In Its Time

7 October 2007. 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Habbakuk 1: 2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95, 1-9; Luke 17, 5-10

The disciples in the Gospels asked Jesus to increase their faith. And Jesus began by giving them the image of the mustard seed. The seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering or a seed coat; thus the seed eventually develops into a plant. In other words, the seed is an image of growth or a process of development. And the process of development in seeds cannot be forced or speed up. Faith also involves a process. In the first reading from the prophet Habbakuk, we hear Habbakuk complaining that his cries for help in the midst of violence and destruction have not been heard by God. And God answered that fulfilling his prayers has its own time, and, like a seed, presses on to fulfillment. It will surely come and it will not be late; and if it delays, it is best to wait. God’s answer hits us right on the target: we are an impatient people, we want to do things nice and quick, or we want to have things at our own bidding. Our norm is this: everything should be done ASAP.

There is a story in Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek that tells us why we should respect the pace and process of nature, and thus, even the pace and process of our faith. The story is as follows: “I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree, just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waiting awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it was a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the external rhythm. I sat on a rock to absorb this New Year’s thought. Ah, if only that little butterfly could always flutter before me to show the way.”

This leads us to the second point. We increase our faith by keeping our gaze on Christ as our source and goal. As the seed gets nourishment from the soil for its growth, we increase our faith by taking nourishment from Christ, as we do at mass. But the seed also takes guidance for its growth from the sun. In Biology, this is called positive phototrophism, the direction of growth is guided by the light source. That is why shoots go toward the direction of the sun.

The same thing with faith. There are different ways as Zorba’s butterfly towards the same sun. The Parable of the Servant is against the belief that if we do the minimum, we have done our duty. The servant who just arrived from plowing and tending the sheep is still requested to prepare dinner and to wait at table until the Master finishes his meal.

So too with faith, we cannot say that we have been good Catholic Christians when we have fulfilled our Sunday obligations, prayed the rosary or have done fasting and abstinence. We are asked to do more. In the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the more is the magis. It is not about quantity like adding work, but it is about quality: putting your all in everything that you do, whether the work is commonplace as washing dishes or extraordinary as organizing a relief operation. Our faith increases simultaneously as we work on it.

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