Archbishop Follo: Hope: Trust in God's Love

With the wish to understand that the hope is not grounded in our desire, but on the gift of the love of God.

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – June 17, 2018
Roman Rite
Ez 17.22 to 24; Ps 92; 2 Cor 5.6 to 10; Mk 4: 26-34
Ambrosian Rite
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Gen 2, 18-25; Ps 8; Eph 5.21 to 33; MK 10, 1-12
1) Man sows with faith, God makes grow with love.
The Gospel of this Sunday (Mk 4: 26-35) offers two brief parables, one of the seeds that grows by itself and the one of the mustard seed. The sowing of the smallest grain produces the biggest event: the Kingdom of heaven. Using images taken from the life in the fields, Jesus presents the kingdom of God[1] and indicates the reasons for our commitment full of hope.
In the first parable, Jesus shows the miracle of growth, describing the dynamics of sowing. The seed is sown in the earth, then, whether the farmer sleeps or vigils, it sprouts and grows by itself.
Man does nothing but sowing and waiting. We are in front of the mystery of creation, God’s action in history which we must contemplate in amazement. He is the Lord of the Kingdom, man is a humble collaborator contemplating and rejoicing of God’s creative doing and waiting for the harvest eager to participate in it.
In this regard, St. Gregory the Great says «The man throws the seed when he conceives in the heart a good intention. The seed sprouts and grows but he is not aware of that because, until it’s time to harvest, the good deeds continue to grow. The earth bears fruit by itself because through prevenient grace, the human mind naturally goes toward the fruit of good deeds. The earth does it in stages: grass, ear, wheat. To produce grass means to have the weakness of the beginning of good. The grass does the care when virtue progresses into good. Wheat fills the ear when virtue reaches the strength and the perfection of the good deed. When the fruit is ripe, comes the sickle because it’s time to harvest. In fact, God Almighty, when the fruit is ripe, sends the sickle and reaps the harvest because when He has led each of us to the perfection of the work, he truncates our temporal life to take his grain in the granaries of heaven «(In Exodus , II, 3, 5  and following)
In the second parable, Jesus speaks again of sowing. However, he refers to a specific seed, the mustard seed, considered the smallest of all seeds (1.6 mm according to the experts). Though so small, it has an unthinkable dynamism and power of life. So is the Kingdom of God, something really small humanly speaking and made up of people usually simple, poor, not important to the eyes of the world. Nevertheless, the power of Christ breaks through them and transforms what is minor and seemingly insignificant. The mustard seed becomes a high and robust shrub, able to give shelter in its branches to the birds. The Kingdom of God, from a human point of view, is like a tiny scorned for its appearance, but that contains within itself the mystery of a prodigious divine force that for us is unimaginable.
Saint Ambrose, commenting on this parable, wrote «Let’s see why the sublime kingdom of heaven is likened to a mustard seed. I remember reading, in another passage, about the mustard seed that the Lord compares to faith with these words «If you have a faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain” Move from here to there” (Mt 17, 20). It is not a mediocre faith, but a great faith the one that is able to command a mountain to move. In fact, it is not a mediocre faith the one that the Lord demands from the apostles, knowing that they must fight the greatness and the exaltation of the spirit of evil. So, if the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed and faith too is like a mustard seed, faith is certainly the Kingdom of heaven, and the Kingdom of heaven is faith. «(Exp. in Lk., 7, 176-180; 182-186).
The first lesson to be learned from this passage of the Gospel is that we must look to the nature of the similarities, not to their appearance. In fact, despite the humble beginnings of the action of God in the person and work of Jesus as well as in the persons and works of Christians, thanks to the Christian sowing, humanity will grow in full justice, peace and freedom because of the love of providential God.
 2) Hope and patience.
The second lesson that comes from the two parables is that even and especially in a society that is in a hurry and that calls «real time» a news that arrives within seconds, we must be active and  wait patiently because the seed, freely given,  can bear fruit only if it is welcomed and cared for.
We are confronted with God’s grace and our freedom. God’s grace and human freedom characterize all our personal history. On the one hand, we are called to live with amazement the growth of the small seed planted in the ground (first parable). On the other, we are taught that both patience and care are crucial for the earth to protect and feed the seed, and the sun to bring it to fruition.
The Gospel is a school that educates to the waiting. Jesus lived in the time and limit of a short life and of horizons that seem restricted, but He has waited for nothing less than the Kingdom of God in this world. For this reason, in the Gospel we can gather images of waiting by which to learn to live the «already and not yet», the paradoxical waiting of the Christian life.
