers.  Some of them said, “I often come for personal prayer in the church and I like the ambience.  Life is so stressful.  But when I come in and spend about half an hour or sometimes just a few minutes, the peace and consolation I feel after a visit is wonderful.”  They even thank me for the things I do for the Church.  I remind them that what I do is very minimal.  I also tell them that their experience is God’s doing.  Some of the parents spoke about how welcoming and friendly it felt coming to the parish masses.  I in turn congratulate them for making the parish a very welcoming and friendly one.  I have to admit that the joy and encouragement these comments bring surpasses other observations.  Last month we had the Mass attendance count.  The numbers were not very encouraging.  Since the COVID-19 break, Mass attendance and contributions to the church have shrunk a lot.  But the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:22-34) is very uplifting.

Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.”  In this parable, there is no mention of the human work of planting or tendering, as if Jesus is asking his listeners to forget about the human input.  When it comes to the growth of the Church and people finding solace in Church, it is God’s doing.  Those who listened to Jesus knew their Bible and knew that the parable of the mustard seed alludes to prophesies of Ezekiel.  The prophet told the Jewish people returning from diaspora a parable.  ‘God will bring a cutting, or a sapling of a cedar, and plant it in the land of Israel which will grow in to a mighty tree providing solace for all Jews.’  Here Jesus seems to say, ‘don’t look for the mighty tree, just a two-metre-tall mustard plant is enough to give solace to birds of all kinds from all over.’  This metaphor is particularly relevant for those of us who feel nostalgia for the big church gatherings they grew up with which continue to be present in some countries.  Though small in many respects, your local parish church can provide shade and consolation for you.  When is the last time you found shelter in the shade of the branches of ‘the mustard plant’, you call parish church?