July 20, 2008


If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. – Mt. 13: 29

The kingdom of heaven is a combination of divine initiative & human response. We encounter the initiative in creation itself, in the history of God’s people, & supremely in our Lord Himself. One of its overriding qualities is relentlessness. No matter how small the beginning or how threatened the middle, the end is never in doubt.

The human response, however, is another matter. We have the freedom to say no, or to say yes only half-heartedly. Even when we want to go along with God, it is usually on our terms & we fall away when our expectations are not met. Furthermore, as I am wont say, we are all a bundle of contradictions. We fail to do what we want to do, & often do what we know to be bad for us.

When the divine initiative sows seeds of wheat, the weeds in our souls tend to spring up with the wheat. Note that they are not just side by side, but interwoven. They are so intertwined that to uproot one is to endanger the other, so God lets them grow together. This may be bad agricultural wisdom, but it is profound spiritual wisdom. Good & evil in individuals & in humanity as a whole will always coexist. This means we must deal with it, like it or not.

There was a man who took seriously the spiritual life & struggled to become spiritually mature. His wife once remarked, “My husband went on a prolonged retreat & when he came back he was loving & considerate & compassionate. That is, until his mother came to visit.” We think we are in charge, able to bring love into our life situations, but then we get our buttons pushed & lose it. Thank God for His relentless love: He doesn’t give up on us even when we give up on Him.

Peter professed undying loyalty & then denied Him. Thomas professed a willingness to die with Jesus & then doubted the resurrection. God is hardly ignorant of the material He has to work with, yet He refuses to abandon us. And guess what: over & over again throughout the centuries there have always been those who accept His grace & run with it. We all have been the beneficiaries of their struggle with the weeds.

It takes time for a small seed to become a major tree & for leaven to raise the dough into bread. That time gives us the opportunity for repentance, which is not a prerequisite for the kingdom, but the fruit of God’s grace at work in our lives. It enables us to change our minds & try again. Repeat offenders become repeat repenters.

When we fail, we feel humiliated, brought back to the truth that we have not progressed as far as we thought. But these humiliations are a form of progress. We learn that the spiritual life is a never-ending process & that we must not become discouraged. There is another way to see it. Out of our errors & frailty have come some of our most profound lessons.

In those quiet moments when we take stock – even on our death beds – we may be surprised by how far we’ve come from where we were when we began. While we may still have a way to go (that’s what purgatory is for), we can still realize that it is God’s grace that has made the difference & will continue to do so. For which, Deo gratias!