Distinguishing Wheat from Weeds

(Homily for Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

While on vacation I re-read Mike Aquilina´s fine book The Fathers of the Church. I was struck by Basil´s letter to Pope Damasus:

"Nearly all the East (I include under this name all the regions from Illyricum to Egypt) is being agitated, right honorable father, by a terrible storm and tempest. The old heresy, sown by Arius the enemy of truth, has now boldly and unblushingly reappeared. Like some sour root, it is producing deadly fruit and is prevailing. The reason is that in every district the champions of orthodoxy have been exiled from their churches by calumny and outrage, and the control of affairs has been handed over to men who are leading captive the souls of the simpler brethren."

Basil wrote this in the fourth century. Patristic scholars call it the Golden Age, because of such great teachers as Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Jerusalem, Eusebius the historian and a bit later, Jerome and Augustine. Still, today´s parable applies even to that epoch: along with the wheat of sound teaching, the weeds of false doctrine would spring up - and it would not be so easy to distinguish one from the other.

The Arians denied the divinity of Christ, but they did it in a clever way. Using scriptural language, they referred to Jesus as the Lord, the Alpha and the Omega, the Son of God. However, they emptied those titles of their true meaning because they taught that Jesus was created in time and that there was a time when he did not exist. This teaching won many adherents because it appealed to the rationalism of Greek culture.

We can see a similar phenomenon today. False teachers will take words which have deep roots in the Christian tradition and will use them in ways which empties their significance. Until very recently no one debated the meaning of the words marriage and family.* Now our culture wishes to use them in a radically different sense. I was in Peru when the Spanish parliament legalized homosexual "marriage" and the adoption of children by homosexuals. As the mother country Spain has great influence in Latin America.** Many people see this as the wave of the future, just as Arianism seemed irresistible in fourth century.

In his letter, Basil appealed to Pope Damasus to visit them: "I have come to see the visit of your mercifulness as the only possible solution to our difficulties." Basil saw the pope as the touchstone of orthodoxy. That approach very much applies today. Although it may not be prudent to try to uproot the weeds of false teaching by one´s own power, we need to do our best to discern what is wheat and what is weed. Unity with our Holy Father is an important criterion.

One day God himself will separate wheat from weeds. Let´s ask for his help so that we might be on the right side when that happens.


*Another example is the word "choice." Christians fought hard to combat deterministic philosophies such as Darwinism and Marxism because we believe each human possesses a radical freedom - the ability to choose or reject God. Unfortunately, our culture has reduced freedom to the taking away of restraints, that is, doing what pleases me at any given moment. It is particularly tragic when "choice" means the license to take the life of another human being.

**In his final book Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II commented on the "ideologies of evil" which he personally experienced: Nazism and Communism. He then asked a question about the current attempts to "recognize homosexual unions as an alternative type of family, with the right to adopt children." He went on to say "it is legitimate and even necessary to ask whether this is not the work of another ideology of evil, more subtle and hidden, perhaps, intent upon exploiting human rights themselves against man and against the family." Memory and Identity merits careful reading and serious reflection.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Sixteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2011: Himself the Kingdom
2008: Allow Them to Grow Together
2005: Distinguishing Wheat from Weeds
2002: The Fiery Furnace
1999: Jesus' Teaching Concerning Hell

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Pictures from Peru (July 2005)

Cardinal Schoenborn in the New York Times:

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not.

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