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Jesus in the Gospel this Sunday (the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A) delivers good news to a Church that is badly wounded.
Hold on, he says: The kingdom of God is coming, bringing untold blessings with it.
Make no mistake about it, the Church is in terrible pain right now.
In a vicious circle, bishops and priests hide in bureaucracy and ignore the worst of all possible sins, which is now the definitive sin of our times: the loss of the sense of the sin. The laity are all too willing to play along, relishing their pet sins and sidestepping the hard truths that would make the world uncomfortable.
The laity are not passing the faith on to their children, and the institutional church is doing less than the minimum to inspire or challenge them. The fruit of this giant abdication of the People of God is death: bodily death in the suicide rate that is spiking; emotional death in the skyrocketing rates of loneliness, anxiety and addiction; and spiritual suicide as we turn to the flesh and the devil instead of God for relief.
In the giant vacuum created by this failure, the world we are responsible for is turning to destructive ideologies that promise sex, money, or power but deliver sterility, scarcity and slavery.
Into this sad situation Christ calls the Church to attention, saying: “I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.”
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field,” he says. “While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”
When they sprout, the servants want to pull up the weeds, but the householder says “No.” As Jesus explains later, “the Son of Man will send his angels,” who will gather “all evildoers” and “throw them into the fiery furnace.”
This is a breathtaking call to faith.
Jesus Christ himself tells us not to look at the world as a battleground between good guys and bad guys, but between an all-powerful God — “the householder” — and an enemy who prowls in the dark. We, servants of the household, fail most not by what we do but by what we fail to do. The enemy comes when we sleep.
Since this is God’s battle, it is not our job to root evil out on our own. We are to wait for Jesus Christ to do it. Here we have a direct application of the teaching that God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
“The Lord warns us not to pass a hasty judgment on an ambiguous word, but to reserve it for his judgement,” said St. Jerome, who explained: “We should not hastily cut off a brother, since one who is to-day corrupted with an erroneous dogma, may grow wiser tomorrow, and begin to defend the truth.”
St. Augustine is quick to point out, however, that this does not exempt us from the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner, including penalties from the Church, which are administered “with tenderness, not for his rooting out, but for his correction.”
He sums it up: “Therefore let a man gently reprove whatever is in his power; what is not so let him bear with patience, and mourn over his affliction, until he from above shall correct and heal, and let him defer till harvest time to root out the tares and winnow the chaff.”
While we are patiently waiting for the wheat and weeds to be sorted out, we are not idle.
In the long form of the Gospel, Jesus follows the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds with the parable of the Mustard Seed, “the smallest of all the seeds” which becomes “the largest of plants.”
While the weeds and wheat grow together, we each tend our own tiny contribution to the kingdom of heaven, and wait for it to grow mighty.
The truth is, ordinary fidelity can bring about enormous, worldwide change. An obscure Polish family’s Christian example gave us John Paul the Great, and his fidelity changed our families, our map, our calendar, our prayer, our liturgy, and many of our colleges. An Albanian dad told his daughter “always share even the least bit of food you have” shortly before his death. She did, and later became Mother Teresa, the great saint of Kolkata.
On a smaller scale, I have met people who were converted by seeing a faithful family walking to Mass, moved by the joy of religious sisters to rediscover the faith, and convicted by a casual conversation about confession with a friend to return to the sacraments.
Our faith may not have the excitement and novelty of the latest intellectual fad, but fidelity to it moves mountains.
If it takes faith to trust God to root out the weeds, and takes hope to plant a tiny seed, it takes love to make everything grow.
Jesus turns from farming to baking to share his next analogy, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
This is meant to personalize the Gospel message. The fundamental call of the Gospel is love — loving God above all things and loving one another for his sake — and love is the mysterious ingredient that makes everything grow and swell and move in the right direction.
It does that for each of us personally, and for our society as a whole.
As St. Rabanus Maurus put it, “love planted in our mind ought to grow until it changes the whole soul.”
As St. John Paul II put it, “The purpose of the Gospel, in fact, is ‘to transform humanity from within and to make it new’ Like the yeast which leavens the whole measure of dough, the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from within.”
And so we face the pain in the Church with the courage of Jesus Christ.
Not our efforts, but God’s might “is the source of justice,” says the first reading, from Wisdom.
We are sinners, but in the Psalm pray, “Lord you are good and forgiving.”
We are weak, but as St. Paul says, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.”
Jesus Christ tells us to stay faithful, hold on, and trust. He will take care of his Church.
Image: The Sacred Heart of Jesus was enthroned
in the heart of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, in 2016.