The first time I ever game a homily on the parable of the mustard seed, it wasn’t even a real homily. It was a practice for a seminary class. I was still two years away from ordination.
A certain person who is now dead—and who we can say is certainly in heaven—this person was still alive then, thirteen years ago. And the practice homily I gave focused on him.
Because, when I pictured the full-grown mustard tree of the parable, I thought of myself as one of the little birds. I realized that this particular man’s faith was like a strong branch on which I could rest, when I was too tired to fly by myself. Just knowing that he was on earth, probably praying at the very moment I thought about him, and that his faith was solid and certain—it helped me through. And this man’s faith, in fact, supported an awful lot of little birds, all over the world.
Wanna guess who I mean?
I decided to go to the seminary when it was pretty much totally uncool to go to the seminary. He decided to go to the seminary when it was illegal to go to the seminary.
I was ordained a priest during a significant administrative crisis in the American Church that severely threatened my peace of mind, because a lot of people were justifiably very angry at the bishops and brokenhearted about what they had failed to prevent. He was ordained during an international geopolitical crisis involving the rise of an atheistic empire, which severely threatened his bodily life, because he lived under the sway of a thermonuclear world superpower bent on wiping religion out of existence.
I just vaguely remember the “autumn of two popes.” I was eight years old. But the Cardinals were old enough and wise enough then to understand that they needed to choose a pope from a “praying country.”
They chose a strong tree of faith. For a quarter-century—the quarter-century during which I went from boy to priest—this one man’s faith was like the trunk of a tree that extended its spiritual branches to every corner of the world.
Thank you, dear departed Holy Father.