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Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t a Saint? A Meditation on the Gospel for the 16th Sunday of the Year

July 16, 2011 33 Comments

We live in difficult times for the Church,  and from many sectors the very legitimate cry for reform goes up frequently. Beyond the sexual abuse scandal, there are also deep concerns regarding the uncertain trumpet of Catholic preaching, lukewarm and nominal Catholics, an overall lack of discipline among Catholics, and a lack of disciplining by the bishops and clergy of Catholics, clergy and lay, who cause scandal. In a way, the list is quite long and has been well discussed on this blog, which is, overall sympathetic to the need for reform, and greater zeal in the Church.

But today’s Gospel issues a caution in becoming over zealous to root out sin and sinners from the Church. It is the memorable Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The Lord’s cautionary rebuke to the zealous farmhands who wanted to tear out the weeds, was that they might harm the wheat as well. Wait, says the Lord, leave it to me. There will come a day of reckoning, but it is not now, wait till harvest.

This does not mean that we are never to take no notice of sin or never rebuke it. There is need for discipline in the Church and other texts call for it (see below). But this text is meant to balance a scouring that is too thorough, or a puritanical clean sweep that overrules God’s patience and seeks to turn the Church from a hospital for sinners to a germ-free (and hence people-free) zone.

We are going to need to depend on a lot of patience and mercy from God if any of us are going to stand a chance. Summoning the wrath of God to come on sinners, as some do, may well destroy them as well. We all have a journey to make from being an ain’t to being a saint.

So let’s allow this Gospel to give us some guidance in finding balance between the summons to reform and the summons to patience. The guidance comes in Four Steps.

I. WAKE UP – The text says, Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.

Notice in this text that every one was sleeping when the enemy sowed weeds. There is a great mystery as to why God allows Satan to sow the seeds in the first place. But there is far less mystery as to why Satan has been so successful in our times. The weeds are numerous, and are vigorously growing in our times.  And part of the reason is that we, in the Church, have been sleeping while Satan has steadily sown his weeds among us.

Now don’t just blame the Church leadership. Though we share plenty of the blame. But the fact is that too many in the whole Church have been in a moral sleep. Too many Catholics will just watch anything, listen to anything, expose themselves to anything. We just go with the flow, and live unreflective sleepy lives. We also allow our children to be exposed to almost anything. Too many parents have little knowledge of what their children are watching, listening to or surfing on the Internet, who their friends are etc.  We hardly think of God or his plan for our lives, and, collectively,  have priorities that are more worldly than spiritual. We are not awake and sober to sin and sin’s incursions, we are not outraged, we take little action other than to shrug, and seem to be more concerned with fitting in than living as a sign of contradiction.

Church leadership too has been inwardly focused. While the culture was melting down beginning in the late 1960s, we were tuning guitars, moving the furniture in the sanctuaries, having debates about Church authority, gender wars, and seemingly endless internal squabbles about every facet of Church life. I do not deny that there were right and wrong answers in these debates, and that rebellious trends had to be addressed, but while all this was going on, Satan was sowing seeds and we lost the culture.

We are just now emerging from our 50 years in the cocoon to find a world gone mad and we, who lead the Church, clergy and lay, have to admit that this happened on our watch.

It is long past time to wake up and sober up to the reality that Satan has been working while we squabbled and sang songs to ourselves.

And lots of hollering and blaming one side of the Church or the other, this kind of liturgy or that,  is not very helpful, because that is still inward in its focus.

It’s time to wake up and go out. There is a work to do in reclaiming the culture for Christ and reproposing the gospel to world that has lost it.

Step one in a finding a balance between the need for reform and patience is to wake up

II. WISE UP – the text says, When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said,’Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.

Part of the sobriety we have to regain is to understand that we have an enemy who hates us, Satan. He is responsible for much of the spiritual, moral and even physical ruin we see around us. We have too long been dismissive of his presence, as though he were a fairy tale. While we cannot blame everything on him, for we connive with him, and we also suffer the weakness of the flesh and the bad influence of the world. But Satan is real and he is an enemy and he hates you. He hates also your children, he hates the Church, and he hates anything and anyone that is holy, or even on the way to holiness.

We have to wise up and ask the Lord for an anointing. We need not utterly fear the devil, but we need to understand that he is at work. We need to learn and know his moves, his designs, his tactics, and tools. And we need the grace, having recognized him, to rebuke him at every turn.

