Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wheat and Chaff

Reading these days from my volume of English translations of sermons by St. Augustine, I have marveled more than once at how he puts together his Easter homilies. His encouraging words for the newly baptized are counterbalanced by sharp licks and punches to those members of the faith community (seemingly not few) who remained in their sin, who had not taken the path of Lenten conversion, penance and repentance. I’m trying to imagine myself in the pulpit saying the equivalent, “Oh, and folks, choose wisely those with whom you associate here in the parish: give the hypocrites, who are little more than adulterers and fornicators, a wide berth.” Maybe if you are St. Augustine or carry his kind of stature you can punch that hard, but the Western world of our day is firmly entrenched in its accommodations of the Gospel, be it adultery, fornication, artificial birth control, abortion, euthanasia, promiscuity of all other sorts claiming constitutional guarantees and respectability, and on and on. A priest who preached like St. Augustine today would probably find himself reported to the bishop and maybe even transferred for his lack of pastoral sensitivity. A bishop after the heart of the great Western Father of the Church would have to endure vociferous attacks and, no doubt, slander. 

St. Augustine is right of course and this Second Sunday of Lent in the Second Reading for Holy Mass comes to my rescue not so much for offering a viable homily outline of what and how to say to rouse the faithful of all sorts, both to encourage, to correct and reprove error, as for a confirmation of this perspective which is apostolic and ever valid and as such enlightened the great bishop of Hippo in his preaching and teaching. Thank you, St. Paul!  

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the savior we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe. So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.
 (Philippians 3:17-4:1)

Hold steadfast! Make wise choices! Submit to Christ! 

No small number of journalists, reporters, bloggers and other authorities in our mediatocracy are having a field day discrediting and muckraking these days. They are far from doing what St. Augustine did in his Easter homilies, namely speak the truth of Jesus Himself, which has two moments. 1) The wheat and the chaff are to be separated, but for now are both there on the threshing floor, that the weeds and the wheat, by His Will, will grow together until the harvest. 2) That our duty to run the race and keep the faith involves choices of friendship and association. St. Paul says it just as clearly: "Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us."

While it would be folly to close out entirely the information of these days propagated on scandal sheets and electronically or to think that with some kind of crusade on our part or on the part of someone higher up in office that that threshing floor could be tidied up and the grain stored for eternity and secure as of the day after tomorrow, even so, make good choices on what you read and seek to build up rather than to tear down. 

By the same token, if a priest or a bishop after the manner of St. Augustine brings down the hammer and calls a spade a spade, support him, or as the case may be, look more closely and see whether you don't need to change your ways by turning from sin. After all, it is Lent.


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