GOD IN OUR MIDST
The Tiny Seed of Faith
By Joyce Rupp

“It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants” (Matthew 13:32).

A single seed lies in the heart of silent soil, a seed so tiny one would hardly dare dream of its growing into a magnificent bush. Only a sturdy faith could trust that something so quiet and seemingly dead would hold the promise of immense greenness and growth.

While there is tremendous potential for growth in a seed, of itself it does not do the growing. It is the sun and rain, it is the nutrients of the soil that help the energy held in the seed to awaken and stretch outward into life.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a small seed,” Jesus said. This parable describes how the reign of God—s love grows. The foundation of this reign is based on a trusting faith, not faith as an assent to a set of doctrines or religious practices, but a faith that believes we can grow as loving human beings. This faith is the persistent ability to believe in a gracious divinity, one who empowers us to be spiritually transformed.

This faith lies deep within our spiritual soil. Jesus knew the little mustard seed and its astounding journey of growth. He knew the challenge of believing in something one cannot perceive. This is the faith Jesus urged, faith that helps us believe in God's transforming love even when our spirits are worn thin with our whispered prayers of need and longing.

Faith is the process of growing in our ability to trust God with the seed of ourselves. We would much rather be in charge of our life, take control and have things happen in our own way and time. But a seed is dependent on the factors of soil and climate just as the seeds of our faith are dependent on the grace of God. Like the mustard seed, our seemingly small beginnings of spiritual awakening are capable of immense growth.

Slow, Deep Growth

This seed-faith usually grows slowly. It requires an assent of our will to God—s ability of helping us grow, even though we may not feel God doing so. Faith assures us that the One who planted the seed of faith will be there to care for, strengthen and mature it.

I recognized this kind of faith in a story a friend recently related. “The Catholic Worker House never actually runs out of food,” he said. “The meals they prepare may be mismatched foods like all vegetables or mostly bread, but there—s always food. However, last Saturday night they were out of food completely. Fran and Brad were there alone and they were talking about what they—d do without food for the noon meal on Sunday. They sat together and prayed that somehow food would be there by the next day. At 9 p.m. Saturday an unexpected group came to the back door with five large pans of lasagna, masses of rolls, cookies and potato chips. The next day at noon over 100 guests showed up. Every person who wanted to eat got a plate full, plus sweets and bread. No appeal for food ever went out—except those prayers.”

Hearts of Hope

Did Fran and Brad—s faith turn God—s hand? Did their prayer cause food to be given? No, the food was already in someone—s oven when Brad and Fran entrusted their anxiety to God. Rather, prayer nurtured their seed of faith, helped the potential for trust to grow larger than their concern and fear. Prayer held their hearts in hope, filling them with peace rather than anxiety, assuring them that what they needed would come their way in one form or another.

Faith is one of the best remedies for disturbance and fear. It allows us to put ourselves in the hands of the Holy One and be at peace knowing, as Julian of Norwich discovered, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

It is in our moments of vulnerability, uncertainty and need that our seed-faith is urged to stretch and grow. It is then that we discover the power of trustful waiting and the beauty of undefeated hope. Even the tiniest of seeds knows this wondrous truth.

Joyce Rupp, a Servite Sister, international speaker and retreat director, describes herself as a “spiritual midwife.” She is the author of numerous books and articles. Her latest book is Rest Your Dreams on a Little Twig (Sorin Books).

Next: The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Questions for Reflection:

•Talk about someone you know who has witnessed his or her trust in God.

•What keeps you from trusting in God's transforming love? What can you do to grow in this trust?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from “God in Our Midst.”

FAMILY CORNER
The Mustard Seed of Kindness
By Judith Dunlap

Like all of Jesus— parables, the story of the mustard seed has many lessons to offer. When I think about that tiny seed and the Kingdom of God, I think about the rippliing effect one small act of kindness can have. When a person offers a smile, a helping hand or a simple courtesy it can sometimes change the course of another—s day.

I am not a morning person, and with very little effort I have managed to raise a whole family of morning grumps. I remember the days when all seven of us were playing “beat the clock” at 6:30 a.m. At best, our “good mornings” were grumbled as we tried to keep out of each other—s way. Some mornings our house felt like the proverbial powder keg, just a missing sock away from disaster. On those mornings one person—s outburst over an empty milk carton could sour everyone—s day.

I developed my mustard seed theory by watching how that powder keg could be defused. It didn—t take much to set things right—a shared cinnamon bun, some help searching for missing keys or a ride offered to school. One person—s act of kindness could affect everyone. Since I am not my best at daybreak, it took a conscious effort for me to be that person. It was an effort that worked best when rooted in prayer.

When I started the day with prayer I could find some quiet peace inside myself that helped me respond rather than react. Morning prayer helped me be my best even when grouchy. And when I let it, that mustard seed experience of peace could grow to fill a household. I picture the Kingdom of God as an eternal experience of that peace—an experience we can sometimes taste even on grumpy mornings.

