“But once the mustard seed is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mark 4:26-34)
The reference to the “birds of the sky” is a reminder that all creatures find a home in the loving embrace of God, and most especially all people are invited to come to the Lord. We need patience and perseverance despite our anxiety and anticipations.
This is the season for “Summer Reading,” maybe you recall a time when you had the leisure to read a few books over a summer vacation. So there are two possible books you may wish to take a look at this summer, one by Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical “Be Praised, On the Care of our Common Home.
First, the “scattering of the seeds of justice.”
When I was in high school, we were required to read the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee. It had just come out only a year or so before. It was an instant classic, and is still read by many high school youngsters.
For me, and so many others at the time of the Civil Rights movement, this story helped us to see through our own prejudices and to see more clearly the importance of fairness, decency to one another, and the moral clarity in race relations. Of course, the movie version starred Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch, the Southern lawyer and moral compass in the “tired old town” of Maycombe, Alabama.
In Chapter 10, Atticus tells Scout, his young daughter, that she can “shoot all the blue jays she wants” with her air-rifle, but not a mockingbird, and adds “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Puzzled by this comment, Scout goes to a nearby neighbor, asks her about this command.
Miss Maudie tells her:
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t rest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts our for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
In a way, this novel scattered the seeds of justice in the minds of those who read it then. Careful readers grew in their own “moral courage” because of this book, that’s where a truly “great book” can take us.
Interestingly, Harper Lee had another unpublished book that extended the narrative of Atticus Finch and Scout into the 1950’s. Somehow the text was left in a vault all these many years, and its existence only now has come to light.
This highly anticipated publication is set for July 14th, under the title “Go Set A Watchman.” The title comes Isaiah 21:6 — “For the Lord says, go set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.”
At times we need a watchman, that moral compass like Atticus Finch, to see more clearly and help us to conduct our lives rightly, and to assure that the seeds of justice are sown far and wide.
This brings me to my second point about the “seeds of a new heaven and a new earth, the Kingdom of God.”
As you may know, our own “moral compass” Pope Francis later this week will publish his second encyclical letter entitled, “Be Praised, On the Care of our Common Home.”
The title comes from Saint Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” a prayer that praises God, first by thanking God for “Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire and Sister Water.”
Here Pope Francis moves Catholic theology to consider not only “human ecology” but also, and here’s a new term, “integral ecology. “ This is how we as humans celebrate all that we have been given and are part of – in creation itself.
Of course, some Catholics may wonder why the pope is getting into issues of climate change and global warming. It’s important to know that our ecological concerns for the welfare of the planet flows for our own theology. Also, in the past twenty-years, both Saint Pope John II and Pope Benedict always wrote and spoke on behalf of these pressing issues of ecology and our stewardship for creation.
According to theologian Walter Grazer, “Catholics see the Trinity as relational and social. And all of creation and life reflects this relational and social notion, so all creatures are intimately linked and share kinship.”
Now this does not mean a diminishing of our unique and special role as humans, but rather a call for even greater respect, intimacy with nature, and connection to a wholesome ecology.
Written in 1224, Saint Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun” is recognized as one of the first published literary works in the Umbrian dialect. Francis prays:
Be praised my Lord, through all your creatures, especially Brother Sun who brings day and gives light. He is beautiful and radiant.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water, especially she is very useful, and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon, Brother Fire and Mother Earth.
Be praised, those who forgive – for love of you.
Happy those who endure in peace, for by you Most High,
They will be crowded.
For our Summer reading and prayerful reflection, let’s consider how the seeds of justice, and the seeds of a new heaven and earth can grow in us — asking for great patience, perseverance, and anticipation of the Kingdom of God.