Jesus gives us a series of wonderful parables this morning that speak of how His power is unleashed when His Word is proclaimed. The mustard seed, if you’ve ever seen one, is hard to see. It’s very small; it’s smaller than the head of a pin. We had a guide show us several mustard seeds when we were in Israel last time. They were almost microscopic. And yet, it grows to be this large shrub that the birds can come and take shelter in. The Word of God, planted in our heart, if nurtured can grow and become a wondrously powerful gift within us, being the truth that sets us free.
The parable about the woman who takes a little leaven and mixes it with the flour until the entire batch of flour is affected and begins to rise, shows us that even if there is only a handful of the People of God in a particular location, if they are being faithful to Jesus, they will have an effect on everything that takes place. They will make a difference.
This was noted in the paper a couple of days ago when there was an article about the interesting non-profit section of the Art Fair and it mentioned specifically some of those Kingdom-building booths, e.g. the Mary, Mother of God booth, the Pro-Life booth, and he Local Catholic Parishes booth. Of course, the – well, sadistic might be too strong a word – but the person who organizes where these booths go put the Mary, Mother of God booth next to the Michigan Nude Beach Association booth, and put the Jewish Community Center booth across from the Messianic Jewish booth, and then put the Catholic Parishes booth between the Jewish booth and the Buddhist booth, so there was plenty of opportunity for interesting dialog even if no body visited the booths. But the paper mentioned that these things were going on, that people were there, that people were spreading the Good News. The School of Evangelization folks, who have been in town all week, went to the Art Fair yesterday and shared the Good News. And we are sure, based on the strength of what Jesus says to us in the parables today, every little seed that is planted will have an effect. Maybe not an effect immediately, but always an effect because His Word has power.
The parable that is most problematic is the one about the weeds and the wheat. It’s problematic because it describes the situation that we find ourselves in. But what’s not clear sometimes is how to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat. Obviously, this makes a big difference. If you try to make bread out of weeds, you wish you hadn’t. So how do we know the difference, especially as it may these days impact the Church Herself? Are there weeds in the Church? You bet. Are there weeds who, with good intent and open hearts, lead people horrendously astray? Absolutely. So how do we tell the difference? When our souls are at stake, we want to make sure that what we are taking into our hearts and allowing to form us is, in fact, coming from God and not somewhere else—not just human ingenuity or worse. We want to make sure that the truth is in fact the truth, the truth that will set us free; the truth that will make us men and women of God.
But there’s confusion. There are weeds. Jesus goes so far as to say that the one who sows the weeds is the devil who from the beginning has been a liar, and the lie that he attempts to spread are things that assault the integrity and the content of the Word of God. But it’s hard. When the weeds go masquerading as wheat it’s easy to be led astray if we don’t know what the truth is. And especially when the weeds make a big deal out of it. For example, in the moral life there are few teachings that the Church has been as absolutely unequivocal about as the sanctity of life from the moment of conception. That is not an ambiguous teaching; it has never been an ambiguous teaching. The Church has been crystal clear in this. Yet there are some, even claiming to speak for the Church, or represent the Church, that take a stand against this position, e.g. groups like the so-called “Catholics for a Free Choice.” It can be very difficult for the people of God when the weeds claim to be the wheat. Unfortunately, this can happen a lot.
When I was in the seminary I was taught that anybody can do Eucharist. You don’t have to be a priest to do it because since Jesus is not really present you don’t need a priest to do that. I was taught that the only effect of Baptism is to welcome the child into the Christian community; it doesn’t wipe away Original Sin because since there was no Fall there is no Original Sin. I was taught that St. Paul one day, on the road to Damascus, was reflecting on the virtues of the Christian community and decided, based on the virtues of the Christians, that it was inappropriate for him to persecute them so he changed his mind and then couched his change of mind in the colorful religious metaphors of the time. There’s a word for this theology. It’s not a word I would use in a liturgical setting, or any other setting. But the thing that drove me crazy sitting in class listening to this stuff, was to look around at the other 30 guys who were taking it all down thinking it was true and were going to go out and inflict their parishes with this garbage that was going to destroy their faith. So much of that teaching was simply pure weed.
The American bishops recently, as a result of a study, said that it seems to be the case that about 30% of church-attending Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. It would seem that in some locations the weeds have taken over. A parishioner of ours, attending Mass at a different church once Sunday, knelt to receive Communion and was told by the priest, “Don’t do that. It’s only communion.”
