25th Sunday after Pentecost 2018
“And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’” In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Amen.
We have a bush of confederate jasmine growing along the fence in our back yard. Unfortunately, the next-door neighbors, terrific people, inherited a very weedy yard, and the remodel they are undertaking will have landscaping as a final stage. Just a few weeks ago my wife, Carolyn, was commenting on how lush our jasmine bush was. I agreed. It was really full and green. But on further inspection I realized that at least 70% of the green was an aggressive vine that had invaded the jasmine and was obscuring its light. I had to spend a bit of time chopping it out, from the ground up.
Not all weeds come from an enemy, but the moral weeds certainly do. In the history of the Church, there have been many weeds growing among the grain. In the present of the Church, there are many weeds growing among the grain.
The Latin you can see in the Gospel identifies this particular weed as zizanium. Why did the enemy sow that particular plant? It’s also called “darnel” and your translation calls it “cockle.” The problem with this particular plant is that when it sprouts, it looks very much like wheat. So you can throw it into a wheat field and it will survive long enough to rob nutrients and water from the wheat. It reduces the yield of that field and creates a harvesting problem, because the black seeds from the darnel pollute the wheat grain and make it worth less.
So Our Lord, who is not trying to teach agriculture but rather moral living, is saying something about the people of the Church. Jesus sows good seed that strikes my soul and yours and causes us to grow spiritually, help each other, and bear fruit in good works, testimony, and evangelical zeal. The enemy, who can be Satan or, as in this passage, a hostile human, or even a corrupt culture, sows evil seed in souls, corrupts those souls, and that process bears evil fruit of murder, envy, pride, lust, and all the other vices. Worse, those whose habits are pernicious seem to prosper, seem to be pleased with themselves. They give scandal, especially to the young. If they are churchmen or women, they cause those outside the Church to consider all the faithful as hypocrites. So the Church pleads to God “Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord, Lord hear my prayer. Rescue us from this affliction!”
Why, then, does God not act? Why, on a political level, does He allow politicians to declare themselves “faithful and devout Catholics” while working daily to promote abortion, perverse relationships masquerading as marriage, and other policies destructive to the natural family? Why did he allow clerics, even some bishops, to ignore abuse of others, even participate in it themselves for decades without someone calling them to account? With the author of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelations, we cry out “How long, O Lord, before Thou wilt judge?”
We don’t know the whole answer, but here are a couple of thoughts. All of us, all politicians, all clergy, all consecrated religious, all the faithful are sinners, hopefully in the process of becoming saints. We pray that all of our actions are good, but for one reason or another we act like weeds from time to time. That’s why at any given moment weeding the field might cause the angels to pluck up a wheat sprout with a weed. And God does not want anyone to perish. So He showers His blessings, His graces on all the field, and the merits of His Son enable us to become pure wheat, either in this life or after it in Purgatory. That’s God’s mercy at work. When the final trumpet blows, when the last heartbeat ceases in our bodies, only then is the judgement and harvest.
The other thought I have is like the first. Nobody, at any instant, is a permanent weed. The grace of God, working with human free will, is always pushing us to make the decision for goodness. What if God had allowed Augustine to be plucked and cast aside at the age of twenty? The Church would have been deprived of the greatest theologian of the first millennium. What if He had demanded an accounting of Dorothy Day the moment she had her abortion? The Church would be deprived of her enduring work for the destitute. What if He had deprived you or me of human life at a time we were not in His grace? Remember that the first person He took with Him to heaven was a thieving rascal who died on a cross just a few feet away from His own bloody execution. “This day,” Christ said, “Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
Saint Paul wrote to Timothy telling him that it is God’s desire that “all humans be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” That is a multiple challenge to us. First of all, we need to do what is necessary to enable the salvation of our own souls and those in our families. That’s accomplished by prayer, solid spiritual reading, especially of the Scriptures, frequent reception of Communion and frequent Confession, and good works, especially sharing the faith and helping the destitute.
Second, we need to work with our bishops and pastors to build up the community of the Church. Get involved with Knights of Columbus, Catholic daughters, the Stephen ministry, ACTS, or some other organization ministering to God’s people. And support the Church’s mission financially every week or month.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we need to pray for others and be aware of their own crises and concerns. Be a good listener, a supportive friend. “Bear with one another; forgive one another.” Pray for vocations to the priesthood and diaconate, and for those already ordained, especially those in crisis and discernment. There is much to be done, inside our own hearts, our own families, and in the Church. “Watch over Thy household, O Lord, even as we rely solely on the hope of Thy heavenly grace. May we be defended always by Thy protection, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.”