August 11, 2017


Saving both the wheat and the weeds

“Far too often, we are being confronted with an ‘either/or’ mentality. We must dare to counter the growing polarization, division and radical individualism that breed fear, distrust, hatred, indifference, prejudice, selfishness, despair, violence and radical ideology. Our role as people of faith—I especially hold myself accountable as bishop—is to be willing to stand in the breach of the divide, drawing people back from the ledges of extremism in self-indulgence and self-righteousness by serving as bridges of unity, ambassadors of hope and instruments of peace.”
(Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, July 28 installation homily)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson has shared his vision with us: It’s the way the Catholic Church views reality. In his installation homily he called it “the Catholic both/and.”

In its simplest terms, the “Catholic both/and” insists on seeing reality in multidimensional terms as opposed to what Archbishop Thompson calls “an either/or mentality.”

Truth is not limited to extremes (black or white, right or left). This is not to say that truth is relative—whatever anyone thinks (or feels). But it does mean that we must look closely, and consider alternative points of view before we declare infallibly that the way we see things is the only possible way.

Pope Francis has been pressing this point throughout his pontificate. His oft‑quoted response to reporter’s question about the Vatican’s so-called “gay lobby” was a refusal to be reduced to a rigid either/or perspective on an issue that requires great pastoral sensitivity. Here is what Pope Francis actually said:

“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, ‘these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.’ ”

As Archbishop Thompson says, the Church offers both sound doctrine and caring pastoral initiatives in response to complex moral issues. Pope Francis’s question, “Who am I to judge?” was jarring precisely because it did not treat a deeply human issue in a superficial way. This is the “Catholic both/and” which insists on seeing the whole of reality, not just cartoon versions of the truth.

Jesus affirms this perspective in his parable of the good wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43), which Pope Francis says illustrates the problem of evil in the world and highlights God’s patience. The narrative takes place in a field with two antagonists. On one side is the master of the field, who represents God and who sows good seed; on the other is the enemy, who represents Satan and scatters weeds.

As time passes, Pope Francis observes, the weeds grow among the wheat, and the master and his servants express different opinions regarding this fact. The servants would like to intervene and uproot the weeds; but the master, who is concerned above all with saving the wheat, is against this, saying: “No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Mt 13:29).

With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them and eradicate all evil. God alone can do this, and he will do so at the Last Judgment. With its ambiguities and its composite character, the present situation is the field of freedom, the field of Christian freedom, in which the difficult exercise of discernment is made between good and evil.

“How much patience God has!” the pope exclaims. He saves both the wheat and the weeds because what he cares most about is saving every one of us regardless of how many weeds are intertwined in our sinful hearts.

As Pope Francis says, “This field then, involves reconciling, with great trust in God and in his providence, two seemingly contradictory approaches: decision and patience.” Once again, we have “the Catholic both/and,” both decision and patience.

As the pope explains: “Decision is that of wanting to be good wheat—we all want this—with all our might, and thus keeping away from the evil one and his seduction. Patience means preferring a Church that acts as leaven in the dough, that is unafraid to sully her hands washing her children’s clothes, rather than a Church of ‘purists’ who presume to judge ahead of time who will be in the Kingdom of God and who will not.”

Our role is not to judge. That’s God’s responsibility. Our role is to receive the good seeds that God scatters among us and to nurture and grow them even among the weeds of life.

Let’s pray for the grace to see reality with the eyes of Jesus, and to embrace “the Catholic both/and” as our vision of the world.

—Daniel Conway

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