TEXT: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 23, 2023

July 23, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 23, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

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 few 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;

         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 of 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 the 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 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 most of 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 developing with his colleagues,

and carefully adjusted course.

He then went on to become the Church’s lion of orthodoxy for almost thirty 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 thought to be very progressive at Vatican II,

but eventually became known 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 fail 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 againstthe 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 to 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,

                  or at least talk 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 first 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 true 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 them to

         in either pulling weeds or leaving them to fester 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.