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March 9, 2011

Seed Planted Comes to Life
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

Life’s Significant Events

Few will deny that, in our past, there have been events—good and bad—which at the time may not have seemed significant, but years later greatly influence us: a significant teacher, a book we’ve read or an event we’ve witnessed. The Gospels are full of such moments in which people met Jesus, often in very difficult circumstances, and years later, the significance of their meeting produced marvelous fruit.

For example, there is a beautiful Gospel scene that is unique to Mark and is often used in the Sacrament of Baptism. In Mark 10:13-16, we are given a picture of small children sitting on Jesus’ lap and hanging on his shoulders. Jesus is holding them, touching them and blessing them. We can only imagine the joy that must have filled Jesus’ heart. After all, it was little children who best exemplified true disciples.

We've all been around small children and have been enthralled by their curiosity and love for exploring. There must have been something about Jesus that was so attractive to them, that drew them to him. They were safe with him. You can easily imagine their mothers smiling as they crawled all over Jesus. Surely it was an incident never to be forgotten.

There’s no question that key moments—good or bad—influence us. We know that from our own experiences. We have memories of events that never leave us.

One thing that always strikes me is how many people Jesus met, talked to, touched, healed or freed from demonic possession. We have to keep in mind that the Gospels record only a few stories of the lives that Jesus touched.

Can you imagine the adulterous woman, whose stoning was prevented by Jesus, ever forgetting his face or his words? What about the widow of Naim whose son came back to life at Jesus’ touch? Or what of the lepers healed on their way to the Temple? The blind who saw Jesus? The deaf who heard him? The lame who wanted to follow Jesus?

Early Events Later Come to Life

In every instance, the seed of grace was planted: a seed sown and a memory of Jesus never to be forgotten.

I often wonder if, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the apostles began to preach the risen Lord and the Good News of the gospel, how many people who had met Jesus found themselves filled with new faith. Remember the occasion of the two disciples walking to Emmaus after Jesus’ death when a stranger—who was Jesus—caught up to them? Later, when they paused for rest, Jesus broke bread with them (Luke 24:13-33). After the breaking of the bread, when Jesus had left them, they were stunned to realize that “their hearts were burning.” They realized they had been in the presence of the risen Lord. In a moment of utter despair because of Jesus’ horrible death, faith broke through, and they realized Jesus had indeed risen from the dead as he had promised.

Jesus touched many lives. Doesn’t it seem natural that the seed that was planted by Jesus’ touch would grow and blossom as those people realized it was the same Jesus who healed and freed them?

When you wonder about who those first converts and disciples were, it is reasonable to realize that many were the ones who had experienced Jesus’ love and power months or years earlier. The seed that was planted had come to life.

Personal Memories

I remember, as a 12-year-old, how I was one of our parish’s torch bearers. We were used in major feast day celebrations to add extra solemnity to the processions to and from the sanctuary. At 12, we were not serving in Mass yet, but we were able to wear a cassock and surplice and be a part of the liturgy and procession. That was a true privilege and something very special to us.

The torch bearers also took slots on Holy Thursday for a half hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I distinctly remember kneeling and looking very closely at the host in the monstrance. And, in my child-like faith, I thought if I looked hard enough, I could see Jesus. Of course, Jesus was not visible even though the host was consecrated. He was there, to be sure, but in my child’s heart, I wanted to see him. After I stared into the host for a long time, I said to myself, “I think I see him. I think I see his face!”

Of course, what I was seeing were shadows on the host like we sometimes see shadows on the moon. And we’ve all said, one time or another, “Look, there’s the man on the moon!” And that’s what I thought I was seeing in the host. Jesus was hidden, but the faith of my heart told me, “There he is!” I was amazed and felt very privileged.

This June, I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of my ordination, having been ordained in 1961. And I have often reflected and wondered if the moment I spent looking at Jesus in the monstrance was indeed a moment when the good Lord planted a seed in my heart that would draw me, as a 12 year-old-boy, to the priesthood. More than 50 years later, I know it was a key moment in my childhood.

I invite you to reflect on your own childhood or other moments in your life in which you can now see the touch of God’s grace and realize it has come to fruition.

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's February E-spiration, Musing: The Red Wheelbarrow: An Image to Contemplate

Dear Friar Jack: I loved your latest E-spiration, “The Red Wheelbarrow: An Image to Contemplate.” It reminded me of the E. B. White quote: “I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the Lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.” Our sense of wonder and awe is one of God’s countless gifts to us, and we should cherish it at every moment. Thank you. Ellie

Dear Friar Jack: As an artist/potter, I appreciate the poem and relate well to it. Being at peace, centered in God, is so important for me in the daily routine of being a potter: taking the time to notice the beauty all around me, the juxtaposition of colors, the color of shadows. The wonder of life itself fills me so I can pour that out into my work. Life becomes fulfilling. Denise

Dear Friar Jack: Greetings from The Philippines! I agree with you, Friar Jack. The poem really evokes wonder and makes you use your sense of imagination, making you stop for a while and ponder at life. It gives repose to just stop and take a look at simple things in life. Setting aside the pressures and demands of work, it makes the spirit rest and experience peace. Thank you. Cristina

Dear Ellie, Denise and Cristina: Is it just me or did “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams make time stand still for all of us? We all seemed to be left in a hushed state of awe and wonder, allowing us to contemplate the lovely and godly things life places before us. Thank you, Creator God, for all these gifts which reflect your goodness and love for us. Amen. Friar Jack

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and hope you'll enjoy
all of the news and great features at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own writing. By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jack.
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