July 21, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19) Reading II (Romans 8:26-27 )
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:24-43)
In the Gospel reading this morning, Our Lord uses a parable about the weeds and the wheat. He tells us that the Son of Man is the sower who sows the wheat out in the field, and the enemy who comes and sows the weeds is the devil. When we think about the Gospel from last week, we heard that we were the ground; now we hear that we are the seed and we ask ourselves, "How is this possible?"
I think what happens is that the Lord Himself has chosen each one of us and He has planted His seed within each one of us. At the moment we were baptized, the Lord planted His seed and He expects that that seed is going to grow within us. But then we have a choice. It is not that we stop becoming wheat and suddenly have some sort of transformation and become weeds. Rather, what happens is the that seed the Lord planted within us remains there - we remain children of God - but the type of seed we want to be when we go out into the world is our choice. Because God gave us a free will, He is not going to force us to be the type of person that He wants us to be. He makes very clear to us what is expected and required from each one of us, but then He gives to each of us the choice.
When we couple this Gospel reading today with the one we heard last week, we realize that if we are going to try to be the wheat, it is not going to be an easy task because we are planted among the weeds, we are planted among the thorns and the thistles that (as we recall from last week) choked off the plant that comes up. So we need to be very staunch in the way that we are going to live our faith; otherwise, it is not going to be easy to survive.
All you need to do is look at your garden. If you have a garden - with the weather we have had - the weeds will be doing quite well. The plants that you put in the garden are probably doing all right too, but amazingly they never seem to do quite as well as the weeds. No matter how often you go out to your garden, you are going to find nice, lush, full, high growing weeds. The plants that you put out there, they are doing all right, they are growing, but not nearly as well as the weeds seem to do.
Now we can look around the world and we see the exact same thing. Look at the people who want to do evil, the people who lie and cheat and steal, the ones who want to be totally materialistic, the ones who are completely self-centered, the ones who do not really seem to care what it is that they do - all that they care about is what they get. In other words, they do not care if they violate other people; all that they care about is themselves. We can look at those people and we can say, "But look at the money that they have. Look at the nice home. Look at the car. Look at all the fancy stuff. Look at the position. Look at the title. Look at how people look up to them. Look at all the different things these people have. They must be doing something that is right because look how I have to struggle along just for the little bit that I have." The envy and the jealousy begin to kick in and we think, "Maybe these people are doing what is right." They are weeds. If you look at the plant, it is rather full; it is growing very well - lush foliage all over that weed. And it looks like the weeds have the better part of the garden. It would be very easy to think that it would be better to be one of the weeds because, after all, they have the better part.
Until we read just a little further on and Our Lord tells us that in the end the angels are going to be dispatched, the weeds are going to be bundled up, and they will be thrown in the fire where they will be burned in an unquenchable fire. The weeds have the better of things, perhaps, in this world. But even if you did not go out and pull any weeds out of your garden - you just let the weeds and the wheat both grow together, whatever plants you put out there are all there, and if you looked at your garden you would see all these weeds with all kinds of nice leaves on them and looking very healthy - you would also look for the plants that you put out there. When it came time for the harvest of whatever vegetables you put out or whatever flowers you put out, you are going to look right beyond the weeds. As well as the weeds seem to be doing and however much they have overtaken the plants that you put out there, you are going to sift right past them and you are going to look for the plants you have planted. And when you look at them, even though the weeds look very healthy, you will look at them and say, "That is a weed. That is not one of the plants that I put out. That is not one of the vegetables or one of the flowers that I set out in my garden. It is a weed." You know that just from the way it looks. From the external appearance, you recognize immediately that it is a weed.
