Pastoral Reflections

Pastoral Reflections for Sunday, July 23, 2017

Have you ever formed a poor opinion of someone and discovered later that you were wrong? Have you ever assessed someone badly and discovered later that your assessment was incorrect? Anytime we form opinions about others we need to be aware that we may not have the full picture and so we may not be fair in our conclusions.

The weeds or darnel that some enemy sowed among the wheat in the parable taught by Jesus, looked very much like the wheat in their early growth so that it was really impossible to decide properly, which was the wheat and which the weed. Aren’t we blessed that God has the bigger picture and is not confined by our puny judgments? Furthermore, thankfully God is much more merciful and patient than we are.

One historical person who appeared to be darnel in many ways but became the best of wheat was John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. He was born in Dardilly, near Lyons, France in 1786. He became a most famous Parish Priest in his lifetime in France. He was and is known as the Curé of Ars. He was known as the dunce of his class in school and found it very difficult to learn Latin. In 1812 he went to the preparatory seminary at Verrières, and promptly performed at the bottom of his class of 200, due to his poor Latin scores. Back then, as it was during my time in the seminary, being conversant in Latin was a prerequisite for graduation and ordination. In an endeavor to give Vianney the benefit of the doubt, the seminary faculty examined his knowledge base via his native tongue, French. The results were likewise dismal, as his overall performance was still at the bottom of the class. His theology studies went so badly at the seminary at Lyons, that he was asked to leave school after only five months of attendance. After that he was tutored in theology privately in French and was eventually ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1815. Three years later he was appointed to a parish located in the city of Ars, France.

Soon thereafter, reports of his piety and holiness spread and people started coming from many of the surrounding parishes to hear him speak. By 1855 there was a daily service of two horse drawn buses between Lyons and Ars, and two other buses met the Paris train at Villefranche. As there were so many pilgrims, the railway station in Lyons even dedicated a special ticket office for people going to Ars. People from all over France came to John Vianney to experience confession, as his insights and caring nature became renowned. So the one who appeared to be darnel at the outset, turned out to be the finest wheat and was later so sought after by the faithful, that even special public transport and ticket offices had to be created to facilitate the massive crowds seeking him out.

Vianney was so good at saving souls that even the devil got into the act. He tormented Vianney daily, by writing threatening messages on his walls and at one point, set his bed on fire in an attempt to kill him.

Sometimes people ask me about Jesus’ teaching, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” (Matt 7:1) If we are tempted to judge others negatively I would suggest two things: First, think of the love God has for all of us. Even if we cannot physically see the love of God for or in others right now, I encourage the understanding that Jesus offered his life for anyone, who is willing to receive him. If we find ourselves succumbing to forming negative opinions of others we should not allow those negative opinions to interfere in how we treat them.

In the parable today, Jesus advised not to pull up the weeds before the harvest, that is, not to let our opinions interfere with how we treat others. When the master’s slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ The master replied, ‘No, for if you pull up the weeds now you might also uproot the wheat along with them.’ (Matt 13:28-29)

In this parable Jesus asks us not to play God and judge people but to defer judgment to God. God is much more merciful and patient than we are. It would be better for us to concentrate on removing the darnel from our lives than judging others because of their darnel. Jesus’ teaching recorded in Matthew 7: 3-4, is helpful to recall in that regard. Jesus is quoted as saying, ‘Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?

What are you doing to remove the darnel from your life? Living a spiritual life is the best way to remove the darnel from our lives. For example, rather than judging why a person may elect to avoid going to Mass, it may be more fruitful to examine our own attitudes while we are at Mass. Are we praying the Mass faithfully? Or are we daydreaming and simply going through the motions?

What are you doing to remove the darnel from your life? When you are ill you go to your doctor who gives you a prescription. When you have darnel in your life you need a spiritual prescription. The spiritual prescription I give is as follows, pray as much as possible every day. Read the Bible every day. If you are new to reading the Bible regularly begin with the Gospels, perhaps Luke or John. Attend Mass regularly and receive the Eucharist. Examine your conscience routinely and ask God’s forgiveness for any and all failings. In such an experience we receive not just forgiveness for our sins but grace to live the Christian life.

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