6 minutes reading time (1210 words)

Homily - 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

bishop-donal-homilies

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Last week, Jesus talked to his followers about the different sort of ground on which seeds could fall. The Word of God would bear fruit in some types of rich soil. In briars and on rocks, the seed would not produce much. Now Jesus goes further. He uses the image of wheat growing up in good soil – but now being threatened by poisonous weeds that have been sown alongside. Leaving them to flourish would take nourishment from the wheat. Pulling the weeds out would risk uprooting good wheat. As ever, Jesus is practical and straight. He is under no illusions about the reality of evil that can develop deep roots in stiff competition with the good. 

I was blessed in that I remember a strong and inspiring church when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. The priests in our parish and those who taught me were impressive men. But others have a very different memory.

Firstly, this generation has become aware of the reality of sin within church. The narrative that dominated in my youth was that the Church and its personnel were 'God's holy anointed' and that they should never be criticised. There was evil in the world out there – and we had to defend the purity and honour of who we were. That way of looking at ourselves had its strengths – but it also blinded us, leaving us unable or unwilling to see the weeds in our midst. It created a Church with a great sense of mission and of generosity. But we struggled to find a place for those who did not fit into our neat categories. I was blessed in that I remember a strong and inspiring church when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. The priests in our parish and those who taught me were impressive men. But others have a very different memory. That too is part of the truth. And that image of ourselves as Church created a pride in our strength and structures. There was the temptation to forget that the only thing that we can boast about is – as St Paul wrote – knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2). Thus, I am always wary of those who hanker after a gilded past that they did not know – or offer simplistic solutions to modern challenges. We learn from today's Gospel the uncomfortable truth that weeds will always seek to take root because the human heart is divided. We ignore that fact at our peril. Only the Pharisees thought that they were right and that everybody else outside was wrong. Jesus' call to repentance and renewed structures applies in Church as well as outside. Church structures are at the service of Christ's mission, not an end in themselves. We have to take the plank out of our own eyes before we offer to help others take the splinter out of theirs. We can witness to the truth, only when we have stopped pretending about ourselves.

But the reality of sin in Church is not intended by Jesus as a depressing message. The farmer acknowledges the presence of the darnel – but does not want to damage the wheat. God can still use a humbled contrite Church to bear great fruit. Those who have made bad decisions in earlier life can often become great saints, not despite their mistakes but precisely because of them. In their sins they have discovered the power, not of their righteousness but of God's mercy. That is the source of our hope and confidence.

Secondly, this parable offers us material from which we can speak into our society. Political discourse has so often been reduced to simplistic solutions. Complex issues have been reduced to black versus white, repressive versus liberal options. We know from recent decades that what has been defined as progress may well have apparently benefited some - but that others have paid a price. There were many weeds in older ways of looking at marriage and family. But if committed relationships and fidelity are downplayed, allegedly in the glorious interests of human freedom, there is a huge cost to be paid by the young and the fragile. The Holy Grail of 'the right to choose' comes at a great cost to those whose rights are ignored. In Church and outside, the strong can often look after their own interests rather than the Common Good or the defence of the weak. Modern secular dogmas can be as harsh and blind as anything that they condemn in a religious past or present. Then and now, there are none so blind as the dogmatists who do not want to see the uncomfortable truth.

Christ's disciples have a prophetic key role to play in the world of political decision-making. Faith is not just for the few or the pews. Faith-based schooling exists not just to teach religious content but to promote this uncomfortable counter-cultural vision of the world.

Christ's disciples have a prophetic key role to play in the world of political decision-making. Faith is not just for the few or the pews. Faith-based schooling exists not just to teach religious content but to promote this uncomfortable counter-cultural vision of the world. Faith-based schools teach about God so that they can be centres where 'a specific concept of the world, the human person and of history is developed and conveyed.' (Vatican, The Catholic School, 1977, para 8). When our education system subjugates that transcendental vision and give priority to market forces, we are – as Pope Francis said - wasting our time. (Cf Jose Bergoglio, Education for Choosing Life, Ignatius Press 2014, p.75). It is important to acquire knowledge. But knowledge without wisdom can be very stupid and destructive. It sows the seeds of self-serving, poisonous weeds in our society.

Thirdly, St Paul reassures us that we gather to be nourished by God's Word and sacramental presence. In our present weakness and uncertainty, we make space for God's Spirit of wisdom so that we can recognise where blindness has blighted our ability to bear rich fruit. We gather so that we can acknowledge the weeds and promote the growth of rich fruit. We gather, not to be entertained but to be prepared for mission. At the end of the Mass, the final instruction is 'God and announce the Gospel of the Lord'. Though we might feel inclined to overlook Christ's powerful presence, the congregation's response is 'Thanks be to God'. We come together to be enlisted in Christ's service, not merely to enlist Christ in the service of our agenda. We come so that our pleas, expressed by the Spirit, are according to the mind of God, formed by God's grace and not just by our shopping list. We come to join the choirs of angels and saints in their unending hymn of praise so that we can allow something more nourishing than the 'buy one, get one free' jingles to capture our hearts.

Jesus continues to prepare his disciples of every generation to speak truth – to ourselves and to others. Only that way will we bear a rich harvest.

+ Donal McKeown

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