It is no different for each of us: By your works you will be known. The Lord tells us that a tree is known by its fruit. For each one of us, it is going to be according to our works. Recall what Our Lord told us in another Gospel reading: "Not everyone who cries out "Lord, Lord!" will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in Heaven." So it is by our works. In other words, it is not enough to be able to say, "I am a Catholic because I go to Mass on Sunday." That is not going to buy our way into Heaven. If we are Catholic for basically one hour per week, I do not think we are going to impress the Lord on the Day of Judgment when we stand before Him and say, "But Lord, didn't I go to Mass on Sunday?" He will say, "Out of My sight, you evildoer! I do not know who you are," because when you walked out of church there was absolutely nothing that distinguished you as one of the plants that the Lord put in His garden. We are weeds if we are not living our Catholic life every moment of every day. If there is nothing to distinguish you from the people who are sinners out in the world, then we have to be counted among the weeds. If anybody looks at you, just from the external appearance of what they see, what would they say? Would they say, "You are just like the other worldly people who are out here. You talk and act and dress just like the rest of us. You fit in very well with all of us who lie and cheat and steal and are selfish and totally self-centered and walk on others. It doesn't matter to you what you do, as long as you are getting what you want"? If that is what they would say, then you have to recognize that you have made a free choice to be among the weeds and not among the wheat in God's garden. The choice is yours. The Lord is not going to force you to be the wheat. You have to make the choice of whether you want to be among the weeds or among the wheat.
In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, we were told that among those who know the Lord, He rebukes temerity. In other words, if you are embarrassed to be a Catholic when you go outside the church, if you do not want to live your faith everyday out in the world, you are going to be rebuked. The Lord does not tolerate that. He has planted His seed within you and He expects that you are going to produce fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold. And then He allows you the free choice of what you are going to do when you go out into the world, whether you are going to be among the weeds or the wheat. He has also given us everything that we need to be able to do His will out in the world. He has given to us His Holy Spirit and, as long as we are in the state of grace, the Spirit dwells in us. And - thanks be to God - as Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans today, the Spirit prays in us because we do not know how to pray as we ought. He prays in groanings unutterable, and God, who knows the Spirit, hears what the Spirit says because He knows what the Spirit is asking for even though we do not. So we are not on our own. Even though it feels that way sometimes, even though we look around and we recognize that the weeds are growing bigger than we are and they seem to have the better part of the garden, we have the Holy Spirit.
We need also to recognize from this parable today the reality of the existence of Satan. In our day, people want to refuse to believe that he exists. They want to be able to say that Satan is not real - He's just a figment of the imagination or he is some medieval myth that was made up to be able to explain why things are as they are. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made very clear to us in the Gospel today, as He made clear so many times, that the enemy is the devil. He is real. He is alive. And all it takes is one little glance around to realize that he is doing very well. To deny him is to deny reality. To deny him is to allow him to do anything that he wants in our lives. To deny his existence is to choose to be among the weeds because we will give in very easily to anything he wants because we refuse to acknowledge that he is even there doing any of these things. We need to recognize that he is very real, that he is very much at work in our world, and that he is very much at work trying to tempt each one of us to be able to look at all the weeds that he has planted out there and to be able to abandon what God is calling us to because the other way looks so much better.
We must live our faith. Our faith in Jesus Christ requires that we reject Satan and all of his works and all of his empty promises - which is what we promised on the day of baptism - so that we can go out into the world and live the other half of our baptismal promises, which is our faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Catholic Church, and so on - everything that we profess in the Creed in just a couple of moments. That is what we are to live when we go out into the world. God has planted His seed in each one of us. Now He is asking that we become like a seed that is planted out in the world, and that out in the world we live our faith so that anyone who looks upon the garden of God, even though it is filled with many weeds that the enemy has planted, anyone with eyes is going to be able to say, "That is the wheat God has planted and the rest of these things are weeds."
The choice is ours. Are we going to be counted among the weeds or among the wheat? The weeds, recall, are going to be bundled up and thrown into the fire where they will be burned for eternity. The wheat, on the other hand, is going to be gathered into the barn of the Lord. It is going to become brilliant; it will shine like the light in the kingdom of God. The choice is made now. We have to reject everything that Satan is about and we need to choose Jesus Christ, not for one hour on Sunday and then not live it for the rest, but 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to be able to live out in the world what it is that we do here at Mass and make sure that we pray everyday, that we strive to live a good, holy, and moral life, and that out in the world, even though it is filled with weeds, that we are going to choose to be the wheat, that we are going to choose to be the plant of the Lord, and that we will bear for Him great fruit into the kingdom of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.