THE IMPORTANCE OF
The title of my homily for this 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B, is “The Importance of Afterwards.”
One of life’s greatest blessings is afterwards.
It can also be one of life’s greatest curses: afterwards.
I prefer the positive to the negative - hope to fear - blessings more than the curse - dreams more than nightmares - great memories over arthritis.
Today’s readings trigger this thought of afterwards.
The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel talks about a small cutting or shoot from the top of a cedar tree - being cut - and then being planted on a high mountain and in time - afterwards - it puts forth branches and becomes a majestic cedar tree.
The second reading from St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians talks about walking by faith - not by sight. We don’t see the future, but we still walk towards the afterwards by faith - in hopes of a great harvest.
The gospel talks about planting seed. When we plant seed, we plant with hope - with a vision of the afterwards: a field full of wheat - a vineyard full of delicious grapes - a table with wonderful bread and wine.
We also hear in today’s gospel, Jesus telling us about a mustard seed being the smallest of seeds - but afterwards it becomes a large mustard plant - with large branches - with birds enjoying the shade under those leaves.
And hot dog! Hot dogs taste much better with good mustard.
WHICH MOVES YOU MORE?
Which moves you more - a picture of a baby or a picture of 28 people - a family - on a back porch steps - celebrating their grandparents - 50th Wedding Anniversary - and all are smiles.
Which moves you more - pushing and politicking and protesting for a great playground in a neighborhood without any - or three years afterwards seeing it packed with kids - on swings - on climbing steps - a sand box - running paths and parents talking with each other off to the side?
Which moves you more - learning how to knit or crochet or sew or coming to the last stich of a finished blanket or quilt or needlepoint?
Which moves you more - bringing your kid to the first day of kindergarten or clapping for your kid as he or she finishes college?
Seeing the afterwards - the aftermath - is often a great feeling. Tasting the aftertaste is often tastier than the first sip.
I love to see a crowd of people with aprons on - tiredness on their faces - sweat half circles on their t-shirts in the armpits - sitting in a parish hall - laughing - somewhat slumped over from a good tiredness - after the dinner they served is finished and all have gone home happy - but this gang is still there - happier - even though they know there will be still some cleanup - after pulling off a great parish celebration.
Afterwards has its rewards - and delicious aftertaste.
It can also lead to the bitter and to a backpack of regrets on one’s back.
The reason for the better or the bitter - is often found in the input or lack of input.
I remember when playing basketball in high school. I was very far from the best - but I know I would practice hundreds of shots from the point where the foul line hits the curve of the paint. I’d shoot 100 practice shots on the right side and then I’d practice 100 shots on the left side - and repeat that depending on how much time I had. Then in a game that’s the spot where I would head for a quick 2 pointer jump shot. And I would smile if it went in.
I love the Larry Bird story about him being the hardest worker on the Boston Celtics. When Bird was playing, I heard about a rookie who had told this from his coach in college. So when he went to play in the Boston Garden for the first time, he went very early - and there was no Larry Bird. He sat there disappointed. Then sitting there he heard, “Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump.” Someone was running around way on the top of the Boston Garden - around and around and around. Sure enough, the rookie discovered it was Larry Bird when he came down to the court to start doing his practice shots - before the rest of the team arrived.
I remember in baseball I would get a tennis ball and during class or boring this or that, I would squeeze that tennis ball over and over and over again - so as to be a good wrist hitter. I was a slow runner - but I hit above average for singles up the middle - or to just over the infield - to left or right field depending on the pitch - inside or out.
So too in Latin - I would write words out on scrap paper - over and over and over again - till they were me. I forgot that I did that - till someone reminded me of that recently. I smiled when I heard that.
I remember when I worked in a retreat house in New Jersey on the ocean and a big storm ripped the whole boardwalk apart. I reset and rearranged the foundation to get it right - and then nailed that down. Then I laid the ripped off boards down one by one - and I found myself for about 4 months - every afternoon - at 4 PM - laying board by board on the frame foundation. As I banged new nails into those boards I would be saying to myself, “Board by board the boardwalk is built.”
So too in reading a book or writing a book, “Page by page the book is read.” “Page by page, the book is written.”
I’ve planted lots of grass seed in my time - having been a lawn man in the seminary for 10 years. Jesus says in today’s gospel “This is how the kingdom of God is; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”
I don’t know how grass seed works, but I found out, if you want grass, you have to do the work - and plant the seed - and make sure it’s watered.
However, Father Joe Krastel was telling me the other day about one of our priests in Denver. He planted grass seed - lots of grass seed - but he wasn’t getting a lawn. The guy got changed. A new guy came and he heard that grass wasn’t growing in their yard. He contacted the local department of agriculture and asked, “What kind of grass seed grows here in Denver and what kind doesn’t?” He got the right kind of grass seed and when the former pastor came back he saw the lawn and asked, “How did you get grass to grow in the back yard?” and the other guy said, “You gotta get the right seed.”
I didn’t know that - but I do now.
There are mysteries in life - and there are things we can learn about life.
I love the Jesuit principle of discernment from St. Ignatius. If something works, more; if something flops, less.”
Ignatius would add, “If you think about it, sometimes we curse the difficult, like exercise - but when we do some difficult things, looking back, afterwards, we realize hard work works, and laziness doesn’t.”
So too raising kids. So too a marriage. So too relationships. So too getting an education. So too keeping up a house. So too health.
I have often heard people say, “Half of marriages break up.”
I have also heard, “Check out why some marriages make it and why some marriages fail.”
I have heard that the 3 most important rules for a marriage to work are, “Communication, communication, communication.”
I’ve heard that Father Patrick Peyton was right, “The family that prays together, stays together.”
I’ve also seen families where so called “prayer” drives people away from true prayer and our true God.
Practice makes permanent, so a team or a family or a marriage needs to have good practices.
How many people who planted seed or a tree - ruined the plants by overwatering?
How many people hated prayer and religion, because of overprayer.
The title of my homily is, “Afterwards.”
Yes, there are mysteries.
Yes, sometimes there is luck.
Yes, sometimes kids turn out bad, even though we gave it our best shot.
But in general, if we’ve lived enough life, afterwards we’ll know that hard work and doing life with a smile and love, works. Amen.
This week in preparing for a 50th Anniversary, I’ve been looking at my life.
In this homily I’ve done just that on this issue of life results and realize now - afterwards - that I have been blessed.
I suggest you do the same.