During this month of July, the month of the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus, let us ask of our good Lord to deliver us from all evil! This Sunday is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This weekend I share with you a message regarding true and false doctrine. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
The Cockle of false doctrine - the relevance of the parable of the weeds.
In the Gospel of today’s Holy Mass Our Lord teaches us the parable of the wheat and the cockle. (Mt. 13:24-43) The world is like a field where God is continually sowing the seed of His grace; this Divine Seed takes root in the soul and produces fruits of holiness. Jesus offers us His grace with such wonderful love! For Him each of us is unique, and in order to redeem us He did not hesitate to assume our human nature. He prepared us like good soil and bestowed upon us His saving doctrine. But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeks among the wheat, and went away.
The weed in question - cockle-seed - is a plant that is often found growing in cereal crops in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even to the farmer’s practised eye it is impossible to tell the two plants apart until the stalks begin to mature, at which stage the cockle can be recognized by its slender ear and emaciated grain; it is quite toxic to humans, and if mixed with flour will ruin bread. (cf. F. Prat, Jesus Christ) Sowing cockle among the wheat was a form of revenge not unheard of in those countries. Periodic plagues of cockle were very much feared by the peasants, because they could cause them to lose their entire harvest.
The Fathers of the Church have understood the cockle to be a metaphor for false doctrine (cf. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 47; St. Augustine, in Catena Aurea), which is not easy to distinguish from the Truth, above all at the beginning, because it is proper to the devil to mix falsehood with Truth (St. John Chrysostom, in Catena Aurea); and if error is allowed to flourish it always has catastrophic effects on the people of God.
This parable has lost none of its relevance nowadays: we can see that many Christians have fallen asleep and have allowed the enemy to sow bad seed with total impunity. There is practically no Truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn’t been called into question. We have to be very careful indeed, both with ourselves and with anybody we are responsible for, in the whole area of magazines, television, books and newspapers, all of which can be a real source of false doctrine and which require us to make a special effort to look after our on-going formation in the doctrinal area.
If we are to be faithful to all the requirements of the Christian vocation we have to be constantly watchful and not let ourselves be caught off guard, because once false doctrine manages to take root in the soul it quickly gives rise to sterility and to estrangement from God. We need to be watchful too in the area of our affections, and not fool ourselves with excuses about how at our time of life ‘things don’t affect us’; and we should be careful also about the effect of such false ideas on those whom God has entrusted to our care.
We have to give doctrine by every available means.
Error and ignorance have been the cause of many disasters. The prophet Hosea, on seeing the Chosen People far from the happiness to which they had been called, wrote: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (Hos. 4:6) We too can see great masses of our fellow men steeped in sin and misery, distraught and totally confused because they are bereft of Divine Truth. Many people are carried along by the latest fashions and by ideas dictated by a few very influential individuals, or let themselves be led astray by false logic, almost always with the connivance of their own lower nature.
The enemy of God and of souls makes use of every trick known to man. We hear about news reports being totally distorted, or even about certain major events that never get reported at all. Television series watched by huge audiences night after night portray totally pagan lifestyles, ridiculing chastity and celibacy, promoting the notion that abortion and euthanasia are somehow acceptable, casting doubt on the value of the Sacraments, and in general presenting an idea of life wholly incompatible with Christianity, as if Christ had never come to redeem us and remind us that our homeland is in Heaven. And all this is done with an astonishing energy and persistence. The ‘enemy’ never lets up.
If we want to follow in the Master’s footsteps we can’t stand idly by as if everything were irredeemably lost and as if nothing can be done about it. History is not in any way predetermined, certainly not in the direction of evil, and God has made us free in order that we may direct the world to Him. This is a task for everyone: every single Christian is duty bound to dispel ignorance from men’s minds. And even though some professions have a greater influence than others in public life, all of us can and ought to sow the seed of good doctrine attractively and congenially at every opportunity, in the circle of our family or friends and among our colleagues at work: letting them see for themselves the attractiveness of Truth; being ready to unmask falsehood; getting people to attend formative activities like retreats, circles and spiritual direction; recommending to them good books on doctrinal topics; and inspiring them by our example to behave as good Christians.
Thanks to our steady and unwavering attitude, many people will feel encouraged to tackle this avalanche of false doctrine that pours down around us, and they in turn will become an inspiration for others who are still in darkness. And we will experience the truth of that phrase of Tertullian’s in which he describes the pagan world which rejected Christ: they cease to hate who cease to be ignorant. (Tertullian, Ad Nationes, 1, 1)
We have to take advantage of the thousand and one opportunities we get in daily life to sow the good seed of Christ - when, for example, travelling, or reading a newspaper, or chatting with friends, or attending to our children’s education, or taking part in the activity of a professional association, or voting in an election. Many such opportunities will arise spontaneously, like life itself; and others we will create deliberately, with the help of grace and our native ability, all in the service of Christ: we are His voice in the world.
We have to smother the cockle in good seed, and not miss a single opportunity.
The spread of the cockle can only be countered by an even greater abundance of good doctrine: we have to overcome evil with good (cf. Rom. 12:21), living out our convictions in daily life, which is the essence of naturalness. We are called to seek holiness in the middle of the world, in the fulfillment of ordinary duties; and this requires us to be actively present in the whole range of human experience. It is not enough to bemoan the evils of our time and all their powerful allies, above all at a time when a subtle persecution condemns the Church to die of starvation, putting it outside the sphere of public life, and above all obstructing its part in education, culture and family life. These are not our rights; they are God’s rights. He has entrusted them to us Catholics so that we may exercise them! (J. Escriva, Furrow, 310)
It is time to come out boldly with all the means at our disposal, plentiful or not, and not to waste a single opportunity, as well as telling those friends of ours who have started to follow the Master’s footsteps that He needs them to help many people learn to know and love Him. We can ask ourselves now in our prayer: What can I do - in my family, at work, in school, in the societies or sports clubs which I belong to, with my neighbors - to make Christ really present with His grace and His teaching? What formative activities are most suitable for my particular situation?
Fashions come and go, and through our effort, our optimism, our holy human and supernatural stubbornness, we Christians will manage to change all the things that are steadfastly opposed to Christ’s Doctrine. The First Reading of today’s Holy Mass encourages us to trust in God’s power: You show your strength when men doubt the completeness of your power, and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it. (Wis. 12:17) Nothing is inevitable, everything can be changed, provided there are men and women who love Christ enough and are determined to make their surroundings conform to the will of God. For this we need the help of grace, which is not lacking, and to have each man and woman really to want to be God’s instrument in his or her place in society, and show with their word and example that Christ’s teaching is the only way to bring joy and happiness to the world. That is why you have to… carry your own environment about with you in a natural manner, and so give your own ‘tone’ to the society in which you live. And then, if you have acquired this spirit, I am sure you will tell me with the amazement of the disciples as they contemplated the first-fruits of the miracles being worked at their hands in Christ’s Name: ‘There’s no denying our influence on the environment!’ (J. Escriva, The Way, 376) (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may God grant us the grace to generously and faithfully share the Gospel with others!
In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel
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