Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily July 12.
Did any of you older men save baseball cards when you were kids? Remember Tony Taylor? His major league career was from 1958-1975: Cubs, Phillies, Tigers and back to the Phillies.
I think I have all his cards. I collected them because he has my very same name, first and last. And he’s a Catholic. He was a good fielder and a good batter. Of course, he didn’t bat a thousand — his 17-year career batting average was .262. No one bats a thousand. Indeed, a major league baseball player who hits the ball one-fourth of the time is a good batter:
1) even though he misses the ball three times as often as he hits it,
2) even though most of his hits are singles and
3) even though most of those singles never do turn into runs.
Tony Taylor was a good player, but he didn’t expect to score every time he was at bat. If he had, he would have been very disappointed.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable about realistic expectations in his, and our, work to establish the reign of God. Farmers plant lots of seeds; many get eaten by birds or wither for lack of roots or get choked out by weeds. But some do fall on good soil and produce a great harvest: 30, 60 or hundredfold.
If a farmer expects every seed to produce, his expectations are unrealistic. Our farmer has a successful plant batting average of only .250 — about the same as Tony Taylor. But multiply this 250 by the 30, 60 or 100:1 yield of the one in four seeds that do produce and you’ll see that he’s getting a tremendous return on his overall effort. Even if a baseball player were to hit a home run with the bases loaded every time he’s at bat — a very unlikely scenario — he’d only be getting a fourfold return on his effort.
You and I work very hard to accomplish things that matter to us and yet often don’t get the results we had hoped for. You make incredible sacrifices for your kids, for instance. You take on a second job to pay Catholic school tuition or to send your kids to college, but then they just take it for granted and don’t even do their homework.
You live your faith, take your kids to Mass with you every Sunday, teach them right from wrong, and many do turn out great but not all. Some get carried away by a bad crowd; others harden their hearts to everything you have worked so hard to cultivate in them and are now self-destructing, for lack of life-giving roots in the Lord; and others give themselves over to the things of this world and all the values you have planted in them are being choked out by selfishness, greed and ambition at least for now.
So even regarding our own kids, we have to be realistic: there’s only so much we can do.
And for that matter, the same applies to ourselves and our own struggles with sin. None of us bats a thousand. We stumble and fail for sure, and if we expect perfection in everything we do, our expectations are very unrealistic.
But even though we miss the ball more often than we hit it — so to speak — God can make our best efforts bear far more fruit for the Lord than we could ever produce on our own: 30, 60 and hundredfold in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Jesus was the only perfect person, but not even he batted a thousand with others and Judas certainly was not lost by any failure on Jesus’ part. Not even Jesus can make everybody turn out right — hence the parable in today’s Gospel.
But there is always hope, even for those who’ve strayed the farthest. Judas could have come back to the Lord at any time and not only would he have been forgiven — by the same Lord who forgave Peter who denied him and the others who abandoned him and had sought forgiveness — he too could have begun to produce good fruit for the Lord like Peter and the others eventually did, from that time forward: 30, 60 and hundredfold. And the same is true for you and me.
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