Featured Image: “Wheat Field at Auvers Under Clouded Sky”, Vincent Van Gogh (1890)
Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 23 July 2017
Wis 12:13, 16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43
In his book Strangers in a Strange Land,
the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput,
calls all of you “healthy cells in a cancerous body.”
You, us, the ones who are attempting the spiritual and moral life;
we are healthy cells in a cancerous body.
In Archbishop Chaput’s writing, the cancerous body refers to the popular culture.
Obviously, our culture is not totally depraved of goodness and truth and beauty,
but it is becoming more and more difficult to live out in the public square
our attempt to live fully the spiritual and moral life.
We are not subject to the same kind of persecution
that is so prevalent in other parts of the world.
I don’t feel physically unsafe for being a Christian in Plainfield.
There are not tanks and camouflage convoys on Route 59.
But there is, I think, a kind of persecution sprouting up around us.
If anything, it is ideological, philosophical in nature.
It is certainly anthropological in its scope.
Our church building probably will not be blown up tonight,
but I think it is becoming more and more obvious
that the Christian conception of how live to life,
of the human person, of how we understand human actions and morality
are at risk.
We take for granted, I think, the idea that ours is a Christian culture.
That because most of the people around us would probably identity as some form of Christian,
this means the culture is Christian.
But how can this be if for Catholics, Christianity means one thing
and for our Baptist or Pentecostal or non-denominational brothers and sisters
Christianity means something else?
Nevermind the variance of opinions and camps within the Catholic Church.
That means our “Christian culture” is actually just built on a cracked foundation, at best,
or on nothing, at worst.
When I was living in Israel, Muslims would often tell us that the factions, and divisions in Christianity were some of the biggest reasons that Christianity,
which claims to be the true religion, was, in fact,
For a long time, we as Christians took for granted our place in society.
We took for granted that most people, of whatever Christian flavor they were,
had the same basic ideas about human dignity and desire,
about a striving for something higher and bigger than themselves,
and the cultivation of virtue and decency in the moral life.
We took for granted that this kind of population
created a healthy and safe context for Christianity to spread and to grow.
The message that Christ is real and that Christ is risen and alive in our midst
still brought hope and clarity.
Today, to many of my millennial peers and those who form them,
Christianity is the enemy.
It is the outdated, irrelevant, bigoted religion
which says “no” to every new cultural trend and whim.
And so while we, really through no fault of any individual person or group,
took those things for granted,
while we failed to cultivate or even maintain the wheat which grew
from the good soil passed down to us,
weeds began to grow.
And “we are seeing right in front of our eyes how certain pillars we thought were immovable are crumbling.” (Carron)
And as we poke our heads out every now and then,
when some crisis in culture or some world event or something in our personal lives hits close to home, when suddenly the moral or spiritual life of someone close to us takes a bad turn or goes off the rails
– and maybe that someone close to us is us –
we ask the question,
“Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where did these weeds come from?
Should we pull them up?”
Although they are harmful,
the master tells us to wait.
There is a difference between what is truly harmful
and what is merely complicated now but good for us in the long run.
And so we must wait for both the wheat and the weeds to come to full stature in their time and way. And we must trust that the weeds are growing around us for some reason.
True, if we were wheat we might be in danger of being choked out by the weeds.
But we’re not wheat, really, we’re humans.
And we have a say in whether or not we’ll be choked out.
What is the solution? Jesus, duh.
The solution is always Jesus.
The solution lies is praying for the clarity to see
and understand that although we want to do it ourselves,
although we think we have what it takes,
it is only God who can fascinate us.
We have become fascinated by two things only:
the spread of ideology and the transmission of data.
But it is God, the Holy Trinity,
who remains the most fascinating thing in all reality.
But Jesus is not shiny, or glamorous, or fast; he is simple, humble, and slow.
The solution lies in becoming so fascinated by Jesus
that we become emptied of our own egos and filled only with his Spirit,
motivated only by his will, and interested only in his kingdom.
We speak so much of being Jesus for others,
but this is only pious affectivity if we don’t really know him or spend time with him.
We must live with him in truth, vulnerability, and self-gift.
For piety without the truth becomes sentimentality.
On the other hand, we must remain connected to the mysticism,
the other-worldliness, of what we are about.
This whole thing: the Church, the culture, the wars, the crises, the pain, the joy, the love –
it all goes so much deeper, wider, higher, and broader than any one of us can imagine.
Truth disconnected from its spiritual origin makes us monsters.
We become oppressive, and interested only in the spread of our own ideas and in defending our image.
The crux of the issue is this:
We are now being “called to live the faith without a [cultural] context to protect us.”
And in the midst of this, are called to be fascinated by, obsessed with, only Jesus.
That we might become so radically convinced of his resurrection,
convinced of the life that it brings to me,
that I am willing to poke my head out of my comfy context,
and to be the presence of Jesus in my community.
Our biggest hurdle right now is the attitude of our brothers and sisters all around us;
some of whom are hostile to the Christian message for a variety of reasons.
These, it seems to me, are the easiest to deal with.
Simply speak truth into their hostility and their hostility falls completely apart.
The most difficult cases are those who are just indifferent to the faith,
completely in their own world.
We must find a way to live, with the help of the Spirit
who “comes to the aid of our weakness”,
“such that others can perceive our presence not as something to defend themselves from, but as a contribution to the common good and their own personal good.” (Carron)
Let us pray.
Jesus become attractive to us. Jesus become attractive to me. Teach me to love you, who will occupy me for all eternity. Jesus become attractive to me.
Remember the great advice of St. Josemaria Escriva, and find great hope in it:
“He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed. But he did say, you would not be overcome.”
Jesus, do not let us be overcome by the weeds around us; strengthen our roots and purify our soil that we might become a good and fitting harvest worthy of your kingdom.
May the Eucharist, the finest wheat, give us hope that one day God alone shall be all in all; let it give us whatever we need to allow him to become all in all for us, here and now.
“All the nations you have made shall come
and worship you, O LORD,
and glorify your name.
For you are great, and you do wondrous deeds;
you alone are God.”