"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Sower of the Tares

The following also appears at Pontifications

Today throughout the Catholic Church, the Gospel reading at Mass was Matthew 13:24-30: the parable of the wheat and the tares. As Jesus pointed out later in the same pericope, the sower of the tares is Satan. Yet I doubt most Catholics would be surprised to learn that the homily given at my parish this evening on that passage was the first I’ve heard from a Catholic priest in nearly twenty-five years on Satan as a genuine personal force in his own right.

What was said on that theme, regarding both the world and the Church, hit the bullseye. It was said that Satan, who has irrevocably turned his back on God, is jealous of us. He knows that we are destined for the glory and power that were once his. That’s why he induced our first parents to fall away from their original justice, darkening the intellects and damaging the wills of their descendants too. His jealousy elides into pure hatred, a desire to destroy us; and our pitiful weakness in face of that desire is why God has gone to such apparently absurd lengths to save us. The forms Satan’s efforts take in the world need no elaboration here; but the field of his most “insidious” efforts is the Church herself, where the divine sower has sown his wheat.

In their early stages of growth, the “tares” or “weeds” Satan sows in that field are virtually indistinguishable from wheat at the same stages of growth. (Transliterated, the Hebrew for such grassy weed is darnel, which the homilist said is almost certainly the word Jesus actually used.) Only when both are mature enough for harvest time to impend can one tell them apart well enough to pull up the tares without also pulling up the wheat. The life of the Church is like that both ontogenetically and phylogenetically. Both in our own hearts and collectively, we the people of God mix good and bad and they often seem alike until all has come to fruition. That is why pulling up the tares until such a time has arrived manifests only the impatience that destroys. Therefore, as Greg Bourke has said, following the Good Sower’s program takes the “stupendous patience” that is his. But it’s what saves. So even as we stay vigilant to distinguish fake virtue from true, and orthodox teaching from heretical, we must not move too quickly against all that is false in the Church’s midst and within each of our own hearts. We must patiently cultivate the divine life planted in us until all that misleads in its indistinctness comes to light.

I was stunned but deeply gratified that such thoughts came from a priest twenty years my junior who was ordained in my diocese only last May: Fr. James Ebright of Our Lady of Grace, Greensboro, NC. He is not just one of those “young fogies” that 1960s-vintage Catholic priests often complain about to my amusement. He is a man who did not forget reality after entering the seminary and appears to have learned there what many far more experienced priests have forgotten, or at least no longer think important. I invite all to rejoice with me. From all I’ve been hearing, it seems that unadulterated substance along with pastoral sensitivity is a combination that could come back into vogue among the new generation of Catholic priests.
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