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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 19, 2020 – “Let them grow together…”

The parable of the weeds among the wheat and the two shorter parables that follow in this Sunday’s Gospel give us a very helpful perspective and instruction in the way we should face difficult situations and respond to difficult people we encounter.  How do we face the things and the people in our lives that are unwanted, pop up unexpectedly, and put a roadblock in our plans?  Do they make us, at times, question God’s will?  “You are good and all powerful, Lord, and want the good for us.  So, where did this come from?”  If it is not good and God wouldn’t intend it directly (because it is bad and a source of suffering), shouldn’t we do what we can to eliminate such things and people from our lives once they pop up?  Shouldn’t we separate ourselves from all evildoers and all who cause others to sin?  When we see these “toxic” people around us, it is natural to be afraid or concerned about their negative influence or the impact they will have in our lives and the lives of those we love.  Wouldn’t things be better if they didn’t exist or we just cut them out of our lives?  Shouldn’t we take it upon ourselves to throw them out as a way to make more space for the good and to encourage good growth in the Kingdom of God?  We can “save” things if we just got rid of the bad people – that’s the thinking.  But Jesus warns us through the parable, “if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”  And then the instruction, “Let them grow together until harvest..”  What Jesus teaches is that the weeds appear, but they do not stop the growth.  The crop still bears fruit.  When we take matters into our own hands and anticipate the final judgment (writing people off, condemning them as “evil”, and actively working to eliminate them from our lives), we risk uprooting our own spiritual lives and stopping our growth.  This parable echoes Jesus’ constant critique of the Pharisees who separated themselves from sinners and felt it was their job to exclude the “unclean” in order to protect the purity of Israel.  Our growth in the spiritual life is a growth in faith in God and trust in his providence.  Our faith gets uprooted and we stop growing when we see ourselves in the position of “savior” and act as the proverbial “judge, jury, and executioner.”  If we think that is our job, we act as if we don’t need a savior.  What the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast illustrate is that the Kingdom in its initial stages is barely perceptible, yet it generates an effect that is tremendous – that is way out of proportion to what appears is possible at the beginning.  The kingdom expands or grows in a surprising way that becomes a large place of refuge that can feed and nourish many people.  These parables warn us against rash judgement and against taking action recklessly without considering the big picture and that the growth is in God’s hands.  Sure, there are “bad actors” and those around us, willingly or not, who are influenced by the evil one, but we, who are “children of the kingdom”, are called to be patient and kind, and trust that there is growth for us at this time.  Someone, for example, who tests our patience, also presents an opportunity for us to grow in patience.  “Growing together” implies that there is growth or conversion of the sinner that is possible, and in fact, only possible, in the presence of a “good actor.”  We should not give too much credit or power to the evil or discount the method of God who always uses what appears insignificant and weak by human standards to reveal his power and to bring about amazing change.

In this midst of this pandemic, we have faced unexpected setbacks and unwanted things that we have to deal with, but our salvation won’t come through demonizing those who disagree with us and trying to eliminate them from our lives.  I watched a moving video recently of a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who showed up at a pro-Trump rally.  They were standing with fists raised and chanting.  The organizer of the rally who was on the stage did not shout them down but said, “we are here to defend our freedoms, including our freedom of speech and your freedom of speech.  I want you to experience something you are not used to experiencing.  Come up to the stage and share with us your point of view.”  The BLM leader came up to the stage and addressed the crowd and spoke about the reason for their movement.  There was some back and forth with the crowd, but in that back and forth they heard each other, they listened to each other, and discovered that they both want the same thing: freedom, liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness, and to make America a better place.  He let them know that he was not here to destroy this country but was coming from a place of love for the country and the people in it.  The BLM leader expected that he was going to come to the rally and take a militant position and exchange insults.  He didn’t expect to have the opportunity to speak, and then he was even more surprised by the handshakes and encouragement he got from people at the rally.  He said the experience restored his faith in those he would have written off as an enemy, and that at least on a personal level, progress was made.

Things or people that we think are annoying and against us will not impede our growth.  Often, in God’s mysterious plan, they become the catalyst for our growth.  I am certain of that, and that God has the care of all – even the sinner – in mind.  God is patient with us, merciful and gracious, and slow to anger.  In the face of our difficulties and challenges, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to come to the aid of our weakness, because, from our limited perspective, “we do not know how to pray as we  ought”.  We don’t even know what to ask for.  Only by inviting God’s love into our hearts will we grow according to God’s will.  God desires that we “grow together”.  Let us ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to make us patient, gracious and merciful, and slow to anger – towards ourselves and others – so that our growth will be possible, even in difficult times.

The following conclusion was used at the Vigil Mass on July 18:

What we celebrate today in the reception of Jennifer Wajda into the Church is the faith growing and bearing fruit in her life in the midst of many unexpected challenges and events.  Those events did not impede the growth of her faith, but, through them, her faith grew.  The life of faith was sown in her in her baptism and now it will be confirmed and nourished in the reception of the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist.  We thank her for her witness, and I know she is thankful for the spiritual and material support that she and her family have received through this family of faith that we belong to here at St. Charles.  You will always find “weeds” in the church because God always gives us time to grow and works our conversion through this process of growing together.  May your faith, with the  witness of this community, continue to grow and bear fruit.  We rejoice that the Lord has planted you here at St. Charles.

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