There are mysteries in nature that cannot be explained. We don’t know how gravity works, for example, but we know that it does, and we count on it. We also know that when a seed is planted, it develops into a full grown crop. With a little sunshine, some water, and a bit of patience the growth takes place. But we don’t know precisely how that happens, either. We know that it does and we count on it. Even more mysterious is the fact that when a shrub is properly pruned, some of it cut away, it actually becomes more vigorous and productive.
But my intention here is not to write a treatise about agriculture or horticulture, subjects about which I know very little. I rather use the analogy to lead us to ponder a deeper mystery: the mystery of the reign of God and His Holy Spirit in the Church.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus uses an analogy of the mustard seed that can grow into the largest of shrubs. It is not difficult to recognize the growth of the Church in His analogy. The Church began as a few seeds planted, a few disciples in Jerusalem, and has grown so fruitfully that it has spread to the entire world.
Now, how this has happened is even more a mystery than the growth of a seed that grows into the largest of shrubs. However, mysteries are not meant to be solved, but to be pondered. To paraphrase a wonderful Catholic homilist: a mystery is not a truth about which we know nothing, but a truth about which we cannot know everything. Something we do know about the mystery of the Church is that the Holy Spirit is always at work in it. Just as plants need sunshine and water and soil in order to grow, so does our Church need the Holy Spirit in order to grow.
To be Catholic is to think big. We realize that we are a part of a Church that reaches back for more than 2,000 years to Jesus the Christ, and that is now present in every part of the globe. Though universal, the Church is not perfect, we admit. Weaknesses and mistakes, past and present, should not discourage us. Just as a shrub needs occasional pruning in order to thrive and prosper, so the Church needs repentance and renewal, which are also the work of the Holy Spirit. It has happened throughout the centuries and will continue to do so.
How privileged we are to be a part of our great, thriving Catholic Church!