My Mustard-Tree Branch

mustard tree

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.

pope doveI 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.


2 thoughts on “My Mustard-Tree Branch

  1. Father Mark,

    Just one man: as we struggle along, it’s always interesting to see how oblivious the persons who inspire us might be. Almost by definition, they live out the God within, and there is only true humility (as must be for all thunderstruck by God), so they only know that they are doing what is bidden (close to a name, more’s the shame) by Him. Yet, they are a beacon for many; and they change the course of history in manners that are almost a mystery to secular man. They do it merely by being, AND that being is a personification of the WILL of GOD.

    Interestingly enough, while JPII and Mother Teresa of Calcutta may the the more obvious exemplars in our lifetime, we ALL have the opportunity to be so, one to another. It’s amazing what can happen when GOD orders your life. You become a human being rather than a human doing.

    In God we trust.



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