On Tuesday, Ballarat’s Courier published an article about St Columba’s Parish in Ballarat North.
Hundreds of parishioners were surveyed. Almost half had no objection to homosexual behaviour and supported gay marriage. An overwhelming majority supported IVF and favoured divorce and remarriage without annulment.
I bet this article resonates with every one of us. We all struggle with the “hard sayings” of Christ and his Church. That’s why they’re called “hard sayings.” The parable of the wheat and the darnel addresses this.
Darnel is a common weed in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even the farmer’s practiced eye cannot distinguish it until the stalks begin to mature. Darnel is toxic to humans, and if mixed with wheat flour, it will ruin bread.
Many Church Fathers understand the darnel to be a metaphor for false doctrine, which is not easy to distinguish from the truth, especially at the beginning. But when error is allowed to flourish, it has catastrophic effects on the people of God.
We can see how relevant this parable is today. While Christians have slept, the enemy has sown bad seed with impunity. There’s practically no truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn’t been undermined.
The Courier quoted a parish spokesman, whose words are a good mix of wheat and darnel. Consider this quote from the article:
I’ve always found the Catholic Church to be a rather broad umbrella in which a multitude of views are contained. It seems to me that some non-Catholic commentators see Catholics as unthinking automatons, blindly following decrees from the top. I don’t think it’s ever been like that, to be honest. People have always made up their own minds, and continue to do so.
The Church is a broad umbrella. Catholic means, “here comes everybody.” And Catholics can’t be unthinking automatons. Blind servility offends God. He gave us reason, and He gave us freedom, and we honour God when we exercise these gifts.
But, as Catholics we are also obliged to assent to our Lord’s teachings, and the teachings of his Church. St Peter is our model in this. When Jesus insisted we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life, many of his disciples left him. It was a moment of crisis in our Lord’s public ministry.
He turned to the apostles, who were probably as bewildered as everyone else. Maybe even scandalised. “What about you?” he said to them. “Do you want to go away too?”
Peter spoke for the Twelve. He speaks for us too. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
This is our model of assent. Blind servility, no. Humble faith, yes. When we struggle with one teaching or another, we can’t accept it without thinking, but nor are we free to discard it. We must grapple with it. Pray with it. Ask for Peter’s faith.
Here’s something else the parishioner said:
A lot of people, as we become more educated, are accepting of the modern realities of life. It’s not enough to say “you’ve done this wrong and we don’t agree.” It’s about how we continue to include people who are part of our family or part of the Church … not cutting them off because of their sexuality or decisions.
How true. Isn’t that the crux of our Lord’s parable?
When you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest.
Even while we insist on the truth of our faith, and reject false doctrine, we never write people off, or abandon relationships. We must keep open the channels of grace. It’s not our task to weed out the darnel. Occasionally, it is the task of the Church to “isolate” parts of the crop.
Pope Francis did this last year, when he excommunicated an Australian priest who defiantly celebrated public Mass when his faculties were withdrawn, and repeatedly endorsed gay marriage and the ordination of women. He isolated another part of the crop last month, when he declared members of the mafia were excommunicated.
Excommunication isn’t a nice business, but this act of quarantine takes seriously the second part of today’s Gospel:
At harvest time I shall say to the reapers: ‘First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.’
Darnel ruins bread and false doctrine ruins souls, so we must be judicious. Where is the darnel in my own heart and mind?