To wait is not easy, especially today. But the verb “to wait» has two meanings: to wait and to wait on. Let me explain it by referring to ordinary life where someone is asked to «wait on” for the most mundane and everyday jobs like feeding, watching over the lives of those entrusted to him or to her, setting the table, keeping the fire, being alert of looming dangers. A person waits to pay attention to the brothers entrusted to him or to her, not letting himself or herself being overcome by the fatigue and not seeking gratification, i.e. not thinking of oneself, before thinking of the needs of others.
To wait requires asceticism, an effort to not let go.
One waits in the vigilance of a light (prayer) and in the active life (charity) of those who are with their loins girded by the apron of service. Prayer and charity are the exercises that teach us to wait. Those who pray learn that the Lord neither speaks nor enters into dialogue immediately with the person praying. There is a silence to go through, but this silence educates to the waiting and gives resonance to the words. Those who love and serve know the difference between the services provided and the fruits and the awards because it is necessary to serve free of charge, like «useless servants», honoring their task without any other concern. It is first of all to «do their part» and not to avoid the fatigue of the days when it seems an «unnecessary work» without immediate results.
The other meaning is to wait and this implies hope and patience.
Patience is “suffering the time» (Maria Zambrano) and the emptiness of a work that is not wholly and solely in our hands, the timing of which escapes our hustle and our need for control and reassurance. But, once done our part, we can rest in peace because there is a time that comes to us «spontaneously» and independently of us. As you cannot «force» the growth of the seed without risking damaging the plant, so you cannot force the growth of our brothers and sisters. We must learn to wait in the long run, to work without curtailing the time, without giving forced deadlines to growth.
It is in the school of the Gospel that we learn the true patience that keeps track of time. In this passing of time, the meaning comes from the future, and the fullness of time accounts for the time of waiting. If we look at it from our side, history begins at the beginning. If we look from God’s side the beginning starts from the end. In the «fullness of time» came the Son and humanity has realized that the time had come to its fullness because of his presence that led it to completion. He comes because he is long-awaited by the patient work of countless generations who have sown with faith in the hope to see that day. His coming is, however, a real surprise: the wait is dissolved in the joy of contemplating the abundance of the field of the kingdom of God, the shadow of a tree under which to find rest like birds escaped from danger.
Hope consists in putting ourselves in a filial and trusting way in the hands of God, who knows what we need (see Mt 6,8) and «gives to all with simplicity and without conditions» (James 1, 5). Like the Redeemer, who gave up his life in the hands of the Father (cfr. Lk 23:46), so the Christian is anchored in the Eternal, because hope is as a spiritual anchor, sure and steadfast, thrown in the afterlife into which for us Jesus has already entered ( see Heb 6.19 to 20).
However, it must be remembered that Christian hope is the hope of the fulfillment of this life, and not of another life where to escape to. It implies the acceptance of history as a place in which the presence of God is manifested. It doesn’t breed contempt but causes appreciation and gratitude while being aware of the limits. It is the inner strength of faith that makes men walk with God, seek His presence and commit themselves to work for the coming of the Kingdom: «Only when the future is certain as a positive reality, it becomes possible to live the present.[2]» Christian hope sees and loves what will be. It is the dynamic element of the moral life, which pursues in continued growth both the light of faith and the energy of love. Hope is the younger sister holding hands and guiding the older ones, faith, and charity, toward the goal[3]. While we are on the way, in the midst of trials and difficulties both individual and collective, hope generated by faith produces charity.[4]
3) The mustard seed of consecrated virgins in the world.
The Parable of the mustard seed shows that humility is the God’s method. This method was realized in the Incarnation in the cave of Bethlehem, in the simple home of Nazareth, and in the «earthly» life of Jesus. In today’s liturgy, this method of humility is taught to us through the parable of the mustard seed.
We need not fear the humility of small steps and must have trust that the (seemingly) small seed grows in us and then must be given to others. An example of how we can imitate this method of humility is the one offered by the life of the consecrated virgins in the world who show to us that «in giving life with simplicity one gets Life» (Pope Francis)
Consecrating themselves to Love, these women have placed their hope in something that is not from God, but God himself. In this regard, Saint Augustine teaches «May the Lord your God be your hope; do not expect anything from the Lord your God, but let the same Lord be your hope. Many hope from God something outside of Him but look for your God. Forgetting other things, remember Him; leaving everything behind, reach to Him. He will be your love «(Enarrationes in Psalmos, 39, 7-8).
The mustard seed is not only a likeness of Christian hope but provides evidence that great comes from small, not by exceptional ability but thanks to the Christian attitude of simple people who live of God’s love and patience that is the long breath of love.
