Sometimes Catholics wonder why Church authorities delay in correcting or disciplining Catholics who publicly oppose Church teaching.
Sometimes this delay is based on misplaced caution. Sometimes it is based on cowardice. And in the case of some Church officials, unfortunately, it may even be based on irresponsible cooperation with dissenters. But sometimes this type of delay is necessary, and part of God’s will.
In this week’s Gospel text Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed….[H]is enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat…. When the crop grew…the weeds appeared as well.” And when the man’s servants wanted to pull up the weeds he replied simply, “No…. Let them grow together until harvest.”
How can it ever be acceptable to patiently let weeds grow with the wheat? St. Matthew’s text gives two good reasons. First, Jesus says, “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” How many times do we try to accomplish something good only to have the unintended negative consequences overwhelmingly offset the good we sought to achieve?
Think back to the reaction to then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter in June of 2003, condemning the legalization of so-called “gay marriage,” and reminding Catholic politicians that voting for this legalization would be “gravely immoral.” The letter was intended to protect people from being misled about the Church’s teaching, and ultimately to lead these politicians to repentance. But many people reacted as if Ratzinger wanted to burn people at the stake, and then take over the US government. Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he has to overcome the effects of being slanderously labeled as a “hateful bigot.” So, while this intervention by Cardinal Ratzinger was absolutely necessary a weed that needed to be pulled immediately we can see the importance of “prudence” in carefully discerning when, where and how to pull each particular weed.
But there is also a second reason for not immediately pulling every weed: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” In many problem cases Church officials refrain from intervention because they are waiting for us to act: While we may have to live like wheat surrounded by weeds, we also need to live as leaven in society. Think of all the papal encyclicals and homilies that have exhorted us to action, to work with our own families, friends and communities to root out the weeds around us. Is it Rome and the bishops, or is it we, who fail to act?
Some would say, “But what can I do, what difference can tiny little me make?” Again, Jesus addresses this. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.” The analogies of leaven and the mustard seed are complementary: Only a tiny bit of leaven is needed to raise a large loaf of bread. And every single faithful Christian, no matter how prominent or seemingly insignificant he is, can work to build up the kingdom where he is.
Finally, whenever we consider forbearance versus action, we must remember that the Lord also warns us that “[at] the end of the age…[the] weeds are collected and…throw[n] into the fiery furnace.” We should never confuse cowardice and timidity with prudence and charity. And in charity, guided by prudence, we must do whatever we can to be like leaven to raise up those who have fallen.
Fr. De Celles is Parochial Vicar of St. Michael Parish in Annandale, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)