The mustard seed: on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene | 15 November 2023
May Your kingdom come, O Lord, in the whole world and in my heart.
The parable of the mustard seed emerges from the text of this Sunday’s Mass; it is brief, but rich in meaning:
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; which is the least indeed of all seeds, but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in the branches thereof.”Mt 13:31–32
Nothing was smaller or more humble in its beginnings than “the kingdom of heaven”, the Church: Jesus, its Head and Founder, was born in a stable; He worked for the greater part of thirty years in a carpenter’s shop, and for only three years unfolded His mission to a poor people, preaching a doctrine so simple that all, even the unlettered, could understand. When Jesus left the earth, the Church was established by an insignificant group of twelve men, gathered about a humble woman, Mary; but this first nucleus possessed so powerful a vitality that in a few years it spread into all the countries of the vast Roman Empire. The Church, from a very tiny seed, sown in the hearts of a Virgin Mother and of poor fishermen, became, little by little through the centuries, a gigantic tree extending its branches into all regions of the globe, with peoples of every tongue and nation taking shelter in its shade.
The Church is not merely a society of men, but of men who have for their Head Jesus, the Son of God; the Church is the whole Christ, that is, Jesus and the faithful incorporated in Him and forming one Body with Him. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ of which each of the baptised is a member. To love the Church is to love Jesus; to work for the extension of the Church is to work for the increase of the Mystical Body of Christ, so that the number of His members may be filled up and each may contribute to the splendour of the whole. All this is summarised and asked of the Father in the brief invocation, Adveniat regnum tuum.
Perhaps there is but little that we can do for the extension of the Church. Let us, at least, do that little; let us contribute our insignificant labor, as a veritable mustard seed, toward the growth of this wonderful tree, beneath whose shadow all men are called to find salvation and repose.
The parable of the mustard seed makes us consider not only the expansion of the kingdom of God in the world, but also its development in our hearts. Has not Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21)? Yes, in us too this wonderful kingdom began as a tiny seed, a seed of grace: the sanctifying grace which, in a hidden and mysterious way, was sown in us by God at Baptism, and the actual grace of good inspirations and of the divine word — semen est verbum Dei — which Jesus, the heavenly Sower, has scattered plentifully in our souls. This little seed has germinated slowly, it has sent down ever deeper roots, it has grown progressively, penetrating our whole spirit, until it has entirely conquered us for God, until we have felt the need of saying, “Lord, all that I have, all that I am, is Yours; I give myself wholly to You. I want to be Your kingdom.”
To be entirely the kingdom of God, so that He is the only Sovereign and Ruler of the heart, so that nothing exists in it which does not belong to Him or is not subject to His rule, is the ideal of a soul that loves God with perfect love. But how can we attain to the full development of this kingdom of God within us? The second parable which we read in today’s Gospel tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.” Here is another very beautiful image of the work grace must accomplish in our souls: grace has been placed in us like leaven which little by little must increase until it permeates our whole being and divinises it entirely. Grace, the divine leaven, has been given to purify, elevate, and sanctify our entire being, with all its powers and faculties; only when this work will have been brought to completion, shall we be entirely the kingdom of God.
Let us reflect further on the great problem of our correspondence with grace. This divine seed, this supernatural leaven, is within us; what can prevent it from becoming a gigantic tree, capable of giving shelter to other souls; what can impede the leaven from fermenting the whole mass, if we remove all the obstacles opposed to its development, if we respond to all its motions and requirements?
Adveniat regnum tuum! Yes, let us pray for the absolute coming of the kingdom of God in our hearts.
“O Lord, my God, who created me to Your own image and likeness, grant me this grace which You have shown to be so great and necessary for salvation, that I may overcome my very evil nature that is drawing me to sin and perdition. For I feel in my flesh the law of sin contradicting the law of my mind and leading me captive to serve sensuality in many things. I cannot resist the passions if Your most holy grace warmly infused into my heart does not assist me….
“O Lord, without grace I can do nothing, but with its strength I can do all things in You.
“O grace, truly heavenly, without which our merits are nothing and no gifts of nature are to be esteemed! O most blessed grace, which makes the poor in spirit rich in virtues, which renders him who is rich in many good things humble of heart, come descend upon me, fill me quickly with your consolation lest my soul faint with weariness and dryness of mind.
“Let me find grace in Your sight, I beg, Lord, for Your grace is enough for me, even though I obtain none of the things which nature desires. If I am tempted and afflicted with many tribulations, I will fear no evils while Your grace is with me. It is my strength. It gives me counsel and help. It is more powerful than all my enemies and wiser than all the wise.
“Let Your grace, therefore, go before me and follow me, O Lord, and make me always intent upon good works, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.”Imitation of Christ III, 55