- Category: Homilies for 2012
- Published on Sunday, 17 June 2012 12:51
- Written by Fr. Rick Spicer
- Hits: 219
A few years after I was ordained, I had the opportunity to serve as a spiritual chaplain on a pilgrimage to Medjugorie, a town in southern Yugoslavia, where the Blessed Mother had been appearing to several young adults on a daily basis. She often encouraged the visionaries, as they were called, to pray for peace. Little did anyone realize that she didn't mean peace between worldly superpowers, but peace in their community.
A few years later, Yugoslavia was splintered into new countries including Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, the outcome of a devastating civil war between the different ethnic groups. This past April, the people of Sarajevo, Bosnia, marked the 20th anniversary of the horrific siege on their beautiful city during that war. The anniversary was marked by many events, exhibitions and concerts—but by far the most moving part of their observance was the chairs. 11,541 red chairs.
Organizers lined up these chairs along Sarajevo's main street—one chair for every man, woman, and child killed during the nearly three year siege of their city. The line of red chairs extended for more than a half mile. Many of the chairs were small, representing the hundreds of children who were killed. Many Sarajevans placed flowers, candles and gifts, including teddy bears on the chairs. This was the first time that Sarajevo had any kind of public memorial service for the slain since many of the victims had to be buried quickly in parks, soccer fields and other impromptu graveyards.
The endless rows of red chairs made the mind numbing numbers of war dead very real. It was a stunning sight; google "red chairs in Bosnia" on the internet and see for yourself what a powerful image those 11,541 chairs present of all that is lost when a single innocent life is taken. Imagine Second Street in Langley filled with red chairs from here to the library and beyond.
For me, this mirrors Jesus' image of the mustard seed in today's gospel. We often dismiss whatever and whomever we consider too "small" to matter, too powerless to make a difference, too insignificant to contribute anything useful or meaningful. But we are all mustard seeds, each and every one of us, possessing within ourselves the ability to accomplish God-like things if we are taught and encouraged and inspired to do so. Consider this: the tiny mustard seed of our church was planted with 12 apostles and now numbers 1.2 believers around the world.
The sight of those 11,541 red chairs was a moving reminder not only to the people of Sarajevo and the world as to the gifts that each man, woman and child can offer to enrich the lives of all of us. The "mustard seed" faith that Jesus calls us to embrace is to honor the "spark" of God within every human being that enables everyone to contribute to the building of God's kingdom.
While we seldom have seen such bloodshed on our shores, we do see enough of it to be touched personally at times by such tragedy. Some people believe that everything, including senseless tragedy, happens for a reason. They feel as though God is in control of what is going on. Has someone ever tried to console you when a tragedy has personally hit you with the presumably comforting line that "It was God's will?"
Believing that God is pulling every string or deciding the fate of every person contradicts the notion of human freedom. God ultimately gave us free will so that we could love him and others. Sin mean that I have chosen to ignore God's will and opted instead for chaos instead of divine order. Sin prevents the mustard seed Jesus speaks of from taking root in our hearts.
We can still take divine providence seriously. That is, we ought to believe that God, being the Father of us all, is in fact guiding our lives, the church and indeed our world toward his ultimate purpose, namely the completion of his kingdom.
The kingdom of God is a mystery so there is no way to really describe it. Notice that Jesus uses parables to tell us that it is the outcome of our efforts mingled with God's work. Thus we are being encouraged to be cooperative with God, rather than resistant to his directives for living life. Every time we consent to doing God's will, the kingdom of God becomes more rooted in our hearts. We make it present to others when our words, deeds and values resonate with the good news of Christ.
Paul points out to the Corinthians that we walk by faith, not by sight. By that, he means walking through life fully aware that God is walking along side us. Imagine how different our world would be if everyone focused on God, rather than themselves. If the Serbs and Bosnians had walked by faith and not by sight, would there have been any need to place red chairs in the main street of Sarajevo? Their civil war, like countless conflicts throughout history, demonstrates that we often let our earthly kingdoms get in the way of building God's kingdom.
Paul urges us to aspire to please God because someday we will all "appear before the judgment seat of Christ." When we follow his advice, we are doing our part to be in harmony with God's providential care. The mission of bringing such harmony to our world isn't merely a Christian undertaking. The late mythologist, Joseph Campbell, often taught that invisible hands will guide us along the right path when we follow our bliss. By that, he meant not any emotional high, but the deepest truth that God has planted in us.
Like any father who wants the best for his children, God, our Father, wants the best for us and when we choose to walk by faith, we will find what is best for us in his kingdom.