An eight-year-old boy named Jimmy came home one evening with two black eyes, and confessed to his dad that he had gotten into an argument with Bobby, the boy across thestreet. His father said, “Haven’t your mother and I told you again and again that when you’re angry, you need to count to ten before saying or doing anything?” “I did that,” Jimmy insisted, so the father demanded, “Well, then, what happened—why did Bobby hit you?,” and Jimmy explained, “Because his parents taught him when he gets angry to count only to five” (Msgr. Arthur Tonne, Jokes Priests Can Tell, Vol. 6, #356). Many disagreements and difficulties could be avoided if only everyone tried to be a bit more patient—but I think we’d all agree that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
Moreover, we all have opinions on the way we think things should be, and sometimes we might wish we had the power to implement these ideas. For instance, if I were temporarily the absolute ruler of this country, I’d decree a pro-life amendment to the Constitution, a huge reduction of spending by the federal government and a balanced budget, and I’d outlaw so-called “fake news,” while requiring all politicians to work together to solve our problems, without personal attacks and partisan bickering. I’d also make those highly-overpaid and selfish actors and athletes who give little or nothing back to society fund major pay raises for teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other underpaid public servants. In addition, I’d address some minor issues, such as making all buildings and houses have street numbers large enough to be seen clearly from the road; requiring anything packaged in super-heavy plastic to have an easy way of being opened; and having a large and annoying siren or air horn sound inside cars whose drivers didn’t bother to use their turn signals. I’d bet fathers, whom we honor on Father’s Day, have certain things they wish they could legislate in their own homes; they might think, for instance,“I wish my children would put away their toys instead of leaving them where I might trip on them, that my family would return my tools when they borrow them from the workshop, and that everyone would close the door when going outside and turn out the lights upon leaving a room.”
We have the expressions, “There ought to be a law,” and “somebody should do something.” Sometimes we take this a step further and think, “God should do something about this. Why doesn’t He solve poverty, eliminate disease, overthrow the wicked, and punish evildoers?” It’s natural to wonder this at times, but the readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time call us to be patient and faithful—for God is active on our behalf, but in His own way and at His own pace. The Lord’s saving plan is unfolding, both in the world and in our lives.
Patience is one of the most useful virtues any of us can have—and also one of the hardest virtues to acquire. Being patient is an important sign of our trust in God, as the prophet Ezekiel (17:22-24) asserts. During a time of national exile and suffering, the Lord promised to take a tender shoot—a symbol of Israel—and transplant it on the highest mountain, thereby exalting it. Patience was required, but eventually this promise was fulfilled; Israel was restored, and, through the coming of Jesus, became the source of salvation for all the world. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:6-10), St. Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight”—in other words, God is with us, even when we don’t see Him, and He has a plan for us, even when we don’t recognize or understand it. Jesus develops this idea by means of the parables He uses in the Gospel of Mark (4:26-34). God’s Kingdom has small beginnings but great endings; planted seeds are growing, even though the farmer doesn’t see this at first. This is meant to be true in our lives: if our hearts are fertile by being open to God, He is at work within us, even though it may be some time before we experience the full results.
Because Our Lord uses farming images in this Gospel passage, and because this is Father’s Day, I recall my own father, who was a farmer for most of his life. Growing up on a farm, I learned that farm life has a rhythm of its own—one very much in tune with nature. As we live our lives, we are called to be in tune with God’s presence and activity, so as to grow in holiness—and I think this is true in three ways in particular:
- The first of these involves hard work. A farmer has to work very hard, and at times it requires a real effort on our part to live as Christians—especially in an increasingly secular society. It’s challenging to be loving, forgiving, and compassionate when so many people today are suspicious, angry, and selfish. Jesus never said being His follower would be easy, but with God’s help, it is possible.
- A second essential quality for followers of Christ is patience; because of the natural rhythm of life, a farmer can’t rush things—and neither can we. God alone knows the ways in which we need to grow, and the things we need to experience. He is at work in our lives, but in a gentle and loving way; we must be patient and give His grace a chance to take root—and if we do, He will bring His good work in us to a wonderful and holy completion.
- A third requirement for true spiritual growth is faith. A farmer soon learns that he can only do so much, and then he must let God take over. This is also true for us. We cannot save the world ourselves, but we can cooperate with God’s saving plan—and this cooperation must begin in our very own lives. Each morning we should ask the Lord to help us face the duties and challenges and opportunities of that day, and each night we should place our worries and fears and disappointments in His hands; we need to remind ourselves on a regular basis that God is in control, and that as long as we do our part, we can trust Him to do His.
Counting to ten won’t always solve our conflicts and problems (especially when theother person only counts to five), but taking a moment to think about and reflect on God’s presence is always worthwhile. A happy life doesn’t require the power to issue decrees and arrange things exactly as we want; happiness comes from placing ourselves in the hands of God. Sometimes there are reasons for us to grow discouraged, but there are always more reasons for us to continue to hope. God is our Father, and as a loving Father, His saving plan is at work right now—both in the world, and in our lives.