For Family Response:

Draw names this Valentine's Day and see how many good deeds you can do for your secret Valentine. Have a special dinner to celebrate.

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
American Dreams
By Frank Frost

The television series American Dreams (NBC, Sunday nights) takes a look at the 1960s in 2003 style—rapid cutting, overlapping dialogue, multiple plotlines. The characters have an edge, and the acting is excellent. But its appeal is in the way it recalls the simplicity of its time period, on the cusp of a major shift of cultural tectonic plates.

The early 1960s are remembered in American Dreams as a time when everything was in order. The father is the unquestioned head of the household, the children and their mother know their roles and —Father— exercises unchallenged moral authority over his parishioners.

American Dreams is told through one prototypical Catholic family, the Pryors, in Philadelphia. The choice of a Catholic family affords the television producers maximum contrast in depicting a world of changing values. The Catholic Church at the beginning of the —60s arguably taught the clearest rules of right and wrong and respect for authority.

The title, American Dreams, turns out to be ambiguous. The Pryor family would seem to represent the American dream already fulfilled. Jack Pryor (Tom Verica) has everything he ever wanted—a loving wife, four beautiful children, a house with a yard, his own business (a television appliance store). But the trouble is that the American dream of everyone else seems to be unfulfilled.

His teenage son, JJ (Will Estes), fights expectations that he must win a football scholarship to Notre Dame—to the consternation of his father and his coach, Father Ryan, who are not used to challenges to their authority. His teenage daughter Meg (Brittany Snow), pursues a dream of dancing on American Bandstand—against her parents— wishes. And his loving wife, Helen (Gail O—Grady), wants something beyond her life as a supportive housewife. Even Henry (Jonathan Adams), his African-American employee, is slowly recognizing the inequality of his position.

The changing values of the —60s and the moral choices that accompany them—birth control and the pill, feminism, racism, psychiatry—are woven into stories which in other hands could have been little more than nostalgia. We become aware of the innocence we—ve lost. Families ate together every night, children were home doing schoolwork. As the stories unfold, we realize that the issues that came to the forefront in the 1960s brought changes that formed the world we live in today.

Even as we may bemoan excesses of personal freedoms today, we look back through American Dreams to see a culture where African-Americans were denied opportunities, where psychiatry was feared and mocked, where few women had career opportunities beyond child-rearing and housework and where unquestioned authority was oppressive. And we recognize the bittersweet fruit of change.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in the series American Dreams
?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Margaret of Cortona (1247-1297)

If Margaret of Cortona lived today, her story would be ideal for a Monday-night TV movie: Margaret, a beautiful, spirited young girl, loses her mother at an early age. When her father remarries, his new wife wants nothing to do with the child. Margaret grows into a rebellious teen, runs off with a handsome young nobleman and bears him a son. After nine years as his mistress, Margaret discovers the body of her lover, who has been murdered by his enemies.

The second half of the movie begins with rejection. Humbled and penitent, Margaret, with her young son in hand, returns home and asks forgiveness of her father. Convinced by his wife that Margaret is a woman of ill-repute who does not deserve his love, he sends his daughter and the young boy away.

Now the plot takes an unexpected turn—and Margaret begins the second half of her life. Weeping, she walks from her former home to Cortona, Italy, where the Franciscan friars graciously receive her and the young boy. Under their guidance, Margaret undertakes a life of public penance and service.

A TV producer today might end the movie right there, but the second phase of Margaret—s life is no less sensational than the first. She spent the remainder of her life doing good—serving the sick and poor while living among them, devoting herself to prayer, calling others to the same path of conversion she took. She joined the Third Order of St. Francis and founded a community of Franciscan Sisters.

When Margaret died the citizens of Cortona moved immediately to build a church in her honor. She is the patron saint of the homeless, of single mothers and of midwives. Her feast day is February 22.

Ona Harris

As a young girl, Ona Harris—s dream was to serve in the foreign missions. In a way, her childhood goal has been realized. As executive director of Simon House in Detroit, she shares her faith and her love of God with poor women and children who have HIV/AIDS and who live in a world set apart from most of us.

—Making a difference in someone—s life even though she has the worst disease imaginable means everything to me,— Ona, 59, told Every Day Catholic. —I know God has sent me here.—

Named after the friend of Jesus who helped him carry his cross, Simon House offers a range of services from shelter and permanent housing to transportation, food and clothing as well as HIV education, classes in parenting skills and referrals to other agencies. Up to 200 women and the same number of children are served at any one time (off-site and on) by the Simon House staff of 22.

After she married at 20, gave birth to a son and was divorced by 25, Ona learned firsthand the importance of goal-setting. She held down two jobs, made certain her son had a Catholic education and herself earned a degree in health care administration from Mercy College Detroit. To get through the difficult days she continually relied on God and —saturated— herself with prayer. She still does.

A member of the Third Order of St. Francis for the past dozen years, Ona Harris has promised God that she will always somehow work with the poor. Whatever the future holds, she puts everything in God—s hands. As she says to the women and children she serves, —God will take care of us. We can—t make it without him.—



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