Patristic Reading
Golden Chain 6426
Mark 4, 26-29
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: A parable occurred, a little above, about the three seeds which perished in various ways, and the one which was saved; in which last He also shews three differences, according to the proportion of faith and practice.
Here, however, He puts forth a parable concerning those only who are saved.
Wherefore it is said, «And He said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, &c.»
Pseudo-Jerome: The kingdom of God is the Church, which is ruled by God, and herself rules over men, and treads down [p. 82] the powers which are contrary to her, and all wickedness.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else He calls by the name of kingdom of God, faith in Him, and in the economy of His Incarnation; which kingdom indeed is as if a man should throw seed. For He Himself being God and the Son of God, having without change been made man, has cast seed upon the earth, that is, He has enlightened the whole world by the word of divine knowledge.
Pseudo-Jerome: For the seed is the word of life, the ground is the human heart, and the sleep of the man means the death of the Saviour. The seed springs up night and day, because after the sleep of Christ, the number of Christians, through calamity and prosperity, continued to flourish more and more in faith, and to wax greater in deed.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or Christ Himself is the man who rises, for He sat waiting with patience, that they who received seed should bear fruit. He rises, that is, by the word of His love, He makes us grow to the bringing forth fruit, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand, (2Co 6,7) by which is meant the day, and on the left, by which is meant the night of persecution; for by these the seed springs up, and does not wither.
Theophylact: Or else Christ sleeps, that is, ascends into heaven, where, though He seem to sleep, yet He rises by night, when through temptations He raises us up to the knowledge of Himself; and in the day time, when on account of our prayers, He sets in order our salvation.
Pseudo-Jerome: But when He says, «He knoweth not how,» He is speaking in a figure; that is, He does not make known to us, who amongst us will produce fruit unto the end.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else He says, «He knoweth not,» that He may shew the free-will of those who receive the word, for He commits a work to our will, and does not work the whole Himself alone, lest the good should seem involuntary. For the earth brings forth fruits of its own accord, that is, she is brought to bear fruit without being compelled by a necessity contrary to her will. «First the blade.»
Pseudo-Jerome: That is, fear. For «the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Then the full corn in the ear;» (Ps 111,10) that is, charity, for charity is the fulfilling of the Law. (see Rm 13,8)
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Cat. e Cat. in Marc.: Or, first it produces the blade, in the law of nature, by degrees growing up to advancement; afterwards it brings forth the ears, which are to be collected into a bundle, and to be offered on an altar to the Lord, that is, in the law (p. 83) of Moses; afterwards the full-fruit, in the Gospel.
Or because we must not only put forth leaves by obedience, but also learn prudence, and, like the stalk of corn, remain upright without minding the winds which blow us about. We must also take heed to our soul by a diligent recollection, that, like the ears, we may bear fruit, that is, shew forth the perfect operation of virtue.
Theophylact: for we put forth the blade when we shew a principle of good; then the ear, when we can resist temptations; then comes the fruit, when a man works something perfect.
It goes on: «and when it has brought forth the fruit, immediately he sendeth the sickle, because the harvest is come.»
Pseudo-Jerome: The sickle is death or the judgment, which cuts down all things; the harvest is the end of the world.
Gregory, in Ezech, 2, Hom. 3: Or else, Man casts seed into the ground, when he places a good intention in his heart; and he sleeps, when he already rests in the hope which attends on a good work. But he rises night and day, because he advances amidst prosperity and adversity, though he knows it not, for he is as yet unable to measure his increase, and yet virtue, once conceived, goes on increasing.
When therefore we conceive good desires, we put seed into the ground; when we begin to work rightly, we are the blade. When we increase to the perfection of good works, we arrive at the ear; when we are firmly fixed in the perfection of the same working, we already put forth the full corn in the ear.
[1] An interesting reflection of Joseph Ratzinger («Jesus of Nazareth») can help us understand properly the Gospel passage. «Kingdom of God» means «God’s sovereignty» and that means that his will is taken as a criterion. This is the desire that creates justice … That’s why Solomon asks God for «a docile heart» to be able to do justice and to distinguish right from wrong; «a docile heart» so that is God who reigns not him, because, if you are not in tune with God, you cannot exercise true justice …… The kingdom of God is through the » docile heart «. Then the most important prayer you can do for the kingdom of God to come is” Make us yours, Lord! Live in us! May God be all in all. ( see 1Cor 15,26-28)
[2] Benedict XVI “Spe salvis” nr.2
[3] See Charles Peguy ” The Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue”
[4] See Saint Thomas of Aquinas “Summa theologica” 2-2 q17,a8;1-2.q.62,a 4

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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