Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17)

Tony Lucadello was a scout for the Chicago Cubs (1943-1957) and Philadelphia Phillies (1957-1989). He has been referred to as the greatest scout in Major League Baseball. The number of his “signees” rank higher than any other scout.

In 1991, Mark Winegardner wrote a book called Prophet of the Sandlots about Tony. Mark spent several summers observing Tony and the work he did in recruiting. He concluded that the secret of Lucadello’s success was that while some scouts could pick out weaknesses and others would concentrate on performance and stats, Tony would look for potential. He did not concentrate on where the talent was now, but rather what it could develop into years down the road.

The potential for something greater is something we all possess. God gives us gifts as individuals and in the communion called the “church.” Each gift is given so that all may benefit. We were reminded of this a few weeks ago when we celebrated Pentecost. God gives us these gifts and talents and uses them in us to accomplish his work in our lives and in the world. God is the giver of the gifts, but he also develops them and causes them to grow. God sees our potential.

We certainly have a significant role in developing these gifts and talents, and in developing the whole that is our life and the whole that is the kingdom of God. We certainly have a significant role in developing our lives and the communion we share in the church but today we are reminded of God’s role. His role can be somewhat mysterious and hidden.

Jesus and Ezekiel use images from nature to describe God’s activity in the world. Ezekiel uses the image of a “tender shoot” taken from a cedar tree. The small shoot is planted and over the years grows into a “majestic cedar.”

When the Scriptures speak of cedar trees, they are usually referring to the cedars of Lebanon. These trees, when fully grown, are huge, reaching heights of 130 feet with trunks up to eight feet wide. Ezekiel’s image is powerful. We could stand and watch that shoot for days, for weeks and months and not “see” the growth, but it is happening nonetheless.

Jesus uses the more common experience of a seed being scattered on the ground. Soon the seed sprouts and begins to grow. While it is easier to observe its growth above ground, what we do not see is the activity underground in the development of a root system. We cannot see it taking nutrition or hydration from the soil but it does just that, and it is growing all the time.

God’s activity is always present, though not always seen. The potential for growth is always there and that growth can be tremendous. To this point, Jesus uses the image of the mustard seed, likening the kingdom of God to “a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it 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.”

Fundamental to our participation in the kingdom of God and to having that potential realized is faith. St. Paul reminds us that while we are living in this world “we walk by faith, not by sight.” One aspect of faith is that God is present at all times and so is his saving activity. He is the one who gives us the potential for growth, he is the one that causes the growth and he is the one who sees the potential for growth in each and all.

Acknowledging God’s hidden activity helps us to respond in thanksgiving and conversion. We turn to him in gratitude – as in the responsorial for today’s liturgy – “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.” And we strive for justice, righteousness and the good. In doing so, the potential which is hidden will become visible and great for, as it is said in Psalm 92, “the just one shall flourish like a palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow. They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, declaring how just is the Lord, my rock, in whom there is no wrong.”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.