Now be careful here. To wise up means to learn and understand Satan’s tactics. But it does not mean to imitate them in retaliation. Upon waking up and wising up, some want to go right to battle, but in worldly types of ways. Yet,  the Lord often proposes paradoxical tactics which are rooted in the wisdom of the Cross, not the world. Wising up to Satan and his tactics, does not often mean to engage in a full on frontal assault. Often the Lord counsels humility to battle pride, love (not retaliation) to conquer hate, and accepted weakness to overcome strength.

To wise up means to come to the wisdom of the cross, not the world. As we shall see, the Lord is not nearly as warlike in his response to his enemy as some zealous reformers propose to be. We may be properly zealous for reform, and want to usher in change rapidly, but be very careful what wisdom you are appealing to. Scripture says, Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. (1 Cor 3:19-20).

Step two in a finding a balance between the need for reform and patience is to wise up.

III. WAIT UP – The text says, His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest...

We have already laid the ground work for the Lord’s rebuke to these overly-zealous reformers. Today in the Church we are well aware of the need for reform, so is the Lord. He says, clearly, an enemy has done this. And yet, to those who want to go through the Church rooting out every sinner, every ne’er do well, every bad theologian (and there are many), and call for an increasing and severe clamp-down by the bishops across the board, the Lord gives a balancing notion.

There is need for discipline in the Church, and even punitive measures from time to time. The Lord himself proposes excommunication in certain instances (e.g. Matt 18:17), St Paul too (e.g. 1 Cor 5:5). Yet, texts such as those need to be balanced by texts such as the gospel today. Fraternal correction is an essential work of charity (I have written more on that here: Fraternal Correction) and it must be conducted with patience and love.

But the The Lord is patient and here directs us to also to be prepared to wait and not be over zealous in pulling weeds, lest we harm the wheat. The Lord says, remarkably, let them grow together. Notice, now is the time to grow, the harvest comes later. In certain, rarer instances the harm may be so egregious that the Church has to act to remove or discipline a sinner more severely. But there is also a place to wait and allow the wheat and tares to grow together. After all, sinners may repent and the Lord wants to give people the time they need to repent. Scripture says, God’s patience is directed to our salvation (2 Peter 3:9).

So, while there is sometimes need for strong discipline in the Church, there is also this directive to balance such notions: Leave it be, wait, place this in the hands of God, give time for the sinner to convert, keep working and praying for that, but do not act precipitously.

We have had many discussion here on the blog about whether and how the bishops should discipline certain Catholic politicians who, by their bad example and bad votes, undermine the gospel and even cost lives through abortion and euthanasia.

While I am sympathetic to the need for them to be disciplined, how, when and who, remains a prudential judgement for the Bishop to make. And, as we can see, there are certain Scriptures which balance each other. In the end, we cannot simply make a one-size-fits-all norm. There are prudential aspects to the decision and Lord himself speaks to different situations in different ways.

In today’s Gospel the Lord says, wait. And generally it is good advice to follow. After all, how do YOU know that you won’t or don’t need more time? Before we ask God to lower the boom on sinners, we ought to remember that we are going to need his patience and mercy too. Scripture says, The measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you. (Matt 7:2& Luke 6:38). Be very careful before summoning God’s wrath, for who may endure the Day of his coming (Mal 3:2)?

Step three in a finding a balance between the need for reform and patience is to wait up and balance zeal with patience.

IV. WASH UP – The text says, Then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.

So you see, there is a harvest and those who have sinned or led others to sin and have not repented are going to have to answer to the Lord for it.

The Lord is no pushover and he does not make light of sin. In saying wait, he does not mean that judgment will never come. But his general advice is “Leave it to me.” And to us he says, in effect, “As for you, wash up, get ready, and help others to get ready too. For judgment day is surely coming and every knee will bend to me and every one will render and account.

That’s it, Wash up! You’re either going to be a saint, or an ain’t. For now the wheat and tares grow together. But later the tares and all the weeds will be gathered and cast into the fire.

So here’s the balance, God is patient, but there is a harvest and we have to get ready by God’s grace. For the overly zealous God says wait. But to the complacent and sleepy God says, wake up, wise up and wash up!

Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? To put it in a gloss of an old song: Is you is, or is you ain’t a saint?

