24th Sunday after Pentecost (Sixth
Epiphany)—15 November AD 2009
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“For from you was spread abroad the word
of the Lord, not only in Macedonia,
and in Achaia, but also in every
The Thessalonians lived in what today would be called
“northern Greece.” Macedonia was to the north, the country of
Alexander the Great, and known up until a few years ago as “Yugoslavia.”
Achaia was to their south, almost to the lovely Greek Islands that float in the
waters where the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean come together.
It is said to be a region of great natural beauty, comfortable most of the year,
and as we see today, one of the early churches praised by their founder, the
Paul praised the Thessalonians for “the work of [their]
faith, and labor, and charity, and of the enduring of the hope of our Lord Jesus
Christ before God and our Father.” No doubt, they had received the same
Gospel message as the other local churches established by Saint Paul during his
missionary journeys—but they were so receptive of the Gospel that Saint Paul
could write that they had received the Gospel not “in word only, but in power
also, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much fullness.” What Paul was
saying, was that the Thessalonians had not just heard the Gospel, but
were actually living the Gospel. They “turned to God from idols
to serve the living and true God.” Most significant of all was that the
Thessalonians had a profound impact on their neighbors to the north and to the
south, the peoples of Macedonia and Achaia—and apparently in other places as
well. We know the Christianizing influence of the Thessalonians was great
because Paul heard of it himself from these neighboring peoples.
One of the most powerful missionary tools for the spread of
the Gospel is good example. Non-Christians are far more likely to
be drawn to the Faith by seeing it in action, than they are by reading or
hearing a set of theological principles and moral commandments. The Faith
in action is a living Faith, while principles and commandments are
nothing more than an abstraction if they are not lived.
One of my favorite sayings about this living Faith,
is from the last century, and the pen of the French Emmanuel Cardinal
Suhard. It is very brief. He wrote that “to be a witness does
not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in
being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life
would not make sense if God did not exist.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean “wearing one’s religion on one’s
sleeve”—on the contrary it means practicing the Catholic Faith without any
regard to who might be looking, other than God Himself. It means
practicing the Catholic Faith, equally when it will bring reward, as when it
will bring penalty or even punishment, with regard to the outcome of ones
actions only as they are judged by God.
Indeed, such selfless good example may be the only way in
which we can convince others that life with God is not only theoretically
possible and desirable—but that someone is actually doing it—us!
The Gospel today is paired with Saint Paul’s writing to
the Thessalonians, to remind us that to giver effective good example, it
is not necessary to be rich or powerful.
The mustard seed is quite possibly the smallest seed of all. It looks like
those little black seeds that you see on Kaiser rolls, but much smaller, and
more easily spread in the wind. This tiny thing draws nourishment and
energy from the earth, the water, the air, and the sun, and grows up to be fully
the size of a tree. A formidable plant grows from the least of all
The leaven to which our Lord referred, we would know of as
yeast. And as bakers have done for many centuries, the woman in the
parable took a quantity of plain flour, mixed it with a small amount of an older
dough that contained yeast, and left it for a while in a warm, dark, and moist
place. The yeast of the older dough literally grew throughout the
newer dough, so that eventually the whole mass of dough became leavened, and
raised up full of those little bubbles which make bread so much easier and more
pleasant to eat.
But not only does a little bit of yeast-bearing dough
leaven a much larger amount—for all of the newly leavened dough is now fully
capable of providing leaven for the next batch of dough, on and on, batch after
batch, generation of yeast after generation.
This ability of the seemingly insignificant to cause great
effects in its surroundings is the message of providing good example to the
people around us. It is, conversely, a warning against the devastating
effect that bad example can have in a similar proportion.
Think of the terrible effect that a Catholic can have on
the world around him by publicly using the name of God in vain. That may
sound like a small thing, but perhaps the most graphic example of living one’s
life as though God did not exist! Add to that the influence of a
Catholic who lies, or cheats, or steals; who lives in a string of bad
marriages; who goes about carousing in the evening, so that he attends
Sunday morning Mass in a painful fog, if at all! Think of the
scandal given by Catholics—especially those in high places in the Church—who
demonstrate their loss of Faith, and utter disregard for morals. Such
behavior also works like the mustard seed, but in reverse, not a pattern of good
behavior like the Thessalonians, but a pattern of evil that is very likely to be
imitated by the pagans in our society.
But the good mustard seed, and the good measure of leaven,
can be very powerful to correct and to make good the damage done by scandals.
We are in a position to be like the Thessalonians, a pattern to all those
around us, witnesses in living a life that would make no sense if God did
If living such a life seems like too much to ask of anyone,
we might reflect that it may indeed be necessary for our very salvation.
Oh, it might be possible to hold a lesser standard, but what might that standard
be? How much can one afford to relax without relaxing too much? If
we lose sight of the higher standard, don’t we come in danger of having no
standard at all? If we adopt a more worldly standard, are we not in danger
of choosing something else over God, and losing eternity?
There is another danger in following a lesser standard in
the time in which we live. Ideologically, the specter of Marxism is
raising its head once again in the sphere of the state, matched in its rise by
Modernism in the sphere of religion. Abominations like abortion, fetal
experimentation, and euthanasia go unopposed by “Christians” eager to
plunder and loot society in order to redistribute its wealth according to their
mistaken notion of the “common good.” “Christians eager to spread
the misery around, rather than to improve the human condition. “Christians”
who ought to be exceedingly concerned with their freedom to speak the truth
against moral and doctrinal error, are willing to have the forces of
“political correctness” silence the opposition of their conservative
opponents, and the opposition to their so-called “progressive” allies.
“Christians, who like Capitalists, seem “willing to sell the rope with which
they will be hanged.”
If Christian men and women fail to start living a life that
makes no sense without God, we may well usher in the darkest age our poor planet
has ever known.
But the “power of the mustard seed” is strong. If
we become a “pattern” to those around us. If we live in such a way that
makes no sense without God, we can return that kingdom of the mustard seed and
the leaven—we can return the kingdom of heaven to earth.