How are we to respond when we see evil in the world? I’ve heard from a good number of people in recent years who have more or less fallen into despair at the state of the world and the state of the Church. They think the church and the bishops need to take a more aggressive stance - to preach more forcefully and to “take action” to root out the evil in the world, the culture, and the church. One example I’ve heard more than once: “Why do the bishops let President Biden and Nancy Pelosi receive Holy Communion? Why don’t they say anything? The bishops must think that it is OK.” (For those who don’t know, Biden and Pelosi profess to be devout Catholics and at the same time actively and publicly promote access to abortion and support other agenda items contrary to the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of marriage and the family. If someone publicly promotes or supports a position that is opposed to church teaching or publicly lives in a way that is not in harmony with the teaching of the church, e.g., they are living with someone outside of a sacramental marriage, that person should not present himself or herself for Holy Communion. Why? Because they are not “in communion” with the Church. That is what receiving Holy Communion signifies.) Most recently, one of my friends is upset about Pope Francis’ appointment of Archbishop Fernandez of Argentina to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is the same office which Cardinal Ratzinger held under Pope John Paul II. This office has traditionally been the “watchdog” to to protect the purity of Church teaching on matters of faith and morals. It would also issue clarifications when questions would arise regarding the interpretation or application of church teaching and handle the “discipline” of theologians who “push the envelope” too far in their writings and end up in a heretical position - promoting something contrary or opposed to church teaching. This office under John Paul II and then Pope Benedict also judged the most serious cases of sexual abuse and lead the way toward reforming the way the church dealt with issues of abuse. Not surprisingly, Pope Francis has chosen someone to head this office who shares his vision on doctrinal and pastoral matters. Of course, this appointment has those who put themselves in the conservative or traditionalist camps (and see themselves as the arbiters of orthodoxy) supremely worried. Pope Francis, they claim, continues to lead the Church into greater turmoil and confusion. My friend wrote to me, with the subject line, “Giving up!” saying, “priests and bishops are silent as we get more and more sickened… who is caring for our eternal life?”While I am not here to defend the decisions of the Pope and certain bishops or to excuse or to minimize in any way or to deny the presence of corruption and even evil in the Church, I cannot think of a better way to respond to these and similar concerns that good people have about the state of the world and the state of the church than with what we hear in the readings this Sunday, especially the Gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat. The parable makes clear that in its present stage in this life, the kingdom of heaven is composed of the good and the bad. The wheat and the weeds are to grow together until the harvest, that is the “end of the age.” The parable is a warning to the disciples not to anticipate the final judgment and try to separate the wheat from the weeds. “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” The master in the parable is aware of where the weeds came from and is not too concerned at this attempt at sabotage. He is not concerned that the weeds will impair the growth of the wheat. “Let them grow together.” We are not helping and may even be hurting the growth of the seed of the children of the kingdom (our own spiritual growth and the growth of others) if we take matters into our own hands, anticipate the judgement, and try to purge the world of evil. How can that be? Two reasons: In the parable, the weed that is referenced is a specific plant named darnel that is a poisonous weed that resembles wheat in its first stages of growth. One can’t tell the difference until the fruit appears - until just before the harvest time. By that point, the roots of the weeds have entangled themselves among the roots of the wheat. One cannot be uprooted without likely uprooting the other. Evil mimics the good and presents itself as a false good. It is often hard to tell them apart initially. Evil is also like a corruption that infects what is good. It is a lack or a deprivation of what is good or a twisting of what is good. It is not something that can easily be separated from the good. Think of your own heart. There is good and bad in all of us. No one is pure evil or pure good. We all have mixed motives in our choices and decisions in this life. We are not, thanks be to God, hard-wired. We are works in progress. We have the possibility, through our freedom, of change and growth and conversion. The presence of evil and the struggle against evil can be something that becomes a means for our conversion. God can work good out of evil. (That never gives us the permission to do evil or to ignore evil or to use evil as a means to a good end). Think of St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” - an evil that the Lord permitted in his life - an irritant or poison that the Lord would not take away despite Paul’s prayers. The Lord’s response to Paul’s complaint: “Is not my grace sufficient for you?” The Lord was inviting Paul to trust in and to rely more on God’s grace, not thinking that he had to remove every thorn for God’s plan to come to fulfillment. The thorn was there for Paul’s conversion. In his commentary this week on this Gospel, Bishop Barron referred to the removal of sin as a “delicate surgery” that sometimes can only be done by the divine physician. We can do great damage to the body of the church when we attempt to do surgery with a hacksaw and cannot see what is happening under the surface - how things are much more entangled and complex than we can see. Even if we can identify clearly the evil that has sprouted up, it is presumptuous for us to think that we have a cure that itself may not be worse or do more damage than the disease. It is easy for us “on the sidelines” to judge and to criticize. But where the spiritual upheaval takes place is not by what happens in Rome, but when we lose sight of what we are responsible for and forget that God is in control and that the kingdom comes to fulfillment in ways that we can’t see and can’t anticipate. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It starts small. It looks insignificant but produces and unexpectedly big effect. The yeast too is almost imperceptible, but generates a great effect. Before the end of the age - the time of harvest, we cannot see how the great effect will come to fruition. God still cares for us when we can’t see the good and when it appears that evil is flourishing. We hear in the first reading from Wisdom, “your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.” Leniency - lack of action or an absence of a show of God’s power - does not mean that God is not in control. “In those who know you, you rebuke temerity.” What is temerity? Temerity is an excessive confidence or boldness often arising from rashness and a contempt of danger or opposition. In the face of danger or opposition, don’t act rashly or presume you know the best course of action. It leads to reckless behavior. Wisdom says of the Lord, “for power, whenever you will, attends you.” If God thought it necessary to act with power, he would. Jesus assures us in the explanation of the parable of the weeds in the field that all who cause others to sin and all evildoers will be thrown into the fiery furnace at harvest time. Until that time, there will be sinful people in the world who lead others to sin. Part of the strategy of the evil one is to upset us and to distract us and to get us to doubt that the Lord cares for us and to get us to doubt that all is in God’s hands. We are neither to ignore the evil in the world or be obsessed with it, or take God’s judgment into our own hands - that’s not our job. We can grow despite the evil and even thrive in a world sown with weeds. God is more powerful than evil and comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we ought (do we really know what to ask for to “fix” the problem?). May we trust in the good seed that the Lord has sown in our hearts and ask for the Spirit to come because he intercedes for us according to God’s will. May God bless you!