June 13, 2021

The Mustard Seed
It starts small but ends up big

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (Mk 4:30-32 from 11th Sunday B in Ordinary Time).

The point of the parable of the Mustard Seed is to describe the kingdom of God from start to finish. It begins small and ends great. But Jesus intended to teach more than just that. He also preached that the ‘kingdom of God’ was “upon” his hearers as they listened to him. It seems that the kingdom of God was present wherever Jesus was.

Jesus makes the kingdom of God present in his person. By his Incarnation he, the Divine Word, became flesh. He is Emmanuel, God who is with us. Jesus came also to make his kingdom present to each one of us. He preached that the kingdom of God is within us (Lk 17:21). We know that He is present in each one of us, members of His Church by baptism. The Church began with a single seed.  Jesus is the mustard seed who will number 144,000 in his saints (an incalculable number) in the end.

From these truths we can ascertain that the mustard seed is that ‘seed of faith,’ Christ himself, planted in the hearts of all the baptized. This ‘seed’ is meant to grow and become a great ‘tree’ bearing the fruit of holy virtues. It is in the “branches” of these trees that the “birds of the sky,” the angels of heaven come to dwell.

On that note, I have always been enchanted by a prayer of St. Francis in praise of the holy viritues. He praises the virtues as if they were angelic persons,

Hail, Queen Wisdom!
May the Lord protect You,
with Your Sister, holy pure Simplicity!
Lady holy Poverty,
may the Lord protect You,
with Your Sister, holy Humility!
Lady holy Charity,
may the Lord protect You,
with Your Sister, holy Obedience.
Most holy Virtues,
may the Lord protect all of You
from Whom You come and proceed…”

It is a fact of our Catholic tradition that the holy angels have a ministry unto faithful souls. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, says that “Man cannot progress to merit except by the divine help, which is extended to man by means of the ministry of the angels. And accordingly, the angels cooperate towards our every good (action).” This divine help is a wonder of created grace. But by implication so do the fallen angels lead sinners into bad action… coming to dwell in the “branches” of their souls.

I was told this story about a holy group of ‘cloistered nuns’ that I have taken to be the truth. Being cloistered these sisters never leave the confines of their monastery, but they do welcome visitors. They have said that some visitors who come to their monastery, are in a grevious state of mortal sin. These holy sisters, behind their cloistered partition, can smell the stench of that sin on their souls. What could this smell be? As a priest I know one sign by which to discern the presence of the apostate angels: it is the horrible stench they bring. If demons can oppress and tempt unrepentant sinners, how much more do the holy angels assist faithful souls dwelling in the shade of their mustard trees!

As a point of fact, I have had the great grace to know some very holy souls that were given a profound charismatic grace, which I call the odor of their sanctity. Yes, they are holy, and they were surrounded by a wonderful ‘perfume’ from heaven. What is that smell like? Well it is like the smell of roses, which must be the heavenly virtues in their lives.

Heaven will be filled with great “mustard trees” of sanctity

I would imagine that heaven will be filled with great “mustard trees” united with the many choirs of joyful angels. All of us together offering the perfume of true worship to God. Of course, not all the trees of heaven are the same size, yet all will have achieved the fullness of their own degree of perfection. May we all achieve the perfection of Christ!

Our perfection begins in this life with the practice of the theological virtues:  Faith, Hope and Love… especially Love or Holy Charity. We are to grow in supernatural virtue in this life so as to share it in eternal life. Heaven begins now! Given the short time we have on earth should we not focus more attention on the growth of this mustard seed of our hearts? This thought reminds me of an apropos story.

There once was a wealthy philanthropist who wished to do something for the poor. He asked his secretary to find a poor carpenter struggling to raise his family that he might build a house for him. Having found one such man the philanthropist instructed him to build a house like none he had ever built before. No expense was to be spared and only the best materials and construction practices would do. He gave the carpenter the building plans, a big budget and salary as well as the promise of a handsome bonus if he could finish the house by the time he returned from business abroad.

The carpenter began to work with enthusiasm applying all his skills to the best of his ability. But as he worked he began to ponder how unfair it was that the philanthropist should have such a fine house whereas he lived in a poor hovel. His resentment grew with every nail he hammered. Soon the carpenter began to justify cheating the philanthropist in his resentment. He substituted inferior materials for higher quality and charged the same. He cut corners as he lost faith in the philanthropist’s good will for him.

The carpenter did finish the house in time for the philanthropist’s return. He was anxious to have his bonus and be done with the man and this house. As the philanthropist followed the carpenter through the house, he complimented him on how beautiful and well built the house seemed. “If he really knew!” thought the carpenter with his stubborn and ungrateful heart. It came time for the carpenter to hand over the keys to the house. In doing so the philanthropist said, “do you know why I built this house?” “No sir,” said the carpenter. The philanthropist replied, “I have had so many blessings in life and have been so very fortunate with the success of my businesses. I thought it was fine time for me to do something good for someone else less fortunate than myself. That is why I especially chose you to build this house. I did not have you build this house for me but for you!” With that he handed the dumbstruck carpenter back the keys and bid him a happy farewell.

The moral of the story is that we are building our lives now to determine how we will spend them for all eternity. Nevertheless, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and however humbled our present circumstance, let us remodel our lives upon Christ’s forgiveness and build anew according to the model Christ has set for us. He has given us the great ‘talents’ of Faith, Hope and Love as seeds to grow within our hearts. Supported by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and our better angels, may our souls become great mustard trees to the glory of God our Father. Amen!

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Fr. Michael Hinken SOLT is a priest of

the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. 

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