Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (5th after
Epiphany)—11 November AD 2007
“The Son of Man will send forth His angels to gather out of His
kingdom all scandals and those who work iniquity, and cast them into the furnace
of fire, where there shall be weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.”
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany celebrated after Pentecost
Dóminica Quinta quæ superfuit post Epiphaniam
If you have one of those wonderful
missals that have the text of each day’s Mass in Latin and English, you may
have noticed that the Latin word in today’s Gospel for “weeds” is “zizania.”
I have liked that word ever since the first time I read it, because the crooked
letters in it (the “Z”s) are reminiscent of the crooked weeds that grow in
the backyard. And when, a few verses later, our Lord explains that the
enemy is the devil, and the weeds represent all those who give scandal and work
iniquity in His kingdom, we are reminded that—just like the weeds—there are
many different kinds of sin, and of sinners.
Most obvious are the murderers of the
innocent, the gangsters who subvert our society, and the crooked politicians who
endanger the world. Hopefully, we have none of those in our midst.
And, hopefully, we have learned how to protect ourselves and our children, by
locking the doors to our houses and cars, and staying away from the dangerous
places where crime seems to breed. We keep our hands on our wallets and
our purses when we go about in public. The crooked politicians are a
little bit tougher to deal with, but we do our best by remaining informed,
telling them what we think, and voting only for good men at the ballot box.
There are, of course, lesser sins and
lesser sinners—not all sinners are ax murderers! There are people
of lesser violence and theft, liars, and cheaters, and adulterers—a little
less crooked than the really bad weeds. But these people, too, are weeds
in the garden of God’s kingdom. Against these, too, we must be on our
guard—it never makes sense for you to give the sinner an additional
opportunity to sin, by sinning against you! But many of these people will
benefit from our good example if we follow the advice Saint Paul gave us this
morning, “forgiving one another,” and having “mercy, humility, meekness,
kindness, and patience.” The world, after all, is a more peaceful and
pleasant place when people go about with a smile on their face and a kind word
on their lips.
There are also weeds which do not seem
quite so dangerous to us, but which are equally crooked—those who keep the
last seven Commandments pretty well, but ignore the first three—those who have
no God, or who have no respect for Him. These as well, will benefit from
our good example.
I’ve mentioned to some of you before,
that in the last century, the French Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard wrote a brief
phrase which, I believe, explains the need for good example—particularly
for the unbeliever. He said that “to be a witness does not consist in
engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living
mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make
sense if God did not exist.”
Indeed, that may be the only way in which we can convince others that life with
God is not only theoretically possible—but that someone is actually doing
it—us! Our good example might go far to straighten some of the
crookedness in modern life.
Saint Augustine, who lived in the last
part of the fourth century and early part of the fifth—when the Church was
fairly young, and just recently made legal in the Roman Empire—suggested in
one of his commentaries that the weeds also might represent heretics.
“When the sleep of death had taken away the Apostles, and the Church’s
leaders had become negligent, the devil came and implanted ... heretics ...
begotten from the same Gospel seed, ... but turned to false doctrines as a
result of their perverse conjecturing.”
Sixteen centuries later, even Augustine, who was well familiar with heresy,
would probably be amazed—for now we have Modernism, “the synthesis of all
heresies”—which denies not only God, but truth itself, as though reality
could change with every sentiment and wind of opinion.
Our protection against Modernism and
other heresies lies in living the Sacramental life; being habitually in the
state of sanctifying grace. But it also requires that we know our Faith,
and that we know what the constant teaching of the Church has been over the
centuries. It requires that, as adults, we pursue a greater knowledge of
our religion than that which we gained as children. The Catechism is a
very good thing, but it must be reinforced with readings from the Scriptures,
from Church History, and from the writings of the Saints. We must know
enough to recognize those with “itching ears, who turn aside to teachers
according to their own lusts ... who turn away from truth to fables,” as saint
Paul told us in his epistle to Timothy.
We must know enough to recognize them, and then avoid them.
Finally, we must make the admission
that, at times, we too play the role of the “weeds amongst the wheat.”
No one here today is perfect; no one here is sinless—except, perhaps the very
youngest of the children—and they will not remain that way forever. And
the problem with that is that sin often grows upon itself. The little
white lies, the petty gossip, the lack of respect for people and their property,
the little flirtations, the improper use of God’s name, the occasional failure
to pray, and every other “small sin” is capable of growing into one of those
crooked weeds. We must constantly guard against the temptation to sin;
even “little sins,” lest they become great.
In explaining today’s parable, our
Lord indicated that there are two alternatives. “The just shall shine
forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” But those who bring
“scandals and those who work iniquity, will be cast into the furnace of fire,
where there will be weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.” Let us firmly
resolve that, on the Day of Judgment, when the angels are reaping the fields of
the Lord, we will not be found to be the weeds amongst the wheat.