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Pastor's Letter 20200719 - 19 July 2020 God's Forbearing Patience

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July 19th, 2020

16th Sunday, Ordinary Time

A Message from Father Michael

Today’s Theme:  “God’s Forbearing Patience”


Scripture Note

The parable of the Wheat and the Weeds from today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:24-42,) was originally intended to address the problem of sinners in the Kingdom of God.  The Pharisees believed only saints would attain to the Kingdom, whereas sinners should be ruthlessly “weeded out.”  But Christ didn’t agree.  His main point was to clarify that the Kingdom was a “mixed bag”—comprised of good people and evil people. 

Later, the parable was applied to the problem of sinners in the Church. Like the Kingdom, the Church was also a mélange of souls.  Christ maintained that it must not “play God.”  It must eschew attempts to purify itself from the effects of sin through purges and inquisitions.  The definitive separation between good and evil must be left up to the Last Judgment.  In the meantime, the Church must exercise patience, preaching repentance and practicing forbearance.

  Saints and Sinners in the Church

Christians have always held two views of the mission of the Church:  One, exclusive, the other, inclusive.  The exclusive view holds that the Church exists only for those believers who are fully committed to the The Way.  In the inclusive view, the Church must be open to all: To the “hot,” the “cold,” and the “lukewarm”—to saints and to sinners. 

We have seen how deleterious the presence of sinners in the Church can be, as is evidenced by the myriad cases of pedophilia in recent decades.  But the early Church also faced this dilemma.  Utilizing Christ’s example, they realized their role was to “guide” souls and welcome them into their roles.  After all, He, Himself, declared He had not come into the world to call the just, but to call sinners to repentance. His teaching guided them in their mission, and, as the wheat and weeds grew together, all would be included in their numbers until the “final harvest”—the Last Judgment. 

Now, each of us knows that our Last Judgment will occur at the moment of our death.  We will be ushered into out final reward, or not, depending upon the particular condition of our immortal souls.  What that “looks like” is yet to be understood by our mortal minds.  We can be confident there is no particular physical “place,” like “heaven,” or “hell,” to which we will “go.”  Rather, it is more likely to be an existence beyond our conception of reality—a condition into which we will be in constant union with our Creator, within which we will behold the “Beatific Vision,” of God.  Barring that, we further have come to believe there will be a condition of “punishment,” from which our souls will pine for the Vision, but never attain it.  We have the writings of poets like Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy, ca. 1310 A.D.) and John Milton (Paradise Lost, ca. 1667 A.D.) to thank for the perceptions of the afterlife most of us visualize. Since medieval times, such mental pictures as harp-playing, “cloud-dwelling cherubs” and “pitchfork-wielding demons surrounded by fire and brimstone” have pervaded the catechetical lessons of every parochial school child, and Sunday School participant.  They have been instilled in our minds as contrasting “places” of eternal joy or everlasting damnation, still vividly held well into adulthood for many.  (For me, having grown up in pre-Vatican II, 1950s-era Nebraska, and having experienced a Roman Catholic education from 1st to 12th grades, under the tutelage of devout nuns, these images were made particularly clear in my religion classes to highlight the stark contrast between salvation and damnation. The consistent memorization of the tenets of the Baltimore Catechism are vivid for me, still to this day.)

However, human beings are complex, and cannot be divided into completely separate classes of people: “good” and “evil.”  There is no “line of demarcation” one can draw to neatly separate people.  Any such line would almost certainly go right through each human heart, for there is good and evil in every heart!  During his years in a concentration camp, Alexander Solzhenitsyn reflected in this way:

“I learnt one great lesson from my years in prison camps.  I learnt how a person becomes evil and how he becomes good.  Gradually I came to realize that the line that separates good from evil passes not between states, or between classes, or between political parties, but right through every human heart.  Even in hearts that are overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.  And in the best of all hearts, there remains an uprooted small corner of evil” (Gulag Archipelago, vol. 2.)

All of us exist on a continuum between the two—at times exhibiting behaviors leaning toward the extremes.  We have moods of recklessness, jealousy and sin, while at other moments we express sorrow, repentance, pity and sacrifice.  The best we can do is look diligently into our own “field,” and, finding “weeds” there, as no doubt we will, nothing prevents us from ridding ourselves of them.  When we attempt to do so, we will discover what a painful process this can be. 

