Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
9 February 2014
“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...” Col. 3: 12-3
Today’s liturgy highlights the importance of charity in an evil and corrupt world. In the Epistle (Colossians 3:12-17), St. Paul reminds us that “charity is the bond of perfection.” Col. 3:14 If we do not have the virtue of charity, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. In the Gospel (Matthew 13: 24-30), Jesus gives us the parable of the “Wheat and the Cockle” to illustrate in simple language a profound teaching about the existence of evil in the world: “The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way.” Mt. 3:24 From this brief description, we can see how God created all things good, but the devil sowed evil into the hearts of men to cause them to sin. When the man who owns the field is asked by his servants if the cockle should be removed, he says, “No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in time of harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.” Mt. 13:29-30 ) The meaning of the parable is clear: God will allow both good and evil to co-exist in life for a time, but then He will separate the good from the evil and save the good and destroy the evildoers in the fire of hell. What is most important about this parable is that it gives us several reasons for the existence of evil in the world. It also shows how God will always bring good out any evil that men do (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #311); Christians will have the opportunity to practice charity which is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven and with their good example and prayers, Christians may even convert the wicked (cockle).
“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.” Col. 3:16
Dom Prosper Gueranger in his book, The Liturgical Year Vol. 4, comments on the need for living the Christian life, as St. Paul emphasizes in the Epistle, as true followers of Jesus Christ. “The Christian, trained as he has been in the school of the Man-God who deigned to dwell upon this earth, should ever show mercy towards his fellow-men. This world which has been purified by the presence of the Incarnate Word would become an abode of peace, if we were but to live in such manner as to merit the titles, given us by the apostle, of elect of God, holy and beloved. The peace here spoken of should, first of all, fill the heart of every Christian, and give it an uninterrupted joy, which would be ever pouring itself forth in singing the praises of God. But it is mainly on the Sundays, that the faithful, by taking part with the Church in her psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, fulfil this duty so dear to their hearts. Let us, moreover, in our every-day life, practise the advice given us by the apostle, of doing all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that we may, in all things, find favour with our heavenly Father.” Gueranger, p. 95-6
“Charity... the bond of perfection...” Col. 3:14
Fr. Gabriel of St. Magdalen in his book of meditations, Divine Intimacy, reminds us of the practical means in today’s Epistle for us to show charity amidst human suffering and evil: “The Epistle for this Sunday recalls to our mind the fundamental duty of a Christian: charity.... ‘But above all these things,’ St. Paul recommends, ‘have charity, which is the bond of perfection’ (Col. 3: 14 ); not only love for God, but also for our neighbour. .... ‘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, if any have a complaint against another.’ (Col. 3: 12-3).... Consider the perfect love which the Apostle asks us to have for our neighbour: mercy, compassion, mutual forgiveness, and that love which leaves no room for divisions or dissensions, which overcomes strife and forgets offenses. This long-suffering charity which makes every sacrifice and overcomes all difficulties in order to be in harmony with all, because we all form ‘one body’ in Christ, because we are all children of the same heavenly father.” Fr. Gabriel, p. 203-4
Patient endurance of evil
Dom Gueranger comments on the existence of evil in the world and the need to overcome evil with charity in today’s Gospel by patient endurance of suffering and trust in God’s goodness. “The kingdom of heaven, here spoken of by our Lord, is the Church militant, the society of them that believe in Him. And yet, the field He has tilled with so much care is oversown with cockle; heresies have crept in, scandals have abounded; are we, on that account, to have misgiving about the foresight of the Master, who knows all things, and without whose permission nothing happens? Far from us be such a thought! He Himself tells us that these things must needs be. Man has been gifted with free-will; it is for him to choose between good and evil. Heresies, then, like weeds in the field, may spring up in the Church; but the day must come when they will be uprooted; some of them will wither on the parent stems, but the whole cockle shall be gathered into bundles to burn. Where are now the heresies that sprang up in the first ages of the Church? And in another hundred years, what will have become of the heresy, which, under the pretentious name of the ‘reformation,’ has caused incalculable evil? It is the same with scandals which rise up within the pale of the Church; they are a hard trial; but trials must come. The divine Husbandman wills not that this cockle be torn up, lest the wheat should suffer injury. First of all, the mixture of good and bad is an advantage; it teaches the good not to put their hopes in man, but in God. Then, too the mercy of our Lord is so great, that at times the very cockle is converted, by divine grace, into wheat. We must therefore have patience...” Gueranger, p. 97-8.
Charity overcomes evil
Fr. Gabriel also comments on the need for patient understanding of God’s Providence with men: “When God asks us to endure with patience certain situations, as inevitable as they are deplorable, He asks for one of the greatest exercises of charity, compassion, and mercy. He does not tell us to fraternize with evil, to make a league with the cockle, but He tells us to endure it with the longanimity with which He Himself endured it. ... Indeed one of the greatest opportunities for the practice of charity is offered by those who by their evil conduct give us so many opportunities for forgiving them for returning good for evil, and for suffering injustice for the love of God. Moreover, we should consider that, whereby cockle cannot be changed into wheat, it is always possible for the wicked to be converted and become good... When our love is perfect, we are able to live among the wicked without being harsh or contentious, without being influenced by them, but rather doing them good.” Fr. Gabriel, p. 204-5 Didn’t Jesus tell us to be good and love our enemies? “But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you.” Mt. 5:44
Goodness can come from evil
Today’s Epistle and Gospel complement one another in explaining for us the presence of evil in the world. Because God gave man a free will and because men are persuaded by the devil to do evil, we have much evil in the world. God allows the evil so that Christians can practice charity in all its related virtues (“...mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience...” Col. 3:12-13) to convert evildoers and to gain merit in heaven. So great is the reward that Christians will receive for sufferings they will undergo in this life that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount calls them blessed and tells them that their reward will be great in heaven: “Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you, for my sake. Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in heaven; for so did they persecute the prophets who were before you.” Mt. 5:11-2 How great God is that He can bring good from evil as St. Augustine tells us: “For almighty God...because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 311
Why are so many souls depressed and unhappy these days?
St. Maximilian Kolbe explains how to achieve heaven even here on earth.
“In any case, those who on this earth have had a chance to taste in advance a little bit of heaven can get some idea of what it will be like. Now everyone can have this experience. All he needs to do is to go to confession with sincerity, diligence, a deep sorrow for his sins and a firm resolve to amend his life. He will suddenly feel a peace and happiness compared with which all the fleeting, unworthy pleasures of this world are really an odious torment. Let everyone seek to come and receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist with proper preparation. Let him never permit his soul to remain in sin, but let him purify it immediately. Let him do his duty manfully. Let him address humble and frequent prayers to God’s throne, especially through the hand of the Immaculate Virgin. Let him welcome his brethren with a charitable heart, bearing for God’s sake the sufferings and difficulties of life. Let him do good to all, even his enemies, solely for the love of God and not in order to be praised or even thanked by men. Then he will come to understand what it means to have a foretaste of paradise; and perhaps more than once he will find peace and joy even in poverty, suffering, disgrace and illness.”
“…regaining lost joy ...”
Pope John Paul in his Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliation and Penance, 2 December, 1984, 31, III tells us that every contrite Confession “a drawing near to the holiness of God, a rediscovery of one’s true identity, which has been upset and disturbed by sin, a liberation in the very depths of one’s self and thus a regaining of lost joy, the joy of being saved, which the majority of people in our time are no longer capable of experiencing.”