Saturday, July 23, 2011

The yeast leavens the whole batch, Sermon of July 17th

After the worst persecution of the Church,
Rome herself became Catholic under Constantine the Great

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 17th, 2011
Matthew 13:24-43

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.

In today’s Gospel, Christ gives us three parables by which he encourages to persevere in the face of evil. In each of these three parables – the weeds and wheat, the mustard seed, and the yeast which leavens that batch of dough – our Savior gives us some indication of answer to the great and mysterious question: “Why is there evil in the world?”

I would like to focus on the parable of the little bit of yeast which is mixed with the three measures of wheat flour to leaven the whole batch. We must understand something about the imagery which the Lord uses – the visual is of a woman mixing in the yeast and then kneading and beating down the dough. It is precisely this act of violence, this continuous beating down which makes the whole batch to rise.
The point of the parable is this: As the violent force of the woman beating down the dough causes the yeast to leaven the whole batch, so too the evil in the world actually contributes to the increase and spread of goodness. It is not merely that good and evil co-exist until the end of time, but the evil is used by God to promote the good.
This is borne out in the life of the Church: The more the Church is persecuted, rejected and ridiculed, the more the Church will grow and the more the faith will spread.

I do not mean this only as a theological or spiritual truth, it is also an historical reality. Even without faith, simply looking at history, we can see Christ’s parable being fulfilled.
Consider, for example, the early Church. In the first days, the Church was terribly persecuted by the Roman Empire. This persecution was intense – but the more the Romans attacked the Church the more the faith spread.
This persecution reached its climax under the emperor Diocletion at the end of the 3rd century: under his reign the Churched suffered the most cruel and organized attack which she had ever faced.
But after this greatest of all persecutions came the emperor Constantine, who not only converted to Christianity himself, but made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. Behold the wonder of it all: After the worst persecution which the Church had ever seen, Rome awoke to find itself Christian!

Similarly, consider that Rome fell to the pagan barbarians of northern Europe. Now, every time in history when one people conquers another, the victors impose their religion upon the vanquished. But what happed when the pagan barbarians sacked Rome? They converted to Christianity!
This is a real miracle of history: Conquering Rome, the barbarians were conquered by Christianity! Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Behold, the parable of the yeast and the dough working itself in history.

Yet, the Lord Jesus has something more to say: This parable isn’t simply about how the true Faith and the Catholic Church will conquer and convert all peoples and nations. The Savior is not only the Lord of history, he is also the Lord of your heart and of mine.
The parable of the yeast and the dough also is meant to encourage us personally in our journey.

Do you feel stretched too thin? Are you suffering? Is the life of faith sometimes a struggle and difficult? Perhaps we sometimes feel like we can’t go on much further.
It is precisely in these times of difficulty – so the Lord tells us – precisely when we are beaten down and struggling, that is when the grace of Christ is most effective in us.
We say: “Lord, please take away my struggles and my temptations.” But he tells us: “The dough must be kneaded and suffer violence, only then with the yeast leaven the whole batch!”

So do not be discouraged when things are tough. Do not become despondent when you suffer temptations or when you seem to take two steps back for every one forward. Trust rather in the grace of Christ!
Think of it: Once the yeast is in the dough, you can’t get it out! The grace of Christ Jesus is in you, if only you are faithful he will enliven you, he will win you over.

The good Lord conquered the Roman Empire, can he not conquer your soul? He defeated and overcame nations and peoples, shall he not win you to himself?
Of course he will! What have you to be discouraged about? Christ died for you, will he not give you everything else besides?
We must only keep our hearts and minds focused on Christ our Savior. Humbled by our weaknesses, but confident in his love, we shall persevere through all things.
And, though your faith may seem like only a little mustard seed, if only you look to Jesus and persevere in his love, that little seed of your faith shall grow into the great tree of glory in life everlasting.