Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Why did Jesus tell us to let the wheat and weeds grow together? We know that’s not a good idea.
Farmers and gardeners want to eliminate weeds. Many years ago, in early Springtime, Fr. Brendan noticed a rather prominent weed growing here and there in the prairie grass in front of the abbey. It was a nice day, so he spent the afternoon pulling them out by hand. Then Br. Augustine came along and asked Brendan what he was doing. He said, “I’m uprooting the weeds.” Br. Gus looked at him in an accusing way and said, “Those are flowers not yet in bloom.” But why did Jesus tell us to let the wheat and weeds grow together? Because, sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.
Remember what St. Jerome said when he fled into the desert to get away from all the immorality in the world. He lamented that in his hermitage with the Sacred Scriptures as his sole companion, his first thoughts were of “dancing girls at a banquet.” Was he actually a weed? We need time to grow in order to see the difference.
Even agnostics and atheists can really be wheat in God’s field. In the documents of Vatican II, the Church teaches that agnostics and atheists can be saved: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience: those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life” (Lumen Gentium, Constitution on the Church, #16). These unbelievers may look like weeds but really, they are wheat.
So, why do we try to convert those who are not Catholics if they are going to be saved anyway? Vatican II gives several reasons for missionary activity in the Church. First, to know the truth: “Rather often people, deceived by the Evil One, become caught up in futile reasoning and exchange the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator” (Lumen Gentium #16). To live a good life, we are helped by knowing what is true, what is taught to us by the Word of God. “The truth will set us free” (Jn 8:31). As Frank Sheed teaches in his book titled, Theology and Sanity, not to know the truth about God and our existence is to be insane. He writes, “God is not only a fact of religion; He is a fact. Not to see Him is to be wrong about everything.”
A second reason the missionary activity of the Church is because, “There are some who, living and dying in a world without God, are subject to utter hopelessness” (#16). It is dangerous to live in despair, with no hope for a future life of sheer happiness. An atheist once wrote that he wished he could believe because his life was so full of despair.
A third reason the Church is missionary is because the Sacraments are sources of grace, the strength to live a good life. Everyone needs grace to be good, and to persevere in being good. Obedience to conscience is not easy. Temptation can be overwhelming, especially when one becomes addicted to destructive habits of life. The Sacraments strengthen us in our struggle with sin and sadness. When we fall, the Sacraments are sources of forgiveness, especially Baptism, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. It’s hard to live without forgiveness. All of us have some weeds in our lives. When I first came to New Melleray as a city boy I entered the boot room where novices wash up after coming back from working in the dairy barn, or in the hog lot. I found the odor of manure on their work clothes and shoes overpowering. I said to myself, “If I’m going to be a monk here, I better get used to it.” I didn’t yet realize that I had an odor of my own, that of a sinner in need of repentance and conversion. It took me a few years to see that.
A fourth reason the Church is missionary is because Christ has commanded us to go forth and preach the good news everywhere. We are to be like yeast, to leaven the whole world, or like a mustard seed that grows into the largest of plants so that all the birds of the sky can dwell safely in its branches. Jesus does not want weeds to be uprooted because God “desires all to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if at harvest time all we could see is a beautiful field of the finest wheat?