Prudence, Wheat, and Weeds

Prudence, Wheat, and Weeds

Patience is not necessarily tolerance. Tolerance is not necessarily love. I tolerate all sorts of things for different reasons. I tolerate snow because there’s nothing I can do about it (except maybe move to Arizona, but then I’d have a lot more tolerating to do). I tolerate traffic and long lines for the same reason. Because I’m powerless over those things. I tolerate uninformed opinions because I’ve learned that uninformed opinions aren’t uninformed by accident. We all have a tendency to start with conclusions and ignore evidence to the contrary. Besides that, who wants to argue constantly? I mean besides me. Tolerance is often necessary for the sake of peace and getting along. But tolerance is misguided when it is divorced from a much deeper and fuller virtue: Prudence.

Prudence is a virtue that gives us the ability to recognize what is to be pursued and what should be avoided. In the Catholic sense, prudence allows us to discern what is good and what is evil—we should pursue the good and be fiercely intolerant of evil. And there’s more to prudence than simply knowing what is good and what is evil. Prudence also advises the course we need to take in pursuit of good and avoidance of evil. We can’t do evil in pursuit of good, and we shouldn’t take actions which generate evil in pursuit of good. Even if the goal is good, we cannot cause suffering greater than the good to achieve the goal. It might be easier to see this in a concrete example.

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to own and operate an alpaca farm. And anyone who knows anything about alpaca husbandry understands that the greatest threat to a successful farm is alpaca thieves. My farm will come equipped with high voltage fences strong enough to kill any potential thief on the spot. Of course, the fence could also harm alpacas and innocent human beings, but it’s worth it because I have the good and noble goal of preventing alpaca pilfering.

It sounds goofy (I mean the defense system and not my lifelong dream), but it’s not so over-the-top. Consider actions like the War on Drugs. Think about how much suffering and violence came from the imprudent pursuit of a good and noble goal. We do it in our own lives too. Look at the absolute breakdown in civil discourse over issues of faith, morals, and politics. How many friendships have broken due to disagreement? How many families hold a grudging peace at best and, at worst, outright division over similar disagreements? But are we supposed to then simply say, “You have your opinion, I have mine. Let’s agree to disagree since there’s no way of knowing who’s right?” Well, no. There’s another way.

Jesus presents the other way in a parable. A farmer sowed wheat, but in the night his enemy came and sowed weeds. When both begin to grow the servants suggest pulling the weeds. But the farmer prudently tells them not to, because that would kill the wheat as well. Wait until the harvest and then have the harvesters pull the weeds to be burned and gather the wheat into the barn. Jesus goes on the explain the meaning, which He doesn’t always do. Whenever He explains the meaning I think the parable must be particularly important. The field is the world, this life. The wheat are the children of His Kingdom and the weeds are the children of the evil one—Satan. The harvesters are the angels, sent by Christ at the end of time to separate wheat from weed. What does this mean practically speaking? Separating people into two camps, good and evil, isn’t our job. Being children of the Kingdom is our job.

What does being children of the Kingdom mean in light of this Sunday’s readings? First, we have to understand that the weeds don’t represent evil people. There are no evil people. Thoughts, actions, attitudes, beliefs, biases, words—all of these can be evil. But a human person, made in the image of God, cannot. They can be under the influence of evil forces, but that makes them victims of the enemy, not the enemy themselves.

Second, make sure you are wheat. Be prudent. Before you decide whose actions are good and whose are evil, make sure you yourself know the difference and live it in your own life. I’ve been a weed at times, and I’ve been wheat at others. By grace, through prayer, scripture, and, above all, the Sacraments, I work with Christ to be wheat.

Third, we can’t make the mistake of thinking that patience and prudence (seen as tolerance) are a tacit acceptance of evil. If we love others as we should, we would be as intolerant of evil within them as we would cancer within them. We wouldn’t want a little cancer, but would want every trace of it eradicated. The same goes for evil. But it is unwise and imprudent to take an unmerciful approach and wield truth like a sledgehammer. This hinders love.

Finally, do we just sit around and disparage the weeds around us, waiting for the end of the age when we will finally be separated? No, that’s not loving, not prudent, and it’s very weed-like. We hope for conversion and show how to be children of the Kingdom by our joyful example. Above all, we pray. Nature cannot change weeds into wheat, but grace can. For nothing is impossible with God.

“Brothers and sisters:

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;

for we do not know how to pray as we ought,

but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

And the one who searches hearts

knows what is the intention of the Spirit,

because he intercedes for the holy ones

according to God’s will.”

                                    -Romans 8:26-27


When Christmas isn’t What You Expected

When Christmas isn’t What You Expected

Three children. God is good and we were truly blessed. First God gave us Ronan, then Caleb and now a new child would change our life forever (again). And if the miracle of it all weren’t plainly obvious already the baby’s due date underscored what a gift we had been given: December 24th. We were obviously going to need a Christmas themed name. Maybe Noelle for a girl? Or Holly? After two boys we were fairly certain this third child would be a girl. We both liked the name Gabriella in honor of the angel Gabriel.

Just shy of 12 weeks into the pregnancy we learned that we had lost the baby. As our expectations for the future were dashed, the decade old wounds from Ronan’s death reopened, wounds which I thought were fairly well healed. My prayer life shrank. Mostly it shrank down to just one word: Why? If I had my way I would be waking up this Christmas morning to embrace my 10 year old son, his 16 month old brother and their newborn sibling. Jesus, why can’t I have that? I know that my ways are not his ways.   The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.  I have to trust Him.

Trust can be a bitter pill to swallow. This is especially so when our expectations aren’t met. This season can be one of such wonder, excitement and joy. But the season of light can also painfully illuminate those areas of our lives that fall short of our expectations. For so many the joy of Christmas will be accompanied by the sorrow of empty chairs, illness, addiction, divorce, discord with loved ones, financial hardship—the list seems endless. What does God say in answer to our collective why? He asks us to trust Him. To trust that in all things, even the worst things, He is working for the good of those who love Him.

Christmas is all about defied expectations. A young virgin is pregnant and her soon to be husband is not the biological father. The long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people was expected to be a mighty king like David, not a poor, temporarily homeless child born in a stable. And yet this little baby is the rival to King Herod and Caesar Augustus. The Sovereign King of the Universe was tiny, naked, cold and crying in His teen mother’s arms. The only witnesses to the arrival of the Author of Life in our midst are Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, and a few animals. Yet his birth points toward our salvation and gives hints of how it will come about. The manger isn’t a special crib for babies but a place to put food for us, the sheep.  Myrrh is an embalming oil for the dead, not a children’s toy. We hear the story so often we forget how astounding and unexpected it all is. One of the most remarkable things for me is Mary and Joseph’s trust in the Father’s plan of loving goodness. They had no way of knowing then that their difficult circumstances were part of an unfolding plan of cosmic proportion that would ultimately end on the day when their own Son would wipe away the tears from every eye. They simply trusted.

This Christmas will not be what you or I had expected it to be. But with the eyes of faith we can see, despite appearances to the contrary, that our Father still has a plan for us and that plan is ultimately for our good—for a future filled with hope. Our God is with us to save us. Jesus I trust in you. Merry Christmas.

In Jesus and Mary,