Here is a great exposition of this Gospel from Fr. Francis Martin. Don’t Miss it.

Comments (33)

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  1. Ryan Ellis says:

    Good advice. I especially like the part about the need to be more evangelical, and not 100% concerned on intra-ecclesial matters. Many of us in the traditional liturgical movement tend to lose sight of this.

    • Thanks. I think that the Ite Missa est is an underrated line in either form. We are being commissioned to go out and proclaim what and whom we have encountered. Its a more important thing than ever.

  2. esiul says:

    Msgr. Pope, I don’t know how you come up with all your wonderful writings, I can barely keep up with the reading of them. So true what you said here today. Much to ponder about.
    Thank you.

  3. Tom Trotter says:

    Bout says it all. Benedictine balance, I always say. Looks to me that is what you described. Thank you and by
    the way many of us in the laity deserve some of the blame for all this. While I realize that the arguments still rage
    in Rome of the liberal, vs. the traditional and many of the Catholic leaders were asleep at the wheel, the laity
    has embarked on a secularistic, consumer driven progressive me first society and I think we have to be
    brought back to realty. In other words to be reminded, it is a sin to vote for a pro-choice politician, and no it is not OK to attend Mass in flip flops and shorts and head out after communion. In other words as you stated, there
    is plenty of blame to go around. I think Pope Benedict XVI is doing the best he can and doing it more quickly
    than I thought he could. I guess we will have to do the best we can, and leave the rest to God. Pax Msgr. Charles. You are in my prayers. Great web site.

  4. mgbeahuruike john says:

    Thank you mgsr. C. Pope for your wonderful reflections. May God give you more wisdom and strength. Shalom!

  5. Nguyen Thuong MInh says:

    Epistle 199
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope preached Gospel of Matthew 13: 24-30, which was called “the Parable of the Weeds”.
    Msgr. Charles Pope urged us that we ought to wake up, wise up, wait up, and wash up weeds as Lord’s teachings in today’s Gospel later.
    Basically, I agree with Msgr. Charles Pope on the homily.
    Secondly, now permit me to add some problems hereafter:
    In today’s Gospel of Matthew (Mt 13:24-43), there are three parables: First, the parable of the weeds; second, the parable of mustard seed; third, the parable of the yeast.
    Msgr. Charles Pope likes preach the first parable.
    However, some Vietnamese parish priests like to preach third parable.
    These priests urged us that we ought to be yeast for wheat flour and salt for the world later.
    Here, yeast, weeds, mustard, salt, sugar, wheat, rice, etc. which are synonymous each other.
    This means that we ought to be a useful people for the world (or human kind), despite some certain people name who or what we are.
    If some certain people like to name us as yeast, weeds, mustard, salt, sugar, wheat, rice, etc., then they do as they like.
    But fact of the matter is that Jesus is Jesus, the Church is the Church, Catholics are Catholics./.

  6. bob k says:

    wonderful admonition.
    as Jesus pithily said: “let you who are without sin cast the first stone.”

  7. Mandy P. says:

    Excellent! Thank you! 🙂

  8. Will says:

    Good post and good advice Msgr. But, for those who are in positions of influence, to lead astray countless people, don’t you think it is advantageous and prudent for the Bishops, the only ones with influence enough to counter such politicians, take the steps to curb what is going on? We’re not talking about whole sale changes, or a sweeping clean up. Target people like Cuomo and Pelozi, as St. Paul said, rebuke them and shame them, after realizing they’re dealing with the devil hopefully they will come back repentant.

    • a worthy concern, not denied by me but only to say that the decision is a prudential one and hence reasonable men may differ as to who, how, what and when.

      • Gerald Midkiff says:

        A “prudential” decision among “reasonable men” can also be a cop-out. I have heard the arguments about
        Bishops and the Holy Father “interfering” with American politics and policy. I have read that the Holy Father
        has personally talked with Nancy Pelosi; I hope soon he has the opportunity to talk with Gov. Cuomo of NY.
        The governor’s public sins are grave, and out in front for all to see, and for many young New Yorkers to
        follow. There is a point when enough is enough. No matter how unpleasant and politically incorrect, the
        Bishops need to take the bull by the horns and act.

