You will never find the perfect parish

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Or workplace, or family — because weeds and wheat grow side-by-side in all of us

During a Lenten mission at my home parish of St. Andrew in Sumner, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica told us about the first-century Christians who faced persecution under the Emperor Nero. Many of those who abandoned the faith rationalized quitting by finding fault with the church or other Christians: “If all this is true, why isn’t the priest a more admirable person? Why are there so many hypocrites in the church if it really is the body of Christ?” They abandoned something that could make them good and holy because it had flaws.

The people who stuck it out could see the flaws in the humanity of the church while knowing that God was working through these imperfect instruments. They had confidence that Jesus, Son of God though fully human, didn’t just work with his immaculate mother. He deliberately chose to do his work through flawed people like Peter, Mary Magdalene and Paul.

The parable of the field

Father Rosica explained that we should not be surprised by this. In the Gospel of Matthew, immediately after the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the parable of the field, which describes how this world is like a field where weeds and wheat grow next to one another. One cannot be had without the other. Only after the harvest can they be sorted out. On this side of heaven, we don’t get priests, parishioners, buildings, families or friends without flaws.

Jesus didn’t walk around every day with brilliant white robes and face shining as in the Transfiguration. He was human. He lived in first-century Israel. On many days, his robes would be dirty and he might look like a shepherd who spent the whole day in the fields. His ordinariness would tempt observers to dismiss his words and works: “He thinks he is the Messiah? He doesn’t look like the Messiah. I am not going to waste my time.” Those who dismissed him this way would have missed a life-changing encounter.

Like the persecutors of the ancient church, our adversary would like us to be scandalized by weeds in among the wheat in the field that is the world. He would prefer that we look closely to find the flaws in a particular priest or parish and use those flaws as excuses not to go to Mass. He is quite content with our agreeing in principle