Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

50th Anniversary of Deaf Ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth

October 2, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, TX

Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:3-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Amidst being taken captive by the Babylonians, Habakkuk the prophet cries out to God asking why God is allowing this violence and ruin. The vision God sends the prophet is that the faithful and just will live, but God works in His own time and the people must wait for fulfillment of God’s plan. Waiting for its fulfillment means living focused on making God’s love and faithfulness a reality. Jesus brings and is that fulfillment promised to Habakkuk and proclaimed by Paul to Timothy.

We read in today’s Gospel that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and has just warned His disciples about the difficulties and temptations they must face. So, they ask Him to increase their faith. His reply sounds a little like an insult. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Yet perhaps the disciples were asking for just enough faith that they would not have to give up their profitability in this world.

The mustard seed was an exceedingly small seed but from that seed would grow a large bush with entangled roots. The mustard tree would be considered a weed that would grow quickly, choke the roots of the crops, and block the sun preventing the crops from growing. An accomplished farmer would not plant a mustard seed among his crops because the mustard tree would destroy the productivity of his crop yield and destroy his profits. Yet, Jesus refers to the mustard seed as a metaphor for faith because even the smallest amount of faith requires conversion of heart and change of behavior in every aspect of the Christian’s life. The uprooting of the mulberry tree means that receiving faith and maintaining faith through trust and action will prevent us from being successful and profitable on the terms of the world and the status quo of a world lived as if God does not exist, or if He does exist, He need only be called upon in emergency. Faith, even the size of a mustard seed, will upset the complacency of life lived indifferent to sin.

One might suppose that the heavy burden of bearing witness to Christ with the expectations of faith is why so many fall away from the faith and cease to practice their faith or only do so on their own terms. If only we would soften the expectations, then maybe more Catholics would practice their faith and not leave. But Saint Paul did not see it that way. In chapter three of Second Timothy, the Apostle wrote to the young bishop about the trials he would face in preaching the Gospel and why he would find it difficult to lead people to saving faith in Christ: “Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” It is simply that without grace, we prefer our sins over God or anyone else.

Saint Paul then adds that such people will never arrive at a knowledge of the truth, and so they will not believe the Gospel simply because in their self-absorption they do not want to know the truth and then be accountable for living the truth. And that is why we need to rekindle the gift of the Spirit in our own hearts just as Timothy was encouraged to persevere in the truth with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The fruit of the gift of faith is ministry, that is service that brings about the uprooting of trees of complacency and success on the sinful terms of this fallen world. Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel that ministers or servants are not rewarded with a profit for what they are expected to do, and we are made servants and ministers of the Lord because of our Baptism. The inconvenience of service is itself the great gift and grace of faith and we should not look for praise for doing what is expected, but instead be prepared for what is coming next as a gift from God. Our obedient service of the Lord does not earn us His grace, since whatever we do can never measure up to what the Lord has given us, especially the obligation to serve. The Lord has called us, and He expects us to share the gifts He gives us. He expects us to find ways to bring His love to the world.

Today, we celebrate with gratitude as the Diocese of Fort Worth the uprooting of one such tree through the fruit borne by the mustard seed of faith. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the initiation of deaf ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Deaf ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth has uprooted complacency to isolation and indifference in our life as the Church experienced not only by deaf people but also by those who enjoy the physical sense of hearing.

Deaf ministry has enabled both those who are physically able to hear and those who cannot hear with the capacity to listen to God as He speaks to us through His Word and then together to put the gift of faith into action through conversion and service. The fruit of deaf ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth is not so much a specialized service to those with a physical disability as it is a fruit borne of faith that recognizes that inclusion in Christ that comes with Baptism and that holds us all accountable to conversion and the responsibility of ministry to God and service to our neighbor. Deaf ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth has meant ministry to those who are deaf and ministry by those who are deaf together by the Catholic faith born of Baptism that enables all to hear the voice of the Lord and not to harden our hearts.

Being ready and willing to serve the Lord is perhaps more difficult than uprooting trees and planting them in the sea. It demands a lot of us including our vigilant life of prayer and preparation in ongoing study and catechesis. We should expect to encounter injustices, inconveniences, misunderstanding, criticism, rejection, suffering, and even tragedy in our lives. This is part of waiting for the fulfillment of the vision that Habakkuk mentions. But our vision is the promise of the Resurrection, and if we hope to share God’s life forever, even the tragedies we must suffer are bearable.

Can faith uproot trees and replant them in the sea? While the Lord uses these words, the uprooting and replanting of tress is not the real miracle. The real miracle is the faith that can move our hearts, bring us to conversion, and enable us to truly know and serve the Lord in evangelizing every person in the world and society and preparing for eternal life in Heaven. In a few moments this same faith will move us to approach the altar and the Eucharistic banquet table where we will receive the only spiritual nourishment capable of uprooting sin from our lives and enabling us to love God and our neighbor more than ourselves: the Body and Blood of Christ. This same faith enables us to hear the Lord’s voice who, unlike any earthly master, invites us His servants to approach and to take our place at the Eucharistic table and to be fed by Him.

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