        • Tom Trotter says:

          Gerald , if I may and Msgr. I also have an answer for you on the who, how, what and when part to Gov. Cuomo`s
          very public actions. Gerald I feel your frustration. Gov. Cuomo should be refused holy Communion under canon law 915 and this is not just my opinion this comes from a very prestigious canon lawyer Prof. E. Peters JD,JCD.
          The good Bishop of Albany has looked the other way while Gov. Cuomo, who is pro choice, divorced, living with
          a woman not his wife, actively promoted and signed into law the gay marriage act while attending Mass in the Cathedral in Albany, recieves holy Communion to the absolute delight of the liberal media and brags about having a picture hanging in his office of him and Archbishop Dolan shaking hands who, by the way was out of
          town at a meeting in Wash. state when the law was passed, as though it were some kind of an imprimatur, and
          no one in the Catholic leadership says a word. How very frustrating that must be for Catholics in New York.
          The for who is Bishop Hubbard, the how is 915 which can be applied for public actions with no remorse
          which you have here, and the when should have been six months ago. Sorry Msgr.Charles but those are the facts and it is needed to be said. Pax

          • Gerald Midkiff says:

            Tom, thank you for your comments and info. You have given me much more to think about.

          • Marius says:

            The scandal given by Andrew Cuomo is very great and the lack of the Church’s reaction to it makes it even worse. It is high time for the latter to distance Herself from the practices of such apostates who use the Catholic label to attract votes and corrupt the faith.

          • Gerald Midkiff says:

            I agree; thank you for your comments.

  9. Anne says:

    I will print this out and re-read it often. There are so many wise thoughts here. I am currently reading books online published in the early 1900’s…Father Lasance’s Catholic Girl’s Guide and another of his books, With God. I am astonished on one hand and terribly sad on the other hand. Astonished by the beauty, seriousness, and orthodoxy of this book and saddened beyond measure that our young people and adults are for the most part bereft of this sort of pastoral guidance. As I read it, I am almost led to think Father Lasance is leading us to God in a route that is far superior and so very different than what the average Catholic picks up by attending Mass on Sunday and reading the diocesan newspaper.
    I am glad you are sounding an alarm, because too many do not realize that something is terribly wrong and we are failing this generation…what will happen to the next one?

  10. Marius says:

    In this particular subject (i.e., whether to actively fight evil or not) we have to rely as much on the Gospels as on Tradition. This is the right Catholic way. However, both of them appear quite self-contradictory in this respect – Christ Himself flogs the merchants out of the Temple and then elsewhere He says, “Do not oppose evil”; Saint George kills the dragon and Saint Francis of Assisi embraces the wolf, etc., etc. How are we to understand this seeming inconsistency? I believe that this simply means that there is no single way to be a good Christian, that – depending on the circumstances – one should fight or refuse to fight. Neither the good fight nor peace have an absolute and universal value. “There is a time to kill and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3:3). Therefore we ought to pray to be given the power of discernment and follow our received inspiration without fear or doubt.

  11. Draz says:

    The mystery as to why God allows Satan to sow the seeds in the first place, I believe is solved by looking at Scripture:

    John 12:31 calls Satan the “prince of this world.” Ephesians 2:2 calls him the “prince of the power of the air.” Ephesians 6:12 explains that “… we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” 1 Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

    As long as we’re confined to our fleshly bodies, walking this sin-cursed earth, we’re on Satan’s turf, and he’ll do anything within his power to steer us away from Christ. But, praise God, we who have believed on Christ have received the promise of Ephesians 1:3, which states, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in HEAVENLY places in Christ.” Therefore, Colossians 3:2 admonishes us to “Set your affection on things ABOVE, not on things on the earth.” Satan may have dominion over this “present evil world” (Galatians 1:4), but our blessings in Christ are not of this world, and therefore Satan has no dominion over the believer.

    Romans 8:18 – “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Amen, God is so good in that He gave us His Son as the answer!

  12. Anne Marie says:

    What Msgr. Charles Pope says, and for anyone who does gardening at this time of year, even if you are growing some eggplants and tomatoes in pots like I am is this that you learn to become patient and not rush things. Let God be God and leave the judgement of who is or who is not saved to HIM.

    Sorry to be late on this, belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY greetings to you! 🙂

  13. kulandairaj says:

    It is true that there must be thorough overhauling of the organisation of the church.

