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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Wailing & Grinding of Teeth

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Matthew 8:11-12 – “I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

We should not presume that just because we are Catholics in the true Church that we are necessarily saved and all others are damned.

It is true that the Church is the great sacrament of saving encounter with Christ. However, there are too many Sunday saints who are weekday devils. Many have compromised the faith. Most Catholics fail to keep the precepts of the Church and rarely go to Mass. They pray when they want something but rarely offer prayers of praise, thanksgiving and contrition. They are formed more by the world than by the Gospel. As for those who attend Mass, yesterday on the celebration of Christ the King, I asked, “Do you belong to Christ as a member of his royal family and kingdom or are you owned by the world?” The values of the kingdom make believers into living signs of contradiction to the world. This is why so many are listed as martyrs of the pagan Roman Empire. Jesus tells his disciples that they must love those who hate them, forgive those who hurt them, and give to those who steal from them. (Rome thought the Christians were insane and dangerous for a military kingdom that preferred the fear of enemies over mercy.) The proclamation of the Gospel still makes the world nervous. The Church speaks for the dignity and rights of immigrants, even those so desperate that they cross our borders without authorization. The Church speaks for the sanctity of life for children from conception to birth; and yet there are so-called Catholics who rejoice over the legalization of murdering children ready to be born. The Church speaks for the stewardship of a planet that gives honor to the Creator and against any short-term exploitation that will have lasting dire consequences. The Church speaks for the poor and their advancement and value even when so many of their so-called champions secretly look down upon them and promote dependency. There are Catholics on both sides of the divide but it is more than differences of opinion or just partisan politics— to which kingdom do we really belong? One is affiliated with the communion of the saints in heaven. The other belongs to the “outer darkness.”

Luke 13:24-30 – “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Some seem to suppose that pretty much everyone will be invited into heaven.

There is way too much presumption about salvation. Given that I am more stout or rotund than two men put together, I have often joked that I seek to make as many friends among the saints as possible. Why? So that when I find myself at the narrow door I will have friends pulling me from within and pushing me from behind. Maybe that will be my purgatory? The narrow door is likened to the gate into Jerusalem known as the Eye of the Needle. It is low and narrow so that even the camels have to enter on their knees. That is the secret that Jesus tries to get across. What would be impossible can be made possible by the favor of God. The man rich in the world but spiritually bankrupt will have trouble entering the narrow door. What might save such men is a posture of genuine humility and sorrow for sin. I am reminded of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:8-14). The Pharisee lacks humility and takes self-righteous delight in his standing and virtue as compared to the tax collector who honestly acknowledges his sinfulness and beseeches God for forgiveness. Given the recent scandals, I have to wonder that even church leaders will stand before the Lord and hear those most terrible words, “I tell you, I do not know you.” St. Pope John Paul II speculated about an invisible church. Not denying the unique salvific value of the Catholic Church, God can save whom he wills and he knows human hearts. When it comes to social and moral efforts as with helping the poor and promoting the sanctity of life, we have many coworkers outside the Catholic Church. Indeed, Catholics who take their discipleship seriously are often surprised to find kindred spirits who love Jesus in other denominations while many fellow Catholics live as if there be no God.

Matthew 13:40-43 – “Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Are we wheat or weeds?  What have we planted in others?

The Lord gives us a powerful apocalyptic vision. I have imagined the sky opening up and angels bursting forth each waving a sickle to harvest souls. Every one of us needs to reflect upon his or her life and standing before God. Are we wheat or are we weeds? The wheat is food and has value. Do we feed others with our very selves in imitation of Christ who joins with to us and makes himself our saving food? We are commissioned to share the faith so that others might come to the table of the Eucharist. The Lord feeds us with his Word and sacrament. Discipleship means not only making sacrifices or giving up things; we must surrender something of ourselves. As churches announce in fiscal campaigns, we are called to give “time, talent and treasure.” We work with others for the common good. Jesus is the bread of life and grace will transform us into what we receive— the mystical body of Christ, a saving bread for others. The parable of the wheat and the weeds comes to mind (Matthew 13:24-30). An enemy plants weeds among the farmer’s wheat. Given that pulling out the one would hurt the other, the weeds and the wheat are permitted to grow together. When harvest time comes, they will be sorted and the weeds will be tied into bundles and burned. The wheat will be placed into the barn. The wheat or the righteous will have a lasting place in the kingdom. The weeds or the damned will know judgment and fire. Weeds are good for nothing. St. Augustine speaks about this as two cities living one within the other. As to which city we belong will not be disclosed until the harvest.

Notice that the weeds are likened to those “who cause others to sin and all evildoers.” There are many people today who enable or encourage the sins of others. They step back and say things like, “who am I to judge” when we should give voice to the commandments of God. (Each of us needs to judge right and wrong in conscience as informed by the commandments of God and the teaching Church.  However, we leave the ultimate judgment of individual souls to almighty God.) How many times have we heard people say that they were “personally opposed” to abortion or accepted Church teaching against “homosexual acts” but did not want to “impose” their faith and values upon others? Many couples cohabitate without marriage and many others live in irregular unions (adulterous relationships or same-sex bonds) and we either turn a blind eye or “accompany them” through life as if this is normative or pleasing in the eyes of God. (“Accompaniment” in its true sense means assisting brothers and sisters to walk in the way of Christ, sharing the truth about right and wrong and giving good witness.  It does not mean a passive tolerance for sin and/or silence when others need to hear the saving Word.) The righteous or holy person would be understood as those who do good works and inspire others to do so as well. The righteous will “shine like the sun.” This might be another hint that the fire that destroys the weeds will leave the wheat unharmed. As with the burning bush, we will be imbued with the fire of the divine presence but will not be harmed.

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