The Kingdom of Heaven

07-23-2017HomiliesDeacon Chris Kellogg

In our Gospel today we are given three parables that present pictures of the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us reflect on the parable of the wheat and the weeds. One way to think of the parable is as the mixture of good and evil growing together side by side in our world and even within the Church where we experience the growth of healthy, vigorous wheat alongside unhealthy, destructive weeds. And second we can see in ourselves both good and evil, wheat and weeds, present in our hearts, our thoughts and our actions. As we explore this further let us consider two questions: 1) How do I view the Catholic Church and its purpose? And (2) How am I doing at living out my Catholic faith? Am I a healthy wheat or possibly more of a weed in God’s Kingdom?

Father Longenecker wrote an article entitled the “Tale of Two Catholic Churches.” Father is a convert to the Catholic faith.  He said how on joining the Church he was prepared to find fellow Catholics with different opinions concerning politics and social matters.  How he was prepared for dissenting Catholics who knew the faith, disagreed with the teachings of the Church but still wanted to remain faithful to her.  But what he was not prepared for was to find two Churches within Holy Mother Church.  He said how the two Churches are very difficult to identify because the two different groups cannot be separated by outward appearance alone.  The two groups are distinguished not so much by the way they worship but by their underlying understanding of just what the Catholic Church is for.

Father mentioned how two very different sets of underlying foundations have created the two Churches within the Church.  The two opposing views he described can be called “Happy Here” and “Happy Hereafter.” Those who hold the first view (Happy Here) believe that the point, not only of the Church, but of the whole human existence is to produce human happiness here in this life.  The second view (Happy Hereafter) is concerned with finding eternal happiness.

According to this basic assumption, this mortal life is hard because it is a place to battle against sin and to produce those diamond-hard souls called saints.  Those who hold to the “Happiness Hereafter” viewpoint expect to sacrifice their happiness here to win happiness hereafter.  If this is your basic assumption Father said then your expectations for this life are realistic.  You consider yourself and other people to be sinners who need redemption.  You believe in the reality of evil and consider this life to be the place and time to engage in spiritual warfare for the winning of souls.  This underlying assumption used to be the foundational belief of all Christians.  Unfortunately this basic assumption has been eroded.  Modern Christians seem to have adopted one of America’s founding principles, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ as the foundational principle for the whole of life and the whole of their understanding of the Christian faith.  While this may be a noble political ideal once the ‘pursuit of happiness’ becomes the basic foundation for one’s whole worldview a terrible distortion of the faith results.

If Christians put the pursuit of happiness in this life as the primary goal everything changes.  The Church then is not perceived as an army engaged in a spiritual battle but more of a self-help group in which people try to make each other happy.  When the quest for holiness is replaced with the quest for happiness our priest ceases to be an agent of God’s supernatural grace in the world and becomes a therapist.  When religion is expected to merely produce happiness, then worship is stripped of its mystery and it must become entertaining.  When religion is expected to simply make people feel better instead of being better then no one preaches on the difficult subjects (thankfully our priests will do that).

What is the solution? To return to an honest understanding of what Christianity is really about.  It is about a supernatural transaction between God and mankind.  It is the old story of a race fallen into sin, and a God who lowers Himself to seek and to save that which is lost.  Life, and especially the Christian life is about our search for the God who is searching for us.  It is about engaging in the war for our souls and being determined never to sacrifice our eternal happiness in a search only for happiness in this life. 

Now let us look at the wheat and the weeds on a personal level.  The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is morally wrong.  Yet in an article from America Magazine Sept. 2016 it reports that 87% of American Catholics who go to Church on a regular basis say contraception is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue.  How about Catholic views on homosexual behavior.  The Church says that gays and lesbians should not face unjust discrimination, but it teaches that same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior are morally wrong.  But of Catholics who attend Mass weekly only 50% label homosexual behavior as morally wrong.

In regards to the topic of homosexual behavior, Archbishop Chaput recently wrote a column where he made reference to a book titled “Why I don’t call myself a gay Christian” by Daniel Mattson.  Daniel is Catholic and living with a homosexual inclination but committed to chastity.  He said how he does not label himself as gay because that does not accurately describe who he is as someone who desires to be faithful to the teachings of the Church.  He views his same-sex attraction as a disability but believes that great good can come as a result of it.  He said how goodness comes when he acknowledges it as a weakness, and in response, he falls to his knees before the good God who looks upon him daily and comforts him with the words “My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

Daniel had this to say in his book, ‘We cannot remain reluctant to speak about the beauty of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and sexual identity for fear that it will appear unloving, irrational or unreal.  We need to love the world enough to speak about the Christian vision of sexual reality, confident that God’s creation of man as male and female is truly part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are called to proclaim to a lost and confused world.

We need to be a light for the world and speak passionately about the richness of the Church’s understanding of human sexuality.  We can’t place the Good News of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality under a bushel any longer for the world desperately needs the truth.

Dan would say, “If we desire to bring the gay community into the family of God, it will not be through a celebration of homosexuality, or by changing the language of the Church in order to make it feel more welcoming to them.  The path of evangelization is the Cross.

Think about this example.  Who might be a weed, who might be wheat.  We have Catholics who attend Church weekly and speak out in favor of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  We have a man who identifies himself as having same-sex attraction but lives a chaste life and speaks up for the truth of the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality.  A man who lives in the Church “Happy Hereafter” who is pursuing the happiness of God’s eternal Kingdom.

Let us look more in depth now at the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  There are several points we can ponder.  (1) Throughout the world, Jesus sows good seed, which he defines as the children of the Kingdom.  Each of us is called to be that good seed planted in the midst of the world, which is meant to be transformed into His Kingdom.  At the deepest level, Jesus is Himself the good seed planted in a fallen world by God the Father.  He is the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died in order to bear that good fruit.  You and I are also suppose to be that seed bearing fruit that Jesus can in turn plant to continue His life-saving mission.  (2) Alongside the good seeds are weeds.  These are children of the evil one who live by principles opposed to the Gospel.  Note that Jesus does not allow the weeds to be pulled out from the wheat.  This underscores the fact that the human community is a “mixed bag” of wheat and weeds, of good and bad.  Until the time of judgment God gives ample opportunity for change and growth.  Weeds can be transformed into wheat; the bad can respond to God’s invitation and turn to goodness.  The parable warns against judging and segregating others based on that judgment.  The judgment of souls is up to God and will be rendered at the harvest or end time.  (3) The third point is that the weeds can’t stop the growth of the good seed.  This should fill us with confidence but also cause us to examine our conscience.  Jesus didn’t plant the children of the Kingdom to remain as seeds.  He intended the seeds to grow just like the weeds continue to grow.  Are you, am I growing in our faith? Are we bearing fruit that will plant seeds of faith in the soil, in the hearts of other people we encounter.  Those in our family, our neighborhoods, our places of work and beyond.

One commentary said that the main point of the parable of the weeds and the wheat is the mystery of sin.  Before the final judgment the world is always going to consist of both righteous and wicked, of good and evil, and in His providence God allows those to remain side by side until the end.  In the CCC paragraph 827, it says that the Church is, “at once holy and always in need of purification… In everyone, the weeds of sin will be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.”  So this parable is not just about the state of the world, it is about the state of our soul.  Before the final judgment, before our particular judgment there’s always a battle between good and evil within our hearts.  We must recognize that not only is the Church a mixed bag, a mixed body of saints and sinners- but you and I are a mixed bag too.  We always have to be conscientious about trying to uproot the weeds of sin in our hearts so as to allow the wheat to flourish so that we will be a son or daughter of God’s eternal Kingdom.

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