Sunday, July 23, 2017

The wheat and the weeds: two ways to understand the parable (Sunday homily)

There are two ways to take this Gospel passage: 
as it applies to each of us personally, 
and as it applies to society as a whole. 

Let’s start with the personal sense, 
which is to see the field as our own lives. 
And you and I, by our choices, sow either good seed or bad, 
so that we struggle to see whether the field of our soul 
will be full of virtue, 
or will it be crowded out with the weeds of vice and sin.

I was reading a book by Father Basil Maturin, 
an Irish priest from a century ago, who talks about this parable. 
It was he who saw the field as our own lives. 

Father Maturin asked, “How often, as we look into our souls, 
and wonder at the evil we find there, do we not ask ourselves” 
where do these tares – these weeds – come from? 
Where do our sinful habits and the trials that go with them, 
come from? 

You and I struggle with laziness, with wrath, with lust, with greed, 
and it seems as though these sins crowd out virtue in our lives. 
And the answer is, “An enemy has done this.”

Now, the point is not that the devil makes us do it. 
No matter what anyone says or thinks, 
no matter what you see in movies, 
the devil cannot make anyone choose evil. 

The enemy makes suggestions, even very alluring suggestions – 
but you and I make the choice, and the evil seed is sown in our lives. 
So there seems an obvious point to be made: 
that you and I cannot be too careful about what evil 
we allow the enemy to sow in our lives. 

It doesn’t take much time given to the Internet, 
going to dark places, to allow a foul habit to take deep root. 

There are folks who think this isn’t any big deal. 
Let me tell you: there is a growing number of people – 
more men than women, but women too – 
who are finding it harder and harder to have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex 
because of pornography. 
It is damaging marriages and contributing to divorce. 

So it’s vital to guard our eyes against what is degrading; 
our ears from gossip and poisonous words of envy; 
our heart from envy and wrath; our stomach from gluttony.

Of course, a lot of us would say, too late! 
These weeds are already in my life! 
We are frustrated to face these same weeds, 
week after week throughout our lives. 
Why doesn’t the Lord simply tear them out, when we beg him to do so?

Sometimes it happens: we have a moment of conversion 
and we receive the grace to completely overcome that bad habit; 
the weeds are, indeed, ripped out. But guess what often happens? 
The person who, with great effort, overcomes a bad habit, 
only to slowly slide back into it. 

As much as we hate it, for virtue to grow in our lives, 
you and I often need this struggle; 
just as it takes hard, physical labor to build our lungs and our muscles.

When you find it discouraging to go to confession, again, and again,
with the same sin – realize, that is exactly the medicine you need. 
It is the enemy who says, you can’t fight the weeds, 
just let them grow.

Now, there is a more familiar way to take this passage. 
That is to see the field as the world, 
and some people are wheat, to be gathered into heaven, 
and some are weeds, who do evil and face the fire of hell.

No doubt you have had a similar reaction as I have. 
We will be confronted with some terrible evil, 
or people who seem devoted to evil, and we wonder: 
why, God, do you allow it to go on? 

And one answer comes from the first reading: 
God is very patient, way more patient than we are. 
God has plans for quite a lot of the weeds to become wheat. 

And that patience isn’t just for others – it is for you and me as well. 
If we are honest, at any given moment, which are we? 
You and I want to be wheat, 
but we like being with the weeds a lot more than we care to admit. 

We know God’s great harvest is coming someday; 
we just hope it doesn’t happen 
before we get to church and get in line for confession!

And that is exactly how to get out of the weeds and back to the wheat: 
and the more frequently we get to confession, the better.

Since we know that our Lord desires to turn weeds into wheat, 
then we know that he wants us to help in that mission. 
And we do that best by letting people see virtue in our own lives; 
when they see that we strive to be people of virtue, 
our example gives them courage.

In a few minutes, you and I will be given the gift God’s Wheat, 
the very Body and Blood of our Lord. 
Jesus gives himself to us, day by day, week by week, 
so that you and I can become what we receive. 
Not without struggle, but with abundant grace 
and far more patience than we can tolerate, 
he will make us what he wants us to be.

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