    The laity mus be honoured . In decision making the laity must have a say ..
    Otherwise it is a mockery to hold the reins by the clergy and expect the laity a passive spectator

    In china there has started a dissident group of priests and bishos leaving the catholic church

  14. Jennifer hickerson says:

    Msgr. Pope, thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom and insight via this blog. This posting is particularly timely, given the recent gay “marriage” affair in NY. Prudence is a very important virtue and I think both clergy and laity have a responsibility to pray for our bishops that they will be divinely led in these matters concerning public scandal. Thank you for your gentle, timely reminder. You are such a blessing!

  15. Donna says:

    I studied this very familiar parable in the chapel this week, and while I have examined it a number of times over the years, this time I came to parts in Jesus’ parable explanation (verses 38-40) that left me confused: “The sower of the seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil.”

    What I am reading is that Jesus sowed the good seed (the subjects of the kingdom), and the devil sowed the bad seed (his subjects). Typically we understand that evil is the result of free will, so that those evil among us (including ourselves at times) are those whom God has made who have chosen to turn from God or the Natural Law within them (whether they have heard the Good News – or not).

    Here in the parable, Jesus speaks of definitive actions: God actively sowing good subjects – and the devil actively sowing evil subjects. This seems to contravene free will.

    I’m sure I’m missing something – or misreading the passage; whatever it is, it has certainly given me pause. Can you help?

    • Mikel says:

      I’m glad you asked this question, because it’s the exact same one I thought of when my priest read this parable during Mass this past weekend. I am, indeed, confused, and I agree that it seems to negate free will. I also wondered why Jesus advocated waiting until the harvest to get rid of the weeds, since they only choked the wheat and stole precious minerals and rain from them. I hope Msgr. can provide us with some insight!

      • Draz says:

        What the parable doesn’t go into, in depth, is the method of sowing. It’s not a matter of the devil choosing some, and God choosing others, thereby negating free will.

        Satan sowed his seeds of evil by rebelling against God, and passing that rebellion on to mankind in the Garden of Eden. Satan’s sin… his evil… was imputed unto mankind. Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Based on the sin-cursed, Godless state that we are born into, we are — by association with Adam — the result of what Satan sowed.

        However, when Christ died on the cross, He defeated Satan, defeated death, and provided for us all a way of righteousness… faith in Him. When, of our own free will, we put our trust in the finished cross-work of Christ, where Satan’s sin and guilt was once imputed to us, instead Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. At that moment, our dead spirits are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and we are sown anew in Christ.

        So yes… Satan sowed some seeds and the Son of Man sowed other. But, we do have the free will to choose which sowing we will reap based on whether or not we choose faith in Christ.

        • Donna says:

          Thanks Draz, that helps a little. It fits – and it doesn’t fit – or perhaps my puny brain just cannot encompass it.

          “The sower of the seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil.” Matt 13:38-40

          In the explanation of the parable Jesus says WE are the seed: the seed He sowed, and the seed the devil sowed. You are saying because of Original Sin we are, as it were, the seed that grows into darnel (or weeds). But, through Baptism we become a new creation; we are transformed – so it is through Baptism that the good seed (us) is sown.

          The thing is then, would it not follow that since we are the seed, the ones born with Original Sin, then the field was originally darnel?? It is through Baptism that this “bad” seed is transformed to good seed and the wheat grows up alongside the darnel. But … the parable is written that the good seed was sown and then later the enemy came along and sowed the darnel.

          I hope the busy Msgr Pope can find some time to wade into this 🙂

  16. Joan says:

    I was upset at Mass this Sunday because the Priest
    ignored the gospel he had just read and gave a
    homily about not making mountians out of moehills
    in one’s life , inspired by a book he had read the
    past week.
    This is a beautiful gospel passage and I thank you
    for your excellent and inspiring interpetation of it.

  17. Joan says:

    I was upset at Mass this Sunday because the Priest
    ignored the gospel he had just read and gave a
    homily about not making mountains out of moehills
    in one’s life , inspired by a book he had read the
    past week.
    This is a beautiful gospel passage and I thank you
    for your excellent and inspiring interpetation of it.

  18. Caeli Francisco says:

    Msgr Pope, I’ve written an e-book on what you say above in Paragraph 1.2 and I would like you to have the book. Can you please tell me if you want it, at my e-mail address,so that it can be forwarded to you?

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