If ever I were asked to pick a theme for the Christian religion on the whole, I believe that theme would have to be God’s great clemency and forbearance in dealing with humanity. Another way of saying it is that in God there is complete amnesty.
Actually, I was asked recently to make a presentation on the topic of God for a class on Catholic teachings. The presentation was to take a couple hours. Regardless of the many possible things there were to say, I never seemed to be able to move too far from the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation.
My question at the presentation, and for us tonight, is whether there can really be true forgiveness without reconciliation. However, you need not fear. I don’t plan to take two hours with this homily, and actually I want to take it in a slightly different direction.
While it is important to consider that forgiveness without reconciliation, without a true mending of ways, is somewhat empty, the greater consideration has to do with how we actualize God’s clemency in our world today through our deeds, attitudes, and beliefs. Our being the agents of God in how we live—what we say and do—is indeed the litmus test of who we really are. We should not forget, as today’s gospel reminds us, that weeds have been sown among the wheat. Part of what we do each day, the way we treat others, even what we stand for or against, decides whether we are children of light or of darkness.
Every moment of every day provides opportunities to be like God. I know, being godlike ranks pretty high in aspirations of spirituality. However, that is exactly what living a life of righteousness entails. Still, there is something important, often missed, that needs to be pointed out to all of us, and I include myself. There’s often confusion about what being godlike looks like. We tend often to overlook the amnesty, lenience, mercy, and kindness that are the true aspects of God, and instead we go somehow to judgment as our model.
Too often our piety becomes a judgmental and halting hand, rather than a welcoming and reconciling embrace. Too often real need gets ignored because of lofty principles, at least as such in our esteem, that we feel we need to protect. The failure to be like God also lives out in the lives of us who are too quick to go to the letter of the law while giving no regard to the spirit of it, and rather than standing among those who were sown as good seed, we find ourselves fooled, duped, often by nothing more than irrational fear. We have frequently and without intention, unawares, and perhaps even out of a desire to preserve the strict sense of our religious purity or national identity, become the weeds growing among the wheat of the harvest.
Nevertheless, at any moment when we realize that our lives reveal more judgment than clemency, we may still say, “I repent of what I have become. I turn my back on my failure to be an agent of kindness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.” Said in sincerity with the intention to do what is good, this counts for much.
The tone of the gospel today, more than warning us of the weeds among the harvest, warns us to be sure beyond a doubt that we have not been somehow tricked, even by our own willful complacency, into being the weeds sown among God’s harvest. Always we are mindful that we may at any time in our lives present ourselves to the God who allows repentance.
Our role is always to be those who hold the branches of peace, forbearance, and clemency in our hands. We must learn not to count the cost involved in reconciliation. We must learn to take a risk and live somewhat dangerously. We must learn to be forgivers who intend reconciliation as part of forgiveness. We must not say, “I forgive but I will never forget.” Still, with that said, it is not that we are ever to forget great evil that has been done. Much to the contrary, we must always be on guard against real evil.
Recently I went on vacation to Washington, DC and New York City. While in Washington I had the opportunity to visit to the National Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum visit was a good reminder of the need for guarding against evil, or in other words, of being certain that similar evil does not occur again. While there, the words “Never Again” took on a fresh meaning to me.
A good example has to do with how we react—both in action and attitude—to those who come to this nation to escape the dangers of crime and injustice, or most often just to make a better life for themselves. While in DC at the Holocaust Museum I learned about the voyage of the MS St. Louis in 1939. During the time of the Nazi occupation about a thousand Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis sought asylum in the US, but once here they were turned back to Europe on account of strict immigration quotas. Many of those aboard the St. Louis perished in the death camps.
Being godlike means standing up not to allow something similar to happen again. What would we say to the passengers of the St. Louis today? Would we tell them that we cannot admit everyone? Would we mumble that our nation will be overrun by foreigners? Would we fear crime and violence on our streets?
As people of God, we cannot allow evil to triumph—great or small. Never should we be hard of heart, legalistic, or driven by ideologies of any kind that stand against the basic truth of goodness toward human beings in need. I recently heard that another word for tough love—in case that holds some appeal—is soft hate. Never should we be guilty of hate of any kind, and always we should be wise to its appearance as something else, something acceptable or good. Part of the lesson of the weeds among wheat is that evil loves to masquerade as good. Never should we refuse to do what is really good when that good can be done, and always we should be willing to unmask evil.
We all hold the ability to do miracles, and our single act of clemency, one act of acceptance, one single embrace, may be the miracle that someone needs at the time. At every moment we must look to the light and aspire to be saints, even better, to be angels in the lives of others. We hear a lot about fear, but we should keep in mind that the opposite of fear is courage. Do we want to be known as a cowardly people of fear, or as a great people of courage?
In being the people of God, the wheat among tares, we must learn to hear the groaning of the Spirit; of that which calls out to the Most High from the depths of basic human need. We must learn to give and forgive, to welcome and to heal, and offer our open arms without expectation of return. Our goal as the people of God is to rise to greatness; it is to live as a people of royal righteousness—a righteousness and courage that imitates God: a righteousness that cannot separate forgiveness from the acts of reconciliation. It begins with our prayer, our deepest personal prayer, for our own reconciliation.