The time when Catholics could simply walk into a church and trust everything that comes from the pulpit is long gone. Father Knows Best is not the case anymore. And to borrow from the Jewish proverb: If you have five priests, you’ll have six opinions. If I had a nickel for every time someone says to me in the confessional “Well, Father So-and-so said that’s not a sin.’” we’d have an activity center built already. And I apologize to those penitents for seemingly to be the victims of a debate among the clergy, but then I remind them that they are not simply hapless victims of different clerical opinions. The Church is not ambiguous. The Church speaks with wondrous clarity, and the Church has placed this in living color – in living black and white – in the content of the Catechism. If we want to know what the truth is about our sacraments, about our moral life, about Our Savior, then we just need to read it.
First, we must fill our hearts with the content of God’s Word. The Scripture itself should be home for us. One of the most neglected teachings of the Vatican Council was the Council’s plea to the entire People of God to read the Scriptures. And every time the Church invites us to do that, invariably St. Jerome is quoted, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation urges the Catholic faithful by frequent reading of the Scriptures to meet the Savior in His Word. But we don’t simply take the Word and then form our own opinion. We take the Word as it’s proclaimed by the Church, which is why we read with the Scripture in one hand and the Catechism in the other. Then we will understand how we should grasp the content of God’s Holy Word. We should take advantage of what the Holy Father, the popes and the bishops, the Doctors, and the Fathers have been saying about theTruth so that it is fixed in our hearts. Adult Catholics have an absolute, non-negotiable responsibility for their own personal formation. Knowing how confused it has become in so many places, it is a grave responsibility to form your hearts according to the mind and heart of the Church by reading the Scripture, by studying the Catechism, by doing those things to make you informed so that when a weed comes up to you and tries to pass itself off as the wheat, you give it the DDT response. So that rather than ruining your heart, you are able to share with the weed that there is a better way.
Parents, especially, have an absolute responsibility to be well formed that they may form their children. The day when you could simply commit people to Catholic schools or CCD programs and just assume that everything is going to be fine, those days are also long gone. When parents tell my they’re sending their kids to Catholic School X, my response is always, “Have you gone to the Theology Department? Have you talked to the teachers? Have you looked at the textbooks? Have you talked to the chaplains? Have you seen what they’re teaching there before you commit the most priceless gift you have to their care?” But if you don’t know weeds from wheat, how are you going to tell the difference?
The Church has not been silent. The Church has been wondrously vocal for two millennia. We just need to exercise enough personal self-discipline to take up the Book and read. To find out what it is that we believe. We’ve been granted an enormous, incomparable gift in the person of John Paul II, who is one of the most prolific of all of the successors of Peter. To read his encyclicals and his other writings is a wondrous way to enhance our own faith and put us securely on the Rock, that we can tell the weeds and ignore them or, better, help them to become wheat.
Our efforts will not go without fruit. The mustard seed parable teaches us any little effort on our part Jesus will honor, Jesus will reward and He will build His Kingdom but we must do our part. And being gifted with the wheat we’re not called then to be silent about it, e.g. it’s one of the gifts of the School of Evangelization and the Catholic booths, the pro-life booths: speaking the Truth to the Art Fair. Here is where Jesus stands. Consider Him. Open your hearts. Read the Good News. There’s something drastically wrong with the fact that the most extensive booth in the non-profit section was this detailed booth promulgating Islam. Where were the Christians? Next year I want to see us have a whole row.
People need to understand the Good News. People need to proclaim the Good News. But you can’t give what you don’t have. First, it has to be in our hearts, in our minds so that we can proclaim it. We must not proclaim it in a heavy-handed or self-righteous way, but proclaim it with charity, with gentleness, but absolutely without compromise. Jesus loves to save. And in the mystery of His plan, He has put His saving power in His Word, such that as it’s proclaimed, faith is born in the heart, people recognize they have a Savior and are invited to surrender. Let us take seriously our responsibility not only to form our hearts, but to share the wondrous gifts that we’ve been given, that men and women everywhere can be leavened by the example of our teaching and our lives.
This is the only gift we have to offer Jesus: to let Him use us to spread the Good News. It is the least we can do after all He has done for us. Let us plead with Him today that He would give us a renewed desire to immerse ourselves in the Scripture and the teaching of the Church, and that He would then give us the courage and the love to share this gift that we’ve been given.