16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 23, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
For the last several decades now there have been a lot of people
publicly demanding changes to Church teaching
—even when those teachings are divine truths,
not changeable by any man, even a pope.
Sadly, these demands have radically escalated in the last couple of years,
Of course, this can be extremely disconcerting to faithful Catholics,
and particularly when it’s our fellow Catholics demanding these changes,
and especially when it’s Catholic priests, and even bishops,
and even, shockingly, high ranking cardinals.
Sometimes Catholics, including myself, wonder why Church authorities delay
in correcting or disciplining Catholics who publicly dissent from ancient Church teaching.
It doesn’t seem fair to faithful Catholics, much less the rest of the world,
to let this confusion continue.
Personally, I can tell you it makes a priest’s job
a whole lot more difficult than it has to be;
when you endure criticism for teaching a difficult truth
that has always been taught by the Church,
especially those explicitly, categorically and repeatedly clarified
by recent Popes,
only to have some bishop or cardinal somewhere
confuse everything by seeming to teach the exact opposite.
And nothing happens to them: most of the rest of the hierarchy remains silent.
Why does the Church allow this to go on without doing something about it?
Sometimes because cowardice.
Sometimes because they just don’t know how to handle the situation.
Sometimes because of misplaced caution.
And, sadly, in the case of some bishops,
sometimes it’s because they agree with dissenters.
But sometimes…sometimes…the delay is necessary,
and even part of God’s will.
In today’s Gospel text Jesus tells us:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed
.…[H]is enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat….
When the crop grew …the weeds appeared as well.”
And when the man’s servants wanted to pull up the weeds he replied simply:
“‘No, …. Let them grow together until harvest.”
How can it ever be acceptable to patiently let weeds grow with the wheat,
to allow confusing false doctrines
to grow and spread throughout the Church and society?
Today’s text gives two good reasons.
First, Jesus says:
“if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”
How many times do we try to accomplish something good
only to have the unintended negative consequences
overwhelmingly offset the good we achieve?
Or how many times does someone in authority, trying to pursue justice,
overreach and do damage to the innocent?
I mean, how many times have moms and dads punished all their children
for acting up, when some of them had done nothing wrong?
one brother takes the other brother’s toy, and they start to argue,
and both go to bed without supper.
Or how many times does a good person do something wrong,
and the choice has to be made to whether
to punish them severely
or to give them a second chance?
Similar things can happen in the Church.
During the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani,
who was the Pope’s top Doctrine official,
was outspoken in opposition to some of the more “progressive”
cardinals, bishops and theologians at the council
for their controversial positions.
As it turned out, many of these folks would go on
to cause all sorts of problems and confusion in the Church
—many of them were the mentors of today’s troublemakers.
Even so, Pope Paul VI chose to hold back from disciplining them.
Many have criticized Pope Paul for this,
but in many cases, he chose to leave the weeds,
lest he pull up some of the wheat with them.
Now, personally I wish the Pope would have pulled a few more weeds,
and in the end, I think he wished the same thing.
But thank God he didn’t pull up all the folks Ottaviani thought were weeds.
Because one of those folks, wound up seeing
the problem with of some of his thinking, and adjusted course,
and went on to become the Church’s lion of orthodoxy for almost 30 years,
and went on to not only have Ottaviani’s job in charge of doctrine,
but also to have Paul VI’s job as pope.
His name was Joseph Ratzinger,
who was known to a very progressive at Vatican II,
but eventually became known him as the very traditional
Pope Benedict XVI.
So we see why the Lord tells us that sometimes we need to,
“Let [the weeds and the wheat] …grow together until harvest.”
But there is also a second reason for not always immediately pulling the weeds:
Jesus goes on to say,
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast….
mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”
One reason the Church, especially, good bishops,
doesn’t act quickly in every problem case,
is that it waits for us to act:
while we may have to live like wheat surrounded by weeds,
we also need to live as leaven to the society we live in:
by truly and clearly living our Christian lives in the day to day world
we can and will raise up the faith in those around us.
How many of us take the time to educate ourselves on the Church’s teaching
on the issues of the day?
And I don’t mean reading the articles in the newspapers,
but the Bible, the Catechism, and the writings of
the great popes, fathers, doctors and saints of the Church?
And how many of us act on these teachings,
by putting them into practice
and proclaiming them to the world we live in every day?
Is it Rome and the bishops, or is it us, who fails to act?
Think about it:
at the party you went to last night, or at work last week,
when someone accused the Church of “harsh” treatment of gays,
–or some other false accusation against the Church—
did you explain to them what the Church really intends and teaches
about the dignity of sexuality, and forgiveness and truth?
Or at home: parents,
when you saw something on television
that showed ignorance about or hostility toward the Church,
did you bother take a moment to point it out and clarify it for your children?
And children, how about you?
When someone at school or camp or on the playground,
maybe one of your friends or even a teacher or coach,
says something about the Church that doesn’t sound right
do you take the time to do something about it,
at least by talking to Mom and Dad about it?
Some would say: but what can I do, what difference can I make?
How can tiny little me change the world around me?
Again, Jesus addresses this in today’s Gospel. He says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed ….
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.”
The mustard seed is like the leaven:
only a tiny bit of leaven is used to raise a large loaf of bread.
Maybe prudence, limits what you can do.
Maybe you honestly discern that the good you want to accomplish
will be overshadowed by the misunderstanding that will result.
Maybe you’re just being careful not to pull the weeds out
lest you pull the wheat out with it.
Maybe you’re acting with clemency, leniency and mercy
as today’s 1st reading tells us the Lord does.
Still, if you do act in prudence, and in mercy,
you must also remember that the Lord says:
“…[at] the end of the age, …. [the] weeds are collected and
…. throw[n] into the fiery furnace”—they go to hell!
In mercy for the weeds mixed with the wheat,
we—you and I—must do something for them
to keep them from the furnace of hell.
We must tell them the truth.
Yes, perhaps slowly, and gently, and always with kindness,
as the book of Wisdom says today:
“those who are just must be kind.”
And warning them not just about the prospect of “the fiery furnace”
but also offering them Our Lord’s wonderful promise that:
“the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
But mercy demands not silence, but that we must tell them the truth.
Today, as we continue to prepare ourselves for the Eucharist,
let us pray for Pope Francis, and all the Bishops and priests of the Church,
that they may have the prudence and wisdom to discern,
and the courage and mercy to act,
how, where and when the Lord wants him to
in either pulling weeds or leaving the weeds to in the Church.
And let us pray for ourselves
that the words of the Gospel and the grace of this sacrament
may bear great fruit in us,
so that we may be the wheat of the harvest,
and not the weeds bundled for burning.
And that our Lord may give us the patience to live as wheat among the weeds,
and the prudence, mercy, and courage to
to act as the leaven that transforms the world into Christ’s Kingdom.