Summary: Why can't we separate the sinners--especially public sinners--from the good guys?
Saturday of 16th Week in Course 2013
“Excommunicate the Lot?”
“Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Let’s get the obvious moral of Christ’s parable out of the way first. It’s pretty stark. If at harvest–the particular or general judgement we all have to face–you are in the bundle of weeds, of evildoers, you are going to suffer in hell forever. If you are in the bundle of wheat, the just, you will be eternally happy in the presence of God. But until then?
The botanists tell us that the “tares” or “darnel” or “weeds” of the various translations refers to the plant lolium temulentum. If you have a mixed collection of wheat and lolium, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the plants until just as the heads form. Wheat has a large grain head and light brown grains; lolium has a thin head and black grains. So if someone were to try to walk through the grain field and pull up the lolium, he’d trample the wheat and pull up a lot of it with the weeds. So the separation must wait. More on this later.
What is the difference between weeds and wheat, then? Wheat bears useful food, flour that can be made into bread, that can in its highest use become the Host that the Holy Spirit transforms into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Weeds are not only useless. They can suck up water and other nutrients from the soil and harm the development of the wheat.
In Matthew’s community–this story is told only by Matthew–there were both saints and sinners. That sounds like the Church, doesn’t it? Saints are only converted and transformed sinners. Sinners are only potential saints, waiting for the gift of faith to ripen. In God’s world, in God’s plan, the weeds are to become wheat. Think in our day of Dorothy Day–atheist who aborted her first child–and the effect she had on her world. Likewise consider Bernard Nathanson, one of the fathers of the abortion movement, who saw the evil he had done, came to Christ and the Church, and worked daily from that moment on to battle abortionists and create a new culture of life.
Calvinists and Jansenists would have us throw out all the sinners from the Church. We’d have empty pews. Church is not a stage for the perfect; it is a hospital for the sick. I know that every week I probably give communion to folks who use artificial contraception, or who are cheating on their taxes, or who refuse to help the poor, or who donate to Planned Parenthood, or who cheat on their spouse. Such communions are terrible sins in themselves, if they are done with full knowledge and consent. But the actual grace of the Holy Spirit continues to work, even when sanctifying grace is absent, and I pray that they repent and confess soon.
Just a note about excommunication. Every month I read or hear about a politician who supports the murder of the unborn, or the corruption of the sacrament of marriage, or forcing the Church to support immorality, and who continues to receive communion. I hear frustrated Catholics ask why their bishops don’t excommunicate them. Their actions go beyond what we read in the Gospel today, because these folks are public sinners. They are weeds who go about advertising their weediness and trying to convince everyone that they are the good guys, and we are the bad guys. This is a public scandal and I would hope their pastors tell them to stop. They have really excommunicated themselves latae sententiae.
But if they don’t, the public act of excommunication would just play into their own political plans. The mean old Church again trying to put down free thought and expression and political opposition. This would do no good at all. Everybody knows their hypocrisy. Our job is to pray for them, that they have a Nathanson-style conversion, and do good and avoid evil ourselves.