16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

    

     I often meet people who tell me they want nothing to do with the Catholic Church because people in the Catholic Church are just as lousy as everyone else. They say that like the rest of the world, Catholics are hypocrites, thieves, liars, gossips, cheats, snobs, ect. Like the farmer’s servants in today’s parable, these people are concerned that there are weeds amongst the wheat and so they decide to abandon the field leaving behind both the wheat and the weeds. In 2003, as the abuse scandal was coming to full force in the Catholic Church, a prominent Jewish man from Cleveland delivered a powerful speech in support of the Catholic Church. In this speech, he told Catholics to stand tall and be proud of our faith. He reminded us that some members of our religion have done gravely evil things, the Catholic Church educates 2.6 million students at an annual cost of 10 billion dollars to our church and a savings of 18 billion dollars to the American taxpayer, that the Church has 637 nonprofit hospitals which treats 1 out of every 5 people in the United States, that with 64 million members we are the largest non-governmental agency in the country, and our agencies treat 1 out of every 5 people in need in of social services in our country at a cost of 2.3 billion dollars a year.[1]  While it is certainly easy to be scandalized by the weeds in the Church, I think we can easily fall into the trap of becoming so preoccupied with the flaws, that we forget the beauty of the rest.

     This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel. The weed Jesus talks about in today’s parable is called darnel. When still young darnel looks exactly like wheat. Only when the wheat is fully grown can one determine which is the wheat and which is the weed. So, in today’s parable, Jesus gives each of us an important reminder. He reminds us to wait for His timing. When we see terrible things happening in our Church and in our World, God calls us to step aside and let Him do the weeding. We are called to resist evil, to recognize evil, to name evil and to pray to God that He will take care of it, but then allow God to do the weeding.

     I for one am grateful that God does the weeding, because just as there are weeds in the Catholic Church, I think we all must admit that there are weeds in each of our souls. If we are honest with ourselves all of us will admit that we have areas in our lives that need purification. Certainly, we don’t want to put off working on removing those weeds from our life because we do not know the hour when our life will end and the weeds will be burned.

     Friends, if we are honest with ourselves we should recognize that “no one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided. All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.”[2] Hearing today’s Gospel I cannot help but think of the many great saints whose lives began as sinners. I think of the life of St. Paul, who killed Christians in his early life only to be converted and become the greatest evangelizer in the history of the Church. Can you imagine the Bible without the letters of St. Paul? Well if the early church did the weeding there would be no St. Paul, on the evil Saul. I also think of the life of St. Augustine who documents the darkness of his life in his great work The Confessions. Given ample time and grace, St. Augustine, a man who spent years in a heretical sect, had a child out of wedlock, and caused mischief just to cause trouble had a conversion of heart and become one of the greatest defenders of the faith that our Church has ever had.

     Our God is not a God of immediate results, no He is a God of relationship. The only immediate result God grants is His forgiveness when we come to Him in sorrow in the sacrament of Confession. This week we are reminded that God judges us as a friend, he wants what is best for us and judges with clemency. Our Lord awaits us here to help us but asks us to do so in relationship not in instant gratification.

     While we live in a world that values instant gratification today we are called today to enter into relationship with the Lord, to slowly have our hearts converted towards the greatness He intends for us. Like all relationships it takes time, but the merciful Lord is their every step of the way. As much as I like immediate gratification I am grateful for the mercy of God which is expressed in the slow process of entering into relationship with us. I am grateful that the master does not kill the weeds right away, after all if the weeds were pulled immediately before the harvest wouldn’t all of us have been thrown into the fire by now? If we want that patience for ourselves, then shouldn’t we extend it to others?

     So, when people tell me they are not Catholic because some Catholics have done wicked things, I turn it around on them and remind them that the wickedness of some of our members only strengthens my believe that the Catholic Church is founded by God. After all how else could an institution full of sinners work such remarkable things if it were not God Himself, guiding the way?

 

[1] http://www.catholic.org/news/national/story.php?id=36261

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 151 – 152.)

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