If we are tempted to judge others, we should act towards them as Jesus would have done.  It’s strange that He Who had no trace of “weed” in Him, could be so understanding towards those who failed to “measure up.”  He saw the “weeds” in the lives of His apostles, yet He didn’t cull those found in Judas, nor in Peter.  He was aware of the “wheat” that existed in Peter, and knew, with encouragement, that it would prevail in his life.  Whereas, although Judas had similar encouragement, he chose a dark path. 

As “Church,” we an do no better than to imitate our Founder and be “big enough,” and “loving enough” to embrace sinners in our fold.  If we do not, we are not the Church of Christ!

The suggestion to "root out the weeds" has been tried often, throughout 2,000 years of Church history.  Many governments, too, have attempted to do so in fighting terrorists.  Although seeming to be an attractive response, at first blush,  it is not a Christian solution, or even an humane one.  A Church that admits only saints would make about as much sense as a hospital that only admitted those who are well, or a repair shop that only accepted cars that operated without problems.  The Church is not a “museum” for saints, but a “school” for sinners!  It is a temple with countless gates through which pilgrims enter from every quarter; through every door; from disparate paths.  All of us enter God’s house for worship, knowing we will encounter those who feel “good,” and also those who do not. 

God is supremely more tolerant than any of us.  As we heard in today’s First Reading: “Your mastery of all things makes You lenient to all…though You are the Master of might, You judge with clemency” (Wisdom 12:13-19.)   While we distinguish clearly between good and evil, we must aim at being as understanding and tolerant as God would be.  The time for judgment is not now, for the Kingdom of God is still at the “growing stage.”  Now is the time for conversion.  People can change…we all can change. 

Weeds Among the Wheat

The farmer in today’s Gospel story planted good seeds in his field, and expected a bumper harvest.  When he discovered weeds growing there, among the sturdy green shoots, he was bitterly disappointed.  In shock, he must have looked at the field and couldn’t even see the wheat; he only saw the weeds!

As we progress through our lives, doing our best to succeed, attempting to be Godly people, associating with our fellows in good faith, invariably, someone—a friend, a partner, a spouse, a customer—disappoints us or proves unfaithful.  Then we are shocked and hurt at the appearance of “evil.”  We wisely avoid those people from whom we expect deception or guile, but we are taken aback when we find such behavior in “good people”--those whom we may trust; and we are hurt and disillusioned even more so, when this happens.  As a result, we may tend to see everyone as “bad,” becoming very negative….  Like the farmer, this may cause us to go into our “field,” and dispatch the weeds.  But this proves impossible in many cases.  Like him, we find the “weeds” growing so closely to the good stalks, we cannot uproot them without disturbing the “wheat” as well.   (Our "weeds" may simply mean, "contrasting ideas," which conflict with our own, heartfelt beliefs, or goals.)

So, our first—best—reaction should be to “calm down.”  In doing so, we gain a better perspective.  Even though we discover disappointment in our best efforts,  satisfactory progress exists therein, too.   In fact, if we are perceptive, we will discover our good efforts developing good results alongside the problems—fully within our expectations. We must continue our efforts, in patience, without despair. We need to remember the world is a mixture of light and darkness, good and evil.  Wheat and weeds grow side by side in the same person, as they do in ourselves.  No one understood this better than Jesus.  Even in His small garden—His twelve apostles—which He tended carefully for three years, the weeds persisted; yet He didn’t “write them off.”  We have to work on the “good,” while resisting the “evil.”  But we have to proceed in such a way as to do no further evil meanwhile.  Evil can be overcome only by good. 

Like the farmer in our story, we must return to work towards our goal, whatever that may be.  We must concentrate our efforts on achieving the positive results we seek.  Many times, we will discover our efforts will continue to develop, and be strengthened by their association with challenges.  They may even be a benefit in the long run. 

The presence of evil means we have to struggle.  But we know that through struggling, we will grow.  Struggle awakens all that is good and precious within us.  Indeed the presence of evil could even be said to be necessary for success in any venture.  Surely, we value the outcomes gained when we persevere through adversity.  In fact, without having to make choices between good and evil, no virtue would be possible.  Like all Jesus’ parables, this one is both realistic and optimistic.  In the end good triumphs—even though during the process this is not easy to comprehend.  Truth and goodness are invincible…. 

May God Richly Bless You!

“If you fail to sow good thoughts in your mind, the weeds of evil thoughts will take root there

and eventually they will take up all the space and not let good thoughts flourish.”
― Awdhesh Singh, 31 Ways to Happiness

Abide with Me.docx

Abide with Me.mp3

To view to a live stream of this week's Liturgy of the Word, click here: https://youtu.be/ohaypdSwWRo

Edited by Father Michael
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