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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. In these times, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a clash of visions and understanding between the Church and the modern world on a range of issues. We see this clash in areas such as education, family life, sexuality and medical care to name just a few. It also appears obvious that what lies at the heart of this clash of visions is our understanding of the human person. What does it mean to be human? Who am I? For the modern revolution, the answer to that question seems to be – ‘you are who you decide you want to be’. There is a culture of self-invention. And so, in this culture ‘we are as we are and if we decide to be someone else then that’s what we do’.

In contrast, the Gospel tell us something different. It holds up a gentle mirror before us that allows us to see both the darkest side of our human nature – our propensity to sin and our capacity for harm; and the brightest side of our nature – that we are made in the image and likeness of God and are called to be saints. A lively Catholic faith does justice to both these aspects and looks both of them straight in the eye. This is the meaning of the parable of the weeds and wheat. So then, which understanding is correct?

By telling the parable in today’s Gospel, Jesus is warning his disciples against a number of things. The first of these is a violent impulse to set things right. In history we saw this with movements such as communism and national socialism in Germany that started off with good intentions but inflicted terrible harm. This makes sense in the light of the parable where the farmer decides against pulling up the weeds for fear that the what might be damaged too.

He also warns us away from any sharp divide between good people and bad people. The line between good and evil runs right through every human heart where there is both weeds and wheat in all of us. This truth invites us to consider how, like the wheat harvest, we are mostly good and gifted as people who have been raised with a dignity greater than we could dream. Yet, it is also true that there is something in our nature that needs facing up to, something dark and something that should not be. For us, one of the greatest challenges in life is facing up to our darker side. Yet unless we do, we will never grow. Whatever is our darnel, our weeds, our habits and our vices – we need to know them, face up to them and work with God’s grace to overcome them patiently.

This was the path of St Augustine who made that painful inner journey. When he did so, Augustine admits that all he saw wasn’t pretty: ‘Lord, you turned my attention back to myself…And I looked and was appalled…You thrust me before my own eyes so that I should discover my iniquity and hate it’ (Confessions 8, 16). This honest confrontation with himself in God’s light was not an end in itself, but lead to the transformation of a man who came to know God as beauty, mercy and peace.

The danger of not acknowledging our own imperfections is not only that we can be blind to the harm we do but that we accuse others and condemn them without mercy. In the words of St Catherine of Siena, ‘Human weakness allows those who are in some way afflicted to acquire humility and self-knowledge…It makes them kind and not cruel towards their neighbours so that they are compassionate with them in their struggles’ (Dialogue of Divine Providence).

And so friends, here is the understanding of the human person that comes from Christ himself. He came to tell us that self-knowledge is essential to understanding who we are. He came to reveal both who God is and who we are. He came to hold before us a mirror that reminds us that we are both weeds and wheat. This vision challenges us to achieve our potential in life by facing our vices head on, struggling honestly to minimize the bad and to maximize the good. The Gospel invites us on the adventure to never to give up, to strive with God to be the best version of ourselves we can be and yet to have heart for the failings of others because we recognize them in ourselves.

That is why entering a Catholic Church is so important. Just look around what you see in a church – a Confession box side by side with images of the saints. Both are deeply symbolic of the two sides of our humanity that we can’t ignore – the weeds and wheat together and how we fragile sinners are summoned by God to holiness and to yield a harvest greater than we could imagine.


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