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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:24-43
These parables have been a rock of hope for me as a mother and teacher. I feel like I put so much time and effort into carefully forming my children and students in the faith only to be discouraged by the worldly attitudes that apparently pop up overnight like the weeds in Jesus’ first parable. Like the servants I exclaim with surprise, Lord did we not sow good seed in your field, where have the weeds come from? One day we’re listening to Christian music in the car, and the next the kids are streaming explicit rap music on Spotify. Whereas before the kids couldn’t wait to read bible stories together, suddenly, they start dragging their feet and complaining. The values of prayer, service, and modesty now seem to be riddled with competing values of constant activity and entertainment – from sports to social media to video games, the goal of making lots of money, and popular clothing styles that degrade their God-given dignity.
For most people these weeds pop up as they near middle school and intensify in high school. Developmentally, kids sense their need to become independent and separate from mom and dad. Unfortunately, the culture they reach out to for acceptance is riddled with weeds of atheism, hedonism, consumerism, a degraded definition of personhood, and individualism. The less Christian our culture has become, and the more virulently anti-Christian it has grown to be, the more it feels like our contribution as formators (whether as parents, teachers, aunts & uncles, youth ministers, counselors etc.) is as small as a mustard seed in comparison.
When I feel this surprise and frustration I’m encouraged by Jesus’ lack of surprise and calm confidence. Jesus expected the weeds. He knows they didn’t come from us (well, maybe some of them – none of us are perfect yet!). He advises us to persevere with confidence because the mustard seed of our work, the hidden leaven of our efforts toward their formation, will grow with supernatural grace. In the end, Christ will be victorious, and the weeds will be separated out and tossed aside. As St. Paul declared to the Philippians:
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6
St. Monica (331 AD – 387 AD) and St. Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) provide the perfect example of this. St. Monica raised Augustine Catholic and prayed for him and her pagan husband diligently. Nevertheless, as Augustine got older, his experience at school and within the culture rooted weeds of pride and vain ambition. He abandoned the Catholic faith altogether deeming it unintelligent and unappealing. Instead he pursued the spiritual in a cult called Manichaeism and worked toward advancing his career as a rhetorician in Rome.
Monica, left behind at their home in North Africa, cried torrents of tears for her son’s conversion. At the time Augustine spent his workday developing a rich lifestyle, and his free time partying and living with a woman he wasn’t married to. Nevertheless, Monica persevered. When Augustine had still lived in North Africa, she had endeavored to connect him with any priest or bishop she could find who would be willing to speak with him about the faith and try to convince him of the errors of Manichaeism. When Augustine ran away from home (he snuck out on a boat for Rome and only told his mother after the fact) she increased her prayer and sacrifice. Augustine credits his mother’s sacrificial prayers for his eventual conversion.
Augustine would eventually be intrigued and persuaded by the preaching of a bishop, but it would be St. Ambrose in Milan. Ambrose’s teaching was a turning point and God continued to lead Augustine toward the truth. He eventually saw the errors in Manichaeism and the falsehoods at its foundation. He also encountered stories of lives of the saints as well as the example of the conversion of one of his colleagues, both of which stung at his conscience to convert as well. Eventually he made the turn, was baptized, and lived a reformed life becoming a bishop and one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church.
After pulling the weeds in Augustine, God harvested all that intelligence, passion, and skill for the building up of His kingdom. At the end of Monica’s life she even had a beautiful mystical experience in prayer together with Augustine.
Afterward, she expressed to Augustine the feeling St. Paul did in Philippians, that God had brought to completion the good work He had entrusted to her. Moved by her love and faith, her husband had been baptized before his death. Once her son was secured in Christ, she felt at rest and died shortly after.
St. Augustine’s youth resembles that of our own youth today. Even though his Confessions (the book he wrote about his conversion) was written in the 5th century, it resembles our own age in a remarkable way. We can take heart, as Monica did, that God’s work won’t go unharvested and to persevere in prayer and sacrifice.
It reminds me of the classic scenario where a child has one parent who only promises what he or she can deliver on and provides for the seemingly small but daily sacrifices the child needs, while the other parent neglects the daily work and present needs but compensates with big promises that they never keep. At the time, the big talker overshadows the real gifts the child is receiving. However, in time, the truth gets revealed and the value of those real gifts outshines the shadow of the imagined gifts.
The Truth is true. Eventually, the world’s false promises come up empty and Christ’s promises prove real. Hopefully some of our kids and loved ones will trust in Christ and resist the weeds to begin with, and they will experience the peace of Christ permeate their life early on. Some of our loved ones will be more lured by the weeds and may experiment with the glamour of the worldly values. Yet, even this may lead them back to Christ as they begin to feel the anxiety and degradation that it produces.
For your part, keep on planting good seed. Keep praying, teaching, role modeling, and working on your own conversion. Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) did just that, and shortly after her death her atheist husband became Catholic, and later a Dominican priest! In her journal, Elisabeth wrote,
“Whatever suffering this [isolation of faith] entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me. Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.”
She was right. Like St. Monica, God blessed her tears and sacrifice with a rich harvest of the seeds she had planted and the leaven of her charity. Jesus said that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Elisabeth’s husband Felix testified to this saying of her life, especially in her final years as she was bedridden from illness:
She did indeed uplift all who surrounded or approached her, and it was a strange thing to see this woman, so modest, so humble of heart, condemned to practical immobility, shedding around her far and wide the light of her great influence.
One friend of theirs (also an atheist) said of Elizabeth after her death:
Some beings are a light toward which all turn who need light to live by!
The culture may feel louder and stronger but persevere. Have hope in Christ and battle for your loved ones with prayer, sacrifice, and kindness. We already know the winning side and it’s Christ!
- How have you planted seeds of faith in others? How might you continue to do that in similar or new ways?
- How can you add leaven to the dough through Christian acts of love? What are common situations in your daily life that offer opportunities for patience, gentleness, strength, or forgiveness?
- Who has planted seeds of faith in you? Consider how they have grown over time and with age and experience.
- What weeds of worldliness are growing alongside the wheat in you?
- What are the present challenges against the faith in your family and friendships? How might you entrust them to Christ and battle with prayers and sacrifices?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- When confronted with frustration this week, turn to Christ with a prayer (such as Philippians 1:6), or battle by praying a rosary (St. Padre Pio called it his weapon because of its power against Satan and for conversion of souls), or asking the prayers of the guardian angels or a favorite saint.
- Read about the lives of St. Augustine and St. Monica.
- If you know someone who has made it to the other side of a struggle you are currently in, reach out to them and listen to their story to gain greater hope.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019