24th Sunday after Pentecost (5th after Epiphany transferred)
At the end of the second book of Maccabees which we read throughout the month of October, Judas Maccabeus is favoured with a vision of a man distinguished by his white hair and dignity, and with an air of wondrous and majestic authority. “This is a man who loves his fellow Jews and fervently prays for the people and the holy city – the prophet of God, Jeremiah”. Jeremiah then presents a gold sword to Judas saying, “Accept this holy sword as a gift from God; with it you shall shatter your adversaries” (2 Macc 15).
This apparition of the prophet Jeremiah is very significant, for he it was whom the Lord sent to prophecy the fall of Jerusalem and the 70-year captivity in Babylon. Jeremiah is often called the “prophet of doom”, because he foretells many dire events. Throughout his prophecy, Jeremiah continually warns of impending trials if the people do not convert, but at the same time, he tells us the wonderful things God has in store for those who come back and seek Him.
I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction, to give you an end and patience. And you shall call upon me, and you shall go, and you shall pray to me, and I will hear you. You shall seek me, and shall find me, when you shall seek me with all your heart. And I will be found by you, saith the Lord: and I will bring back your captivity, and I will gather you out of all nations, and from all the places to which I have driven you out, saith the Lord: and I will bring you back from the place to which I caused you to be carried away captive (Jer 29:11-14).
Why is all this so important for us? Because it’s our story too. In spite of so many blessings received, we allow our hearts to grow cold, we distance ourselves from Him, we leave God no option but to chasten us. When God chastens, it is always with a view to healing, to making whole again.
In today’s Gospel, we are told that the evil in the world is the work of the Enemy. God sows good, He does good. The evil there comes from God’s enemy, and we become complicit with it. Why goes God allow the tares to grow beside the wheat? There are two main reasons. The first is that evil-doers serve the purpose of working for God in sanctifying the elect. Indeed, if they were not there to try us, we would have hardly any opportunities for practicing virtue. The second reason is that God wants to save them too, and He allows them to grow side by side with His servants so that they may have a chance of conversion.
St Augustine points out that the enemy’s sowing is done by night, while the guardians of the field are asleep, and he says this is symbolic of what happens in the Church when its shepherds are not vigilant. When that occurs, error and vice penetrate into the flock; the tares take over the wheat. When we look back over the last few decades, we cannot fail to be dismayed by the way error has been allowed free passage in the Church. It all began when it was decided we had entered a new era in which it was no longer necessary to correct and condemn errors, for, so it was said, truth convinces by the force of its own power. It’s odd that none of the Fathers, Doctors or Saints of the Church prior to that time had understood that. It would have saved them a lot of time and effort. We must now face the reality: the Enemy has sown so many seeds of error, vice and division, that at the moment we are surrounded on every side by the bitter fruits of that naive surrender to the spirit of the age, which is certainly not the Spirit of God. So what are we to do?
First of all, like Jeremiah, we must be clear and unremitting in our call to repentance. He gave a sword to Judas Maccabeus, that sword which is the symbol of the truth that penetrates minds and hearts. We must never tire of using that sword, even if it leads to being persecuted. Our society is on the brink of enormous catastrophes, and it would be a dereliction of duty to not warn them. Let them say we are prophets of doom. Perhaps they will say to us as the Jews said to Jeremiah: Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced against us all this great evil? what is our iniquity? and what is our sin, that we have sinned against the Lord our God? Thou shalt say to them: Because your fathers forsook me, saith the Lord: and went after strange gods, and served them, and adored them: and they forsook me, and kept not my law. And you also have done worse than your fathers: for behold every one of you walketh after the perverseness of his evil heart, so as not to hearken to me. So I will cast you forth out of this land, into a land which you know not, nor your fathers: and there you shall serve strange gods day and night, which shall not give you any rest (Jer 16:10-13)
As for us, we remember that the prophet of doom is also the prophet of the restoration for those who return to the Lord with all their heart and abandon their sin: I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee. And I will build thee again, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy timbrels, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry (Jer 31:3-4).
And all the while, we must be generous and constant to implement St Paul’s program in today’s epistle. If the tares grow side by side with the wheat, if we cannot leave this world just yet to go and be with the Lord, then in the midst of a perverse generation we must live our Christian life to perfection:
Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: Bearing with one another and forgiving one another… Even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly: in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col 3:12-17).
That is our program, and hat is what pleases the Heart of God and His Holy Mother. Let us turn to her more than ever and beg for the grace to be worthy to stand with her at the foot of the cross, certain of the impending resurrection and restoration of all things.