Late one evening, a priest got a call from the local fire department asking for his help. A young woman had climbed up onto the top of a bridge and was threatening to jump off. Despite all their efforts, they had not been able to convince her to come down. With no other options, they were hoping he could help.
The priest rushed to the scene as quickly as he could and looked up to see the young woman sitting at the top of the bridge just as the fireman had said. Since she was so high up, it was clear that the only way he was going to be able to talk to her would be to climb up onto the bridge himself. There was only one problem. He was deathly afraid of heights. At the same time, he knew he couldn’t just stand there while the young woman took her own life.
So, saying a quick Hail Mary and summoning all the courage he could, he put his hands on the cables and started to climb up the beam, putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to look down.
However, the higher he got the more the wind picked up and the less steady he felt on his feet. Soon, panic set in and he broke into a cold sweat. Paralyzed with fear, he didn’t think he could take another step.
About that time, the young woman caught sight of the priest and her heart was moved. Seeing how terrified he was, she called out, “It’s okay, Father. You’re almost here. You can do it.”
Encouraged by the young woman’s words, the priest decided he would keep his eyes on her and make his way slowly up the beam. Soon he was close enough to her that she could take his hand and help him steady himself enough to sit down next to her.
He took a minute to catch his breath and wipe the sweat off his face and neck. As his heart rate returned to normal, he knew he should probably talk to the young woman to find out why she wanted to take her own life. But the only thing he could think to say was, “How are we ever going to get down from here?”
To his surprise, she turned to him and said, “Don’t worry, Father. I’ll help you climb down when you’re ready.”
It is an experience parents have no matter how many children they may have or how old they get. They look on their children and marvel at how much they have grown. Around the dinner table hearing the clever words they use or watching them develop their talents, parents cannot help asking themselves where they got it all. As their children learn at such a rapid pace, fathers and mothers realize that there is something at work in them that is wider and deeper than the nurture they have provided. Even though parents cannot always take credit for it, they delight in seeing their children become unique individuals before their eyes.
Just as our children grow in marvelous and often unseen ways, so God’s Kingdom sends its roots deep into the earth and stretches out its branches throughout the whole world. The growth is almost unnoticeable. Much of it takes place underground beyond what we are able to see. Yet Jesus assures us in today’s gospel that the growth is steady and sure. Just as the smallest of seeds can become the largest of shrubs, so God’s Kingdom, small and hidden as it often is, can grow to give shelter and shade to all peoples.
Jesus’ parable should give us deep peace. Looking at our individual spiritual lives, we often can feel discouraged as we struggle with the same temptations or experience times of dryness in our prayer. God’s will and purpose does not always seem clear. However, through God’s grace we are growing. Like a seed deep in the earth, it is a hidden growth. But it beckons us to trust in God, allow Him to do His work and wait for the results.
Sister Marie Simon Pierre, a nun in France, began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, an affliction of the nervous system, at the age of 47. Her disease had advanced to the point that she could not even move her legs. However, after asking the holy pope’s intercession, she woke up one morning able to walk. All traces of Parkinson’s disease had disappeared. After a panel of doctors reviewed her case, the Vatican was able to confirm that, indeed, a miracle had taken place.
Another incredible story comes from the United States. A young couple, the Engstroms, were devastated to learn that their baby was stillborn. In her distress, the mother, Bonnie Engstrom, began praying to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a popular speaker whose television show was one of the highest rated programs of the 1950’s. Even though their child had been dead for over an hour, suddenly his heart began to beat. A panel of doctors reviewed the case and declared that there was no medical explanation.
Miracles are not a thing of the past. God continues to work in mysterious ways to help us to believe and to strengthen or faith. While we should be careful not to be obsessed with looking for miracles, they can help us when we begin to have doubts or when the cares of life start to weigh us down. Often, seeing so much evil and darkness in the world today, we can feel disappointed and drained. Taking some time to read about all the miracles that still take place today can remind us that God is in charge and that He will make all things work out for our good. He has a plan and no powers of this world can keep Him from bringing them to fulfillment.
Of course, the greatest miracle of all is that simple bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus on this altar. The One who made the blind see and the deaf hear will enter into us to bring us His healing gifts. For those who receive with faith, no other evidence is really necessary.
Children find it easy to trust their parents. Because they depend on their mothers and fathers for everything from the home they live in to the food they eat, they can even take for granted that all their needs will be provided for. Relying on their parents for everything, they are free to play and learn without the constant worry of finding food or paying bills. Children happily surrender control of their lives over to their parents because they trust that they will provide for them without fail.
As we grow older, however, we begin to take more responsibility for our lives. Before long, our parents start to expect us to fend for ourselves. Increasingly, we become responsible for paying for our own food, clothing and place to live. As we mature, we take more control over ourselves and have more freedom to make decisions about what we will eat and how we will spend our free time.
This new freedom and responsibility sometimes gives us the illusion that we are in control. However, it does not take long for us to discover how little control over our lives we really have. All it takes is for us to lose a job or be struck with an illness to see just how precarious our lives really are. Our world can be rocked by the sudden death of a loved one or by being victims of crime. All we have worked for can come crashing down around us dashing our hopes for the future.
It is in those moments when all seems lost and we discover just how little control we have that we are invited to have the trust of a child again. However, we no longer place that trust in our parents. Rather we learn to depend on our Heavenly Father. When our world comes crashing down around us, we discover that, all along, God has been in control. Just as we trusted our parents to provide for us when we were children, so we can trust our Heavenly Father to take care of us throughout our lives. This does not mean that we stop working or striving for a better life. Rather, it means that we do so with peace and confidence knowing that our Heavenly Father is supporting us all the way.
We do not only have a Heavenly Father whom we can turn to in our time of need. We also have a mother in Heaven – Mary, the Mother of God – whose feast we celebrate today. The Church today invites us to begin the year by entrusting ourselves to her maternal care.