Mustard Seeds and Fathers
By Father Peter Iorio
I want to tell you a story about George. George used to work for one of the largest law firms in the world.
Several years ago, a colleague and George were driving home from a Cub Scout pinewood derby competition…While the van-full of boys played and laughed in the back seats, the coworker cleared his throat and broached a difficult subject.
“George, you are making a big mistake by leaving the law firm. Do you realize that?” He was referring to George’s decision to give six months’ notice of his resignation. “It’s not like you can just do whatever you want,” the man continued. “You have five children. You have a duty to give them the best life possible and to send them to the best universities they can get into. You are shirking your duty.”
George replied. “It wasn’t my idea. I never intended to cut back to less than twenty hours per week. My daughters pleaded that I quit.”
It was true. For the last two years that he had balanced twenty hours per week as a lawyer with an equal amount of time serving men dying of AIDS and cancer. This was a dramatic change from his life as a lawyer who lived on airplanes, opening accounts all over the country and working eighty to ninety hours a week.
But then the Gulf War hit. His part-time legal work suddenly exploded, and soon George was back to his old schedule.
About six weeks after he started working over time again, his sixth-grade daughter disappeared from school: she simply wasn’t there one afternoon when we went to pick her up. They looked for her for over two hours and finally contacted the police. Later she was found by a friend walking alone on a roadside, crying. Her explanation was simple: “Dad, when you were gone all the time, it didn’t matter. But now I’ve gotten used to you being here, and I can’t take it. I want you to quit being a lawyer.”
First he tried to get his ninth grade daughter to talk some sense into her younger sister, but it didn’t work. She agreed with her completely.
Then he put it all down on paper for them to contemplate – to show them just how stiff the economic consequences would be: George made clear what money made by his lawyer’s job would pay for – your own clothes, car, gas, insurance, yearbooks, prom, college, trips, etc. It didn’t matter. His daughters wanted their daddy.
As his colleague was bringing the van to a stop at a red light, he said impatiently, “Look. You’re shirking your responsibility!” A few moments passed before George said gently,”I disagree. And I bet, in your heart of hearts, that you do, too.”
Today we hear the famous parables of spreading seeds on the ground and hidden under the earth brings forth a rich harvest. Jesus also exalts the mustard seed. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” When I was in the Holy Land in February, as we were driving along the Dead Sea, our guide pointed out the mustard plant. It really was a huge bush, which I liken to the size of a crepe myrtle, although without flowers.
How does God tend to work? What does the building up of the Kingdom typically look like? From the very small to the very great—and usually by a slow, gradual process. God seems to operate under the radar, on the edge of things, Quietly, clandestinely, not drawing attention to himself. God’s kingdom is quietly advancing, unnoticed usually, inevitably.
CS Lewis asked, how did the son of man come into the world? The answer: Quietly, in a dusty forgotten corner of the Roman Empire, sneaking, as it were, behind enemy lines. God did not and does not come as a great hero or a powerful king or leader. God enters the world humbly, quietly.
And when the Son of God was growing up, he was basically unknown as he grew in wisdom and grace. He lived simply in the family with Mary and Joseph teaching him and caring for him.
The Christian story continues with numerous examples of the advancement of the kingdom of God. Just when you think it is going to die out, the kingdom keeps coming back, maybe like those weeds that keep growing and keep spreading.
From quiet unnoticed beginnings, great things emerge. Bishop Barron calls it the mustard seed principle.
It is easy to look at the big picture, of all the terrible and troubling things that are happening in this world. It is more difficult to see as God sees. We remember what St. Paul says in the second reading today: as Christians, we walk by faith and not by sight. My friends, the kingdom of God is advancing whether you see it or not. The kingdom of God is within you and among us. Do not despair. Have hope and stay the course. Be patient and trust God. And yes, do your part to cultivate the seed of God’s Kingdom within you, nourishing it with the sacramental life and doing small acts of love in the family and with every neighbor you encounter.
George, whose story I told about leaving his lucrative job as an attorney to spend more time with his family trusted God enough to know that the fruits of his vocation as a father would come about through the quantity of special time hidden in family life. On this Father’s Day weekend, we wish all of our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers and those like fathers to us a special thank you. We will ask God to continue to bless you at the end of Mass.