By Father Michael Panicali
Bishop DiMarzio’s column for the last edition of The Tablet, “The Birth of our Democracy,” spoke much truth regarding the recent calls and attempts (some successful) to tear down statues and monuments throughout the nation. He writes that “the statues that are now being taken down with public authority or by acts of individuals betray a misunderstanding of human nature. It is human nature that has been wounded by Original Sin, but it has been redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ. There are no perfect people.”
The Bishop adds that the statues of saints that the Church, “well aware of the foibles of human nature,” has long erected, all celebrate imperfect, sinful people — except, of course, those depicting the Blessed Mother; for “there is no saint whose statue we honor who was sinless except the Virgin Mary.”
I would like to add what I see as a parallel in today’s Gospel reading of what is referred to as the “Parable of the Weeds.” Jesus, referring to a field where unwanted weeds grow alongside fertile wheat to be harvested, speaks through the voice of the field owner, saying, “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Today’s call to uproot the weeds in the public sphere, so that we are left with only the wheat, not only contradicts the wisdom of the Church, as expressed through Bishop DiMarzio’s words above but also the wisdom of Holy Scripture. This phenomenon is not sound from a practical standpoint, nor a Biblical one.
Our Judeo-Christian history is replete with murderers, adulterers, liars, and thieves who today, through the grace of God, we herald as linchpins of our faith — Saul of Tarsus, King David, Augustine of Hippo, and Matthew the tax collector — among them. It was to the once-sexually immoral Mary Magdalene that the Lord first appeared after His Glorious Resurrection.
These men and women give us all inspiration to better ourselves, renounce sin, and boldly and loudly proclaim and live the Gospel. Theirs are the stories of redemption that will stir us.
Not celebrating their repentance and their triumph over sin, made possible by uniting themselves with the Blood of Jesus Christ, would be a great detriment to restoring the broken of today’s world and leading those souls to Christ. It would be a great detriment to proclaiming the saving power of Christ!
Today’s parable makes clear that it is up to the Lord to decide and sift through who is a weed, and who is wheat. Jesus describes His holy angels taking up this task at the end of time. Until then, we as a society must learn that true strength and progress comes with allowing the wheat and the weed to grow together if we are to truly learn from our transgressions and advance as a civilization. A wise adage I very recently came across reads, “History is an excellent teacher with few pupils.”
Moreover, until that time when the harvest is to be collected, we the faithful have to be cognizant that throughout our lifetimes, we are going to be both weed and wheat.
Father Chris O’Connor pointed out in a Tablet Sunday Scripture column last year, that the spiritual life is like climbing a steep mountain — at no point are we stationary; we are either going up and advancing, or are being pulled down by gravity, or going in the opposite direction.
Today’s parable doesn’t serve to remind us that the wicked are going to be inevitably punished, as much as it serves to remind us that we are all sinful and in need of the mercy of God. A great mistake would be to consider oneself as consistently-growing wheat in a field. We the Christian faithful can look to imperfect people, the saints, to right ourselves in those times in our lives when we more closely resemble the weeds.
Readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30
Father Panicali is the parochial vicar of St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary in Sheepshead Bay.