Probably one of the most important dates in American Catholicism is August 15th, 1559, a date which means hardly anything to most Catholics. On that date, the feast of the Assumption, on a beach in Pensacola a small group of Catholics celebrated the first mass in what was to become the United States. They were some of the Conquistadors from Spain. No one knows who the priest was, or how many were there, but that is where the first mass was celebrated in the Americas.
I’m sure at the time none of those people thought about how the Catholic faith would grow from that first mass. What difference could a tiny group of people make in such a vast land? And yet today there are almost 70 million Catholics in America. A cross was put in the sand to mark the 400th anniversary of that mass, which is still there today and it has withstood storms, floods and hurricanes.
A couple of nights ago I was watching BBC world and they were interviewing one of their journalists who has been covering conflict zones for years. He is an Irish man by the name of Fergal Keane. He covered one story recently of the war in Ukraine where he met two elderly women who were living in a basement together. They had lost everything and were just about surviving. They hadn’t received their pension for six months. Some months later he met them again and found them still living in the same place and just about surviving, but they were now also helping some of the many people who were fleeing their homes, giving them both food and shelter as best they could, even though they had almost nothing themselves. The interviewer asked Fergal Keane how did he cope with covering so much human misery for so many years and he answered that he was able to keep going because of the countless people who inspired him in these conflict zones, by the heroism they showed in small ways, helping the people around them, looking out for each other. That’s not something you often hear on the news. The human spirit prevails even in the most terrible situations and that’s what inspires us.
In today’s readings Jesus uses parables to talk about how the kingdom of God continues to grow, though how we do not know. Often against all odds people continue to be inspired to follow the Lord and God’s kingdom continues to grow. Jesus talks about the mustard seed, which is so tiny and yet a big shrub grows out of it. We are small individually, but we never know what influence our actions have on the people around us. I’m sure that most of you might wonder, ‘What effect could my faith and life possibly have on the world around me?’ I am so small and so insignificant. I don’t do anything spectacular. Apart from family and friends, probably not too many people have heard about me.’ And yet we never know how we influence the people around us for good. The way we live our life and our faith speaks to the people around us.
You probably know of people whom you would consider holy and I’m not talking about the famous people who are known throughout the world, but ordinary people who live holy lives around us, probably noticed by very few. You may never have spoken to them, you may never even have met them, and yet they speak to us by the way they live. We can also do the same by the way we live. If I try to live my faith as well as I can, I will be preaching the Gospel to the people around me without saying a word. My life can be a signpost pointing to God. I am as tiny as the mustard seed, but I can have a big influence and from the tiniest efforts God’s kingdom continues to grow.
Why did Jesus continually speak in parables? For one thing we always remember stories. But also the parables don’t force information on us. The truth that Jesus wants to teach us is there if you want to find it, but it is not always obvious. If we want to know what He is teaching us, we have to think about it, we have to look for it. The Lord continually invites us, but never forces himself on us. God’s kingdom will continue to grow whether we become part of it or not. But we have a part to play and the invitation is for us to try and play that part, simply by the way we live our faith. Let me finish with the words of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Let us go and preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.’