+ The world, as we know only too well, is a field in which many weeds grow amongst the wheat. Unfortunately, the Church, too, has weeds sown by the enemy that sprout and grow up in her midst, that attract much attention and eclipse the fruitful wheat patiently growing in the same field. At matins this morning St Augustine identified these weeds not as bad Catholics (those who know the truth but fail to live up to it) but as heretics—those who obstinately deny the truth and promote and teach falsehood. Clearly this is not a new problem in the life of the Church.
Clearly, too, it is not an obsolete problem, for our own age does not lack those in the midst of the Church—even some in high office who deny true doctrine, perhaps through their subtle promotion of a false compassion, perhaps through their silence when clarity or correction is required, perhaps through their habitual tolerance of grave errors, or perhaps even through the dissemination of teachings which intentionally erode and undermine the Truth. One can think of contemporary examples in respect of the necessity of baptism for salvation, nature and sanctity of Christian marriage, the apostolic teaching on the nature of the Blessed Eucharist (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29—a teaching removed from the lectionary of the Roman rite in the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council), the nature of the Church herself, the God-given truths about human sexuality, the reality of hell, and so on.
In the face of this, as we strive to overcome sin and temptation and conform ourselves to the Truth of Christ, we can almost justifiably become discouraged. It would be easier, surely, if these insidious ‘weeds’ and their false teaching were uprooted and removed without delay (as has sometimes been the case in history). They give scandal. They lead people astray. We ourselves might become entangled by their disingenuity. Souls are, surely, lost because of them!
It is difficult, then, to understand Our Lord’s insistence on allowing the weeds to grow to maturity alongside the wheat--even with the parable’s insistence that this is so as to ensure that none of the growing wheat is mistakenly uprooted and cast out. But this is the reason given in the Holy Gospel: the Lord does not wish to risk losing any of the growing wheat. His patience and prudence in this matter is clear, even if it causes us much frustration at times.
Thus we are taught that our impatience in the midst of the mixed and difficult situation in which we find ourselves in the Church today must be tempered with patience. The day of the harvest shall come. There shall be a reckoning and the weeds shall be sorted from the wheat. The wheat shall be gathered into the Lord’s barn and the weeds shall be tied into bundles and burned. Judgement, heaven and hell are realities which all men must face in the end.
Our patience must mirror that of the Lord Himself, for He “is merciful and awaits [the] amendment” of all (Rule of St Benedict, ch. 7). The hope proclaimed by the Gospel upon which we sinners draw so often is open to all, heretics included. Conversion, contrition, forgiveness and penance are all possible even for the most wicked of deniers or dissemblers of Catholic doctrine, and we must avoid the temptation to a pharisaic self-righteousness which would deny them true mercy when it is humbly sought, even by those who offend us most. Our Lord died that all sinners—treacherous teachers of false doctrine included—might have the opportunity to be saved.
St Benedict insists that his monasteries be oases of this evangelical patience. The abbot is to do all that he possibly can, and more, to bring monk guilty of a grave fault to repentance and amendment of life (see Rule, chs. 25-29) Indeed, the Rule insists on a patience that is rarely found in monasteries or religious congregations in our day. But even then, this patience must needs be tempered with prudence.
Drawing on the experience and teaching of St Paul, St Benedict concludes, reluctantly, that in the face of obstinate wrongdoing, the knife of amputation must sometimes be used, “lest one diseased sheep contaminate the whole flock” (ch. 28)—though St Benedict constantly reminds the abbot that he himself shall have to render an account of all his judgements to God (see: ch. 3).
Any father of a family—be that the family that is the fruit of Christian marriage, or be it a diocese or parish or a monastery, or even the Universal Church—is called to be a prophetic icon of the evangelical patience taught by Our Lord this morning. So too he must be a practitioner of true prudence in the face of infectious obstinacy.
Each of us share in this mission. Our daily prayer and work and example amidst the weeds that grow up around us must reflect the realities that falsehood abounds, that salvation is to be had only through faithful perseverance in living according to the Truth of Christ clearly taught by His Church, and that repentance and conversion are always possible in this life.
For the conversion of heretics, for the conversion that is necessary in ourselves, and for the grace of perseverance unto the end in fidelity to Christ and His Church, let us pray earnestly before this altar this morning. +