Homily for the 16th Sunday of the Year


22/23 July

The Wheat and the Tares of the Heart

Chapter 13 of Saint Matthew’s Gospel is an epic chapter of parables, those stories that Our Lord used to teach the people about God’s nature, our own nature and the way of salvation. It includes the parable of the Sower, which we would have heard at Mass last week – the seeds that are sown, some falling on the path, some amongst thorns and some in good soil. Today, continuing the farming parables, Our Lord teaches about the wheat and the weeds, the tares. Unusually, not only does Our Lord teach the parable; he also explains what it means to the Apostles.

The Son of Man ensures that good seed, good men, are present in the world. The Devil, constantly desiring to undermine the good work of God, under the cover of darkness, sends his own agents into the world, too. The harvest is the end of time; those who do the reaping are the angels. The wheat – profitable, holy, good – are gathered to heaven; the weeds are cast to the fire.

Often, this parable is used to teach us that we shouldn’t be scandalised by the existence of evil in the world. It can be used to teach about how it is that God allows evil to exist in the world, under His providential care. Just as God enables men to be saints, some are tempted to act like devils. This is the condition of the world since the Fall. But it is possible that we become a bit too dismissive of evil as a “thing out there” or a “thing other evil people do”; in this, we could become dangerously forgetful of our own capacity to participate with evil, were it not for the grace of God. And so, we could rightly wonder if this raising up of good and evil in the world is not at play in each of us, every day, too?

Within the field of our heart, God has sown a desire for the good; this is ultimately a desire for God, who continues to give us His grace to make this desire fruitful. Not only are we able to nourish it by receiving the outpouring of God’s gifts, as we begged in the Collect – faith, hope, charity – but we can, with God’s help, become a source of good in the world, too. This generosity of God is what the First Reading recognises as God’s universal care for all things, especially us – man, of whom God is mindful, the Psalms remind us.

But within the same heart, damaged by the Fall, and corrupted by original sin, are evil desires – the weeds of desire, we might call them. Our love, which should be directed to God and towards the good, is occasionally disordered, preferring to love that which should be detested, or to love wrongly that which could be loved differently. It was Saint Augustine who described sin as a “disordered love”. We sometimes give our hearts over too easily to things that aren’t worthy of them and, in so doing, we don’t give our hearts enough to those things, those ones, and the One, Who matters most of all. Sometimes, we love in the wrong order, preferring creatures to the Creator; occasionally, we might love the right things, but not love them rightly. In these situations, then, our love becomes disordered – or not ordered in the right priority, with the appropriate intensity or for the proper end of the object that is loved.

What can we love? Saint Augustine considered the objects of love it in terms of direction:

  1. We can love what is above

We should love God, Who is love, above all things. And, in His honour, the spiritual life. This will assist us to purify some upward-leaning aspirations that make us live virtuously, like rightly-directed honour, or some other virtue that is worth developing. But to what end? To the increased love of God, Who has directed our love first to Him. To this love, we give God the first place, orienting all of our affections and desires first to Him. If everything is seen in relation to the love of what is above, our love will be well-ordered. This is not a work that we undertake on our own; our own weakness, even in prayer as the Second Reading reminds us, is perfected and purified by the work of the Holy Spirit, Who draws our hearts closer to God even when we don’t have the words for this encounter with God.

  1. We can love what is in us: ourselves

When our love of self is well-ordered, it reminds us of Our Lord’s command to love, which necessarily includes a love of self. It means seeing ourselves in relation to God and those around us. It can’t become a self-serving love, or something directed to our own needs; here, the love for self would become disordered. Instead of those passing “affirmations” that we hear proposed in self-help trends: “I am beautiful”, “I am worth it”, “I am a princess”, we might want – following a more ordered love – make these affirmations in a spirit of faith: “I am made in God’s image”, “God has called me to participate in His life”, “I have been renewed in baptism, and made a child of God, a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, a coheir with Jesus, a prince of the kingdom”.

When our love for self begins with recognising that we are part of Christ’s Body, and our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit – situating our love within the love of what is above – our love will become better ordered, and point us towards our true end, our goal, which is life with God in heaven.

  1. We can love what is around us: neighbours, nature

We have a Christian duty to care for the poor and for creation. We do this not only because we want to live sustainable lives; we have a far greater purpose for this type of responsible living. Our love for creatures flows out from the love we have for the Creator; it is called to be a properly ordered love of things. With God as our first love, we would not elevate others or creation to the status of God in our lives. We would rightly recognise that other people are fellow pilgrims with us on the way to God, who need our love and care; we recognise creation as something made for us, for our responsible enjoyment, and not something that we idolise, deify, worship or prefer to the One from Whom it comes. We don’t neglect our desire to clean the beach, but we come first to Mass – to make it sound as practical as possible. In this way, our love for the world will have its source in the fruitful love of God, Who wills to remove disorder from our hearts, which are made for Him.

  1. We can love what is beneath us: our body, our lower desires, and even a desire for evil

So often, we get caught up in the lower parts of our nature – hunger, greed, desire – which can take over, and gain a priority it doesn’t deserve. This love of what is base and sometimes banal can so easily be prioritised over our rightly ordered love of nature, others, self and God. Our fallen nature is weak; there is so much temptation to yield to those things that are truly beneath us. But when we do, the disorder grows; the heart becomes more weedy, and we become spiritually ill.

It is Saint Bernard, who considering this love of things below, proposed that we should consider it as an illness. The disordered man is a sick man. And how do we help the sick?

  • We recall that the sick man is not our possession, but the Lord’s and his care is entrusted to us; we have been bought with a great cost – the Precious Blood of the Lord.
  • We refuse what is worthless to the sick man, not allowing him to make himself more ill by indulging in hindrances to his wellbeing. We might reduce his wine and his chocolate; we take away his chance to overexert and tire the body even more.
  • And then we force the sick man to take remedies that might be rejected, since the best medicine always tastes worst.

The good news is that God does not wait until the end of time to remedy the disorder of our hearts. He is generous and comes frequently to our help with a certain remedy; He love us even while we are still sinners, calling us to reject what is evil and embrace only what is good and rightly-ordered.

How will God reorder our hearts?

  • Knowing that God alone, Who is sovereign and strong, showing mercy to sinners, we are called to prioritise again our love for things above, of God;
  • We trust that God wills to save us, to root out, at the proper time, those things which bring about this disorder and to know that He wills to do this frequently before our death and before the end of the world;
  • He does this by drawing us to Himself in the Sacrament of Confession:

there, with the help of the angels and saints, and the merits of Our Lord’s Passion and Our Lady’s participation in it, He strengthens what good He has put in the heart, and takes from it what holds it back, disordering it. He not only offers forgiveness, through the absolution of the priest, but gives us the strength to be truly contrite, to do our penance and to amend our lives.

  • Will we be immune forever? Our weakness likely means we’ll fall into a disorder again; our fallen nature so often does. But God’s love for us raises us up, often, if we turn to Him sincerely. Let’s not neglect to go often to confession.

Once cleansed, God, Who alone can bring order to the heart, brings us to participate, in the perfect sacrifice, which is the Mass – in which His Own Son, the Good Sower, the Grain of Wheat which is crushed for us. He is offered up as a remedy for souls who are once more enlivened by a good confession. The Lord Who heals is the Lord Who feeds, sustaining us by His provident care of all creation, especially creation newly remade in the sacraments of His love.

At the end of time, then, when God will bring order again to the world, where the saints will be exalted and those who prefer evil find the destruction that evil deserves, we can pray that God – Who alone can save the heart – will make us willing participants in His work of love, which is ordered towards our salvation.