When my grandfather was dying of stage four cancer, I wondered why he decided not to take any extraordinary medicine to overcome it. I now understand that he was offering up his suffering to God through Christ, and thereby growing in merit.
This was my mother’s dad. A man of few words but much prayer and a great 500 card player. At my last visit as a young boy, we did not speak much, but I remember telling him, “Grandpa, I love you.” He smiled softly and gazed into the horizon. It was a moment of prayer and peaceful surrender.
Weeks later, I was coming home from school and saw a bird fluttering up near the telephone wires. I watched it struggle for a couple of moments, and then said, “Let go, and you will be free.” The bird let go and flew toward the setting sun.
At that moment I remembered that my parents had visited my grandpa the night before, and so I ran home and rushed through the door, hugged my mom, and asked, “How is Grandpa doing?” She said, “Honey, I think he might be getting better. Last night he was talking with your dad about some of the fishing trips they went on together.”
Then the phone rang, and I just knew. My mom answered the phone and began to cry. It was grandma who called to say that grandpa was on his way to heaven. That bird letting go and flying into the sun, I truly believe, was a sign from God to me that my grandpa had let go and was on his way home to heaven.
I was honored to be a pall bearer with my two older brothers and three cousins. I remember praying for him at the wake and seeing his hands holding his Rosary, as if in perpetual prayer. As we carried his coffin to his place of rest, I felt the weight of his body – that temple of the Holy Spirit that will rest at that cemetery until resurrected and glorified on the Last Day.
As I grew in my faith, I realized that my grandpa had taught me that we can unite our sufferings to our Lord Jesus and grow in merit to grow our soul’s capacity for God’s divine life within us for all eternity. We do this by living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, like praising God in song, praying for the living and the dead, uniting our sufferings to his, forgiving others, instructing the ignorant and correcting others lovingly from their errant ways.
Today’s Gospel touches on the truth that we can grow in meriting a higher place in heaven because, as Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
For instance, when talking about the growth of our life in God, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower who sowed some seed. Some seed fell on the foot path and the birds ate them. Some seed fell on shallow soil and when the sun came out to test the plants they withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among the briars and produced fruit, but that fruit never matured and was choked off. One can see that the Devil, our broken nature and the world are opposed to our producing spiritual fruit that will last forever.
Jesus Christ goes on to say, “And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty and hundredfold.” He added. “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” Cf. Mk. 4:1-20.
Jesus clarified and said that the “seed” is the word of God which should be accepted and motivate us to do good works in his Name, thus determining one’s fruitfulness or capacity for God for all eternity. Hopefully we are striving to go beyond where we are at and produce a hundred-fold like the great saints who gave 100% of their time, talent and treasure to the saving mission of Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church.
In our second reading today, St. Peter says, “let your-selves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Cf. 1 Peter 2:1-5) He alludes to the importance of coming to Holy Mass weekly to offer our prayers and works through Jesus Christ in order to have them purified and assuredly made “acceptable” to God.
Just prior to the above quote, St. Peter writes, “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander: like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
In his second letter St. Peter writes about the end of the world, and judgement day when everything will be revealed as we await a “new heaven and a new earth” 2 Peter 3:11-13.
“Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace… since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability. But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” Cf. 2 Pt.
Here’s how St. Paul writes about growing in merit, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Rom. 12:1-2.
It is such a joy to know and live our parish mission statement: We grow together in Christ and that many are taking advantage of the opportunities for spiritual growth and service for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe