“The kingdom of heaven is like… A sower who goes out to sow seed which falls all over the place; a man who sows good seed and an enemy who sows weeds; a tiny mustard seed; a little bit of yeast.”
Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, this itinerant preacher, this healer, this teacher, this one who forgives sin, this one who sets people free, this divine Son of the heavenly Father—tries to help us understand the incomprehensible.
The kingdom of heaven is also referred to as the kingdom of God. We moderns don’t think of “kingdoms” anymore. Kingdoms are a thing of the past; some historical accoutrement that today speaks of oppression, master and slave.
How can we interpret this image that Jesus gives to us of God’s desire, of God’s plan, of God’s kingdom, of God’s hope for us in our present day “cancel culture?” I encourage you to watch the YouTube video from the Sacred Story Institute by Jesuit Fr. Bill Watson entitled “The Cancel Culture and the Demonic.”
If there is a kingdom of heaven, then there is also a kingdom of earth. If there is a kingdom of God, then there is also a kingdom of Satan. If there is a kingdom of eternal life, there is also a kingdom of eternal damnation. But we moderns don’t want to talk about that. That’s oppressive. That’s judgmental. That’s exclusive, intolerant and not totally accepting of everything and everyone. That’s denying me my personal freedom to do what I want as the value above all others.
Jesus lived in difficult times. The people of Israel had once again been conquered by a foreign power. Rome was tolerant of the Jews yet also oppressed them. Harsh taxes and laws were placed upon them. Cruel punishment was meted out so that dissension was quickly crushed. Accommodation was the best that most of the people lived with.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, as members of the Catholic Church we too are living in difficult times. Not only has the coronavirus impacted our daily lives but it has also had a detrimental effect on how we interact with one.
We wear masks to protect and hopefully for protection. We stand 6 feet apart or further so as not possibly infect or be infected. We can’t touch one another. We can’t linger too long. Beginning this coming Monday, we can’t gather with more than 10 other people who are not of our household.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, these restrictions stir within most folks a level of anxiety, disorientation, loneliness, sadness and discouragement that can weigh heavy on a person’s heart.
The horrific killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota has unleashed pent-up anger and violence that for far too long has not been addressed with true justice, the kind of justice that we heard of in our first reading.
“You judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us… And you taught your people… That those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”
Our nation is struggling on how best to address racial discrimination in the present as well as making reparation for the past. Yet, some of these efforts rather than leading to greater freedom in truth and justice are leading us to rejection and rewriting of history; to suppression in the exchange of ideas under the guise of political correctness and inclusivity; as well as the rejection of legitimate authority for the common good.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, as Catholics, we are called to be different in the kingdom of this world. As Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel, “You are in the world, but not of the world.” The world is not meant to define us; Jesus is.
Jesus is the one who reveals the mystery of God and of who we truly are: beloved of God and empowered with the gift of the Holy Spirit “who comes to the aid of our weakness.”
It is God, “who searches hearts and knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”
It may be difficult for many of us Catholics in the United States today to feel the hope in our personal mustard seed of faith, as well as the power of the bit of yeast of our baptismal call to be leaven for our world today. Take heart. The Catholic Church has been here before.
The prejudice against the Catholic Church in the United States is well documented. With the influx of Irish, German, Italian and other Catholic immigrants, the culture of the 1800 and 1900’s led to ghettos and many expressions of “Catholics need not apply.”
The human tendency of scapegoating and blaming goes all the way back to the garden where Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. No one takes personal responsibility for sin, for the weeds. Yet, unless we recognize the weeds in our own lives, the vices that ensnare us / and then work towards repentance, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation / then the kingdom of Satan will run rampant.
This past Wednesday, St. Mary’s church in New Haven Connecticut, the parish church of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder the Knights of Columbus in 1882, was vandalized with words and various satanic symbols on the doors of the church.
Early in the week, a statue of Jesus has beheaded in the Archdiocese of Miami and a statue of the Blessed Virgin was tagged with red paint in Colorado Springs.
This past weekend a statue of the blessed Virgin Mary has beheaded at a Catholic church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
On July 11, a man crashed a minivan into a Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida. He then lit it on fire with gasoline while people were inside preparing for morning Mass.
Why do I share this with you at the height of summer and of vacation time?
Why? Not to discourage you but to encourage you, to pour courage into your hearts and to strengthen your faith. For the gospel says, “While everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”
Satan wants us to fear and even detest one another. Satan will use anything and everything to bring that about.
We must not be asleep to the presence of evil. We must name sin for what it is. We must be able to recognize the weeds as well as the wheat and to know the difference. We must strengthen our faith in the midst of the present culture rather than merely making accommodation in order to get along. We must be mustard seeds and yeast. We must not be afraid.
“You, O Lord, are good and forgiving; abounding in kindness to all who call upon you. Hearken, O Lord, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my pleading.”
Psalm 86, our responsorial Psalm assures us that God is with us and for us – no matter what! This is what the early martyrs knew. This is what the saints knew. This is what we are called to know, not merely with our intellect but most of all in the depths of our souls, the very source of our lives.
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, in the midst of the cultural chaos that surrounds us and the demonic fears that want to overtake us, we must stand firm. We must hold tight to the teaching of Jesus Christ and his Church which has endured storms far greater and more intense than what we are experiencing today.
As St. John Paul II assured us and encouraged us throughout his pontificate, “Do not be afraid. Go into the deep.”
More than ever, let us celebrate holy Eucharist as often as we can. Let us celebrate God’s forgiveness of our sins in the sacrament of confession. Let us steep ourselves daily in prayer and reading of sacred Scripture. Let us pray together as spouses and families and small groups. Let us come to adoration in supplication for our world. Let us fast and pray on Fridays for an end of COVID-19 around the world and for true healing and reconciliation in our nation.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus has already won the victory. Jesus, the trust in you.