Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sketch by Brianne Schulze

The unique story Jesus tells about the seed that grows in secret is an important reminder about how growth in virtue and holiness are essentially caused by grace.  We can be under the illusion that our becoming holier or better people is somehow up to us.  Sometimes we priests even hear in confession, “I haven’t been the best version of myself.”  I would like to tell those people, for one, that it isn’t up to them how and when they become the best version of themselves.  Second, I would like them to know that only God knows what we will become – so we couldn’t possibly know what the best version of ourselves looks like.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”1  Grace is not something that we can either control or muster by our willing or trying.  Grace does its own work just like the life and growth of a plant: all is contained within the seed, we can help make sure the conditions are present for growth to happen, but that growth happens from a vital cause hidden within the seed.

On the one hand, it can be a relief to realize that our own holiness is God’s work and not ours.  The most we can do is make sure that the conditions for that growth are respected.  On the other hand, we must become fully aware of our cooperation to allowing that seed of grace to grow in our hearts.  We must water, we must fertilize, we must make sure there is sufficient light and warmth.  When the seasons change we have to adapt to the conditions to make sure growth continues.  Reading the Scriptures, taking time for prayer, avoiding the near occasion of sin, serving others, frequenting the sacraments – none of these things are in and of themselves holiness: they are what is necessary for our heart to cooperate with grace.


Take the wings of the word of God, and you will be able to repose under this tree that has been planted over a high mountain.2


God is still present, but because we cannot see him we are said to be absent from him as long as we are in the body.3


Let us be content with what is necessary and concentrate all our desire and longing on getting to our Father’s home.4


Therefore, amid the shadows of this life in which “we are absent from the Lord” as long as “we walk by faith and not by sight,” the Christian soul should consider itself desolate and should not cease from praying and from attending with the eye of faith to the word of the divine and sacred Scriptures. 5


Paul has put the greatest thing of all last, for to be with Christ is greater than having an incorruptible body. By avoiding direct mention of painful things like death and the end, Paul has dealt with them in such a way as to make his hearers long for them by calling them “presence with God.” Similarly, he has passed over the sweet things of this life and expressed them in painful terms, calling them “absence from the Lord.” He did this in order that we should not fondly linger among what we now have but be prepared to depart for something much better.6


Departing is not good in itself, but only if it is in God’s grace. Likewise, staying here is not the worst of evils, unless we are offending him. 7


Observe how the created order has advanced little by little toward fruitfulness. First comes the grain, and from the grain arises the shoot, and from the shoot emerges the shrub. From there the boughs and leaves gather strength, and the whole that we call a tree expands. Then follows the swelling of the germen, and from the germen bursts the flower, and from the flower the fruit opens. The fruit itself, primitive for a while, and unshapely, keeping the straight course of its development, is matured, little by little, to the full mellowness of its flavor. In just this way has righteousness grown in history. The proximate righteousness found in the created order is grounded in the holy God whose righteousness first emerged in a rudimentary stage as an undeveloped natural apprehension in the presence of the holy One. Then it advanced through the law and prophets to childhood. At long last through the gospel, God’s righteousness has been personally manifested with the vital energies of youth. Now through the paraclete, righteousness is being manifested in its mature stage.8


To produce “the blade” is to hold the first tender beginning of good. The “blade” arrives at maturity when virtue conceived in the mind leads to advancement in good works. The “full corn” fructifies in “the ear” when virtue makes such great progress that it comes into its fullest possible expression.9


The word which proclaims the kingdom of heaven is sharp and pungent as mustard. It represses bile (anger) and checks inflammation (pride). From this word flows the soul’s true vitality and fitness for eternity. To such increased size did the growth of the word come that the tree which sprang from it (that is the Church of Christ now being established over the whole earth) filled the world, so that the birds of the air (that is, holy angels and lofty souls) dwelt in its branches.]note]FRAGMENTS FROM THE CATENA OF NICETAS, BISHOP OF HERACLEA 4.  Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.[/note]


Its seed is indeed very plain, and of little value; but if bruised or crushed it shows forth its power. So faith first seems a simple thing; but if it is bruised by its enemies it gives forth proof of its power, so as to fill others who hear or read of it with the odor of its sweetness.10


  1. 1 Jn. 3:2
  2. HOMILIES ON EZEKIEL 12.5.  Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 75). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES.  Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 242). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. COMMENTARY ON THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 5.  Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 242). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. TO PROBA 130.  Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 243). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 10.4.  Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 243). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 10.4.  Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 243). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. ON THE VEILING OF THE VIRGINS 1.  Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 56). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. HOMILIES ON EZEKIEL 15.  Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 56). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. EXPOSITION ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 7.178-79.  Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 57–58). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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