Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Weeds and Wheat
Prudence and Patience

Father John J. Lombardi

Allesandro turned from being an evil weed into holy wheat. Huh? In 1902, Italy, young Allesandro Serenelli was attracted to, and tried to abuse, the young and pretty Maria Goretti. In the struggle Maria did not acquiesce. She struggled to preserve her virginity and chastity, and was therefore stabbed eighteen times. Just before dying she forgave the deranged man. Allesandro was caught and thrown in prison. He had three strikes against him-he was a murderer, a rapist (at least attempted) and a child abuser (Maria was barely a teenager). A pure weed-evil-- right? Well, years later, Allesandro later repented and practiced the Faith. Upon release from prison he apologized to Maria's Mother, who said: "Maria forgave you and so do I". Allesandro later lived a simple life as a Franciscan brother. He turned the "weediness" of his heart into "wheat ripe for harvest". He died this way after heroic conversion and a life of virtue of penance and poverty. God was patient with him, as was Mrs. Goretti…Another person who changed evil into good was "Brother" Joseph Dutton. He led an apparently sinful life during the Civil war and left a marriage. By all telling, he too, had some strikes against him--a seeming weed. Yet he heard another call-forty years on that island paradise-exile. He was faithful to Fr Damien the "Leper Priest" and also literally. Fr Damien, of Molokai needed help taking care of a thousand, abandoned leprous souls on the island of Molokai. So: Joseph left all behind and sailed there and never left his new surroundings. "Brother Joseph" served in toil and hardship, living a life of penance, prayer and service-some to Jesus' friends, the estranged lepers. Another sacred story-a weed turned into wheat. God is patient with sinners. He gives us time. He sends Signals for Repentance and Conversion. He waits. And He calls us to wait, to be patient, too.

There are, on the other hand, weeds in the world, yes-evil, real evil, as we saw a couple weeks ago: innocent Londoners murdered by terrorists.

So, therefore, weeds and wheat exist together. Sometimes in the same Church, in the same communities, in the same persons-as Allesandro and Br Joseph illustrate.

In This Sunday's Parable (Mt. 13:24ff) we may ask the questions: When, if at all, will weeds turn to wheat? And: When do we confront evil and when do we "leave it be"? …Disciple-read on…

Regarding the weeds and the Wheat--put simply, please remember: Prudence and Patience are all important virtues! While Catholics never condone or promote evil actions, we always allow patience regarding evil persons. Think of Br Joseph Dutton and Allesandro. The main point of the Lord's Parable is Patience, which requires longsuffering and a sometimes-heroic ability to wait for a person to convert, seek mercy and truth. It is a virtue and stance taken towards a person. However, prudence, regarding the Christian life, means we need courage and love to intervene in situations where evil actions threaten the Faith and others. Formula: patience towards evil persons; prudence and intervention towards evil actions.

Okay, now you may ask, just what is Evil? One definition states-"Morally bad, sinful, and wicked. Synonyms are: iniquity, depraved, vicious, and corrupt" (Source: World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary). We should realize, by now, after reading the Bible and living some life, that evil exists and that it is both serious and attacking.

What are the Three Main Points of Jesus'' Parable?

1. We need to allow some evils, bad people to exist as weeds amidst wheat-to pray for them or the evil situation, to allow people to repent, and even, if possible inspire their conversion. This may be hard for some Catholic orthodox people-intense persons with high ideals, commandments, absolutes and canon laws, genuinely striving for holiness-, who can be tempted, like all, to be overly and wrongly zealous and judgmental and downplay mercy and thereby short-circuit the possibility for sinners' redemption. It sometimes seems that progressivivsts are better at hoping for, accepting, and welcoming sinners-that some of the weeds become wheat-like Br Joseph Dutton and Allesandro mentioned above. Concern for Sinners: A priest recently commented on this passage that: "We should be concerned about the eternal welfare of sinners and evil persons and not just want to wipe them out, or destroy their opportunity for conversion and salvation."

But remember: allowing for evil, or evil persons in the world, does not in any way promote acceptance of it, them. Rather as Bible-believers (and parable-practitioners) means: 1) we obey Christ's mandate to tolerate evil in some situations(put up with it, them, but disagree, sometimes vehemently with it, them); 2) we can seek purification and holiness thru evil situations and people (not just in spite of them): "We are in the world but not of the world"; 3) we accept, however eventually, God's mysterious Providential Plan which tolerates evil weeds amidst wheat. Ergo, we need to accept, surrender and abandon our own finite wills and mind's to Mystery and God Himself. We need also to review how God has been patient with our own sinful selves-this will help us in cultivating the virtue and disposition of patience with others, with the imperfect world around us.

2. Evil exists, and so does the Devil-Do you believe this? Many modern-progressivists do not believe this. They either believe people are only good (certainly nothing evil in them) or that any and all badness (however slight) can be sometimes fashioned into a Utopian society of Earthly Paradise. Everyone needs to realize the force, presence and even promotion of evil in our world today. Notice the language Jesus uses in the Parable: evil, Evil One, children of the Evil One, wicked, evildoers, enemy…In today's sometimes pollyannist-progressivist culture we should realize evil exists and respond appropriately. Once again, we should respond, in appropriately-prudent ways, to evil actions. The Prophet Ezekiel says we can help save souls, and that it is evil to ignore the evil actions of others (Ez.) Recognizing sinfulness doesn't mean that if there is a terrorist on a plane seat next to you and you can stop him-then you must refrain and "practice patience" a la Jesus' Parable. No, silly! You can save him, yourself and the entire plane load. Likewise, if a child abuser is in your midst and he is still perpetrating his crimes-then it is your duty to bring him to justice. And possibly save his, and others', souls! If your spouse is physically or verbally abusing-you need halt them then and there and make a Big Statement. We have a duty towards the evildoer, God and the community if we are present while evil actions are done, while at the same time loving evil persons. In response: Pray "The Serenity Prayer" (below) to seek the important virtues of Wisdom (to know when to intervene) Courage (to actually be an instrument of God and "just do it") and Love (to "do it"-intervene-- as Jesus would, perhaps in "tough love"). -"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference…Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next." Amen."

3. Evil will be vanquished/burned at Final Judgment-that's God's job, believe it or not! And: Perhaps, considering this Parable, He postpones His Judgment and punishment because of his patience, because He wants us, too, to act within a good-and-evil-world, and because as St Thomas Aquinas says: He allows evil and suffering to exist, for the perfection of the universe. If there were no evil in the world perhaps there would not be as many good deeds done, and thereby souls saved (albeit mysteriously), and continuing perfections would not arise in our universe. (i.e., the USA always gives generous monies when disasters hit to other nations, as in the Asian Tsunami; and we have given over $400 billion to Africa in last four decades). Anyway, this Parable reminds us, as Jesus often does, dozens of times in the Gospels, and people forget: Hell exists: "Throw those (evil persons) into the fiery furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth" (Mt.13: 42). Hell is the just punishment for some people's seemingly infinitely harming actions, and uncontrite hearts. Hell means total separation from God and His people- endless corruption, separation and pain-since this is what they caused God and others in life. Really, people sentence themselves to this rather than God. His angels (notice in the Parable) merely separate the already-done-deeds. Response: Do you love others enough, and your own soul, to help in the Christ-conversion process? Is your fear of Judgment and Hell-yes, a good practice to meditate upon-real, so you will change? (Obviously Love of God is the better stimulant!!). Lastly: do you realize that the soul, a spiritual substance, can link, enslavingly, seemingly infinitely, to evil things and ways, and attitudes, so much so that, if not rejected and repented of, this can eternally imprison the soul at the moment of death, to a corresponding state of (non)being--Hell ? …

Some additional comments: 1. The Parable is perhaps about the problem of various members in the Church community-Kingdom. Catholic-Christian Church members, in case you haven't noticed, are not perfect or totally un-sinful. Christ's allegorical Parable allows this interpretation by the key verses: "the Kingdom of Heaven may be like…" (Mt. 13:24 ) and, according to one orthodox theologian: "The critical sentence seems to me to be the one in which the householder states the reason for his order not to gather up the weeds before harvest time: 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat with them" (Mt. 13: 29 ). So the point seems to me to be that bad people in the Church are to be tolerated, not put out. Their being put out could harm others who are more faithful." Ergo: While, of course, never condoning evil (actions, esp.) avoid extremists punishments which cancel conversion. Realize the Church is a group of sinners struggling to become saints. Think of the common good: when you discipline one member of the Church it may affect others-adversely.

2. Purification for Past Sins of Our Own: Our Church needs purification, as Pope John Paul showed us, at the turn of the Millennium, in repenting for some actions of Church members in the last two-millennia (implying during a "prayer Service of atonement" the Catholic Church's sins thru anti-Semitism; slavery; abuse toward groups of peoples, etc.). Let us all recognize the sins of past Church members (esp. of clergy and religious) and help sanctification continue. Also: a moral theologian responded--"It seems to me that Jesus wants us to warn evildoers, and who is not in someway among their number, that there will be a final harvest, and that they would be well advised to be wheat in the world and not as weeds."

3. Church Dissidents and Disunion:--two examples- from the ultra liberal to the conservative. Archbishop Marcel Lebefre was a dissident bishop, ignoring Pope John Paul in his call for unity and Vatican II belief and practice. The Pope for years called for the Archbishops' conversion, was patient and zealous. Eventually, Archbishop Lebefre was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for ordaining bishops a decade ago, against the Pope's wishes. Pope John Paul and then-Cardinal Ratzinger made overtures to him to return to the Faith and Union with Rome even after his rebellious action. The Archbishop never changed and died this way, In an opposite theological corner, Fr Charles Curran was teaching morality at Catholic University of America in the 1960's and led a protest against Pope Paul VI (versus his document "Huamanae Vitae") and then, later, challenged and countered basic Catholic moral teachings (challenging contraception, homosexuality, abortion and male priesthood). Fr Curran was offered by the Vatican (again by Pope John Paul II and Card. Ratzinger) to reconsider and change his views-many times. He refused to change and was later removed from Catholic University as a legitimate teacher-representative of Catholic Theology. However, he was not excommunicated. Two stories, one similar response: first excessive patience was practiced to hopefully inspire conversion and a "team spirit," and then prudence exercised when the Faith and morals of others was jeopardized. Remember: Patience and Prudence!

4. Forgiveness-Mercy: This parable can help greatly in our personal relationships where those who have offended us, done evil against us affects long-lasting pain. We need seek and embrace both Patience and Mercy-and those who do not repent or ask our forgiveness, then, at long last, we must Let God take care of them-it is not our job: Release and surrender them to God's Providence.

Remember Jesus' Counsel: "In this world you will have many trials, but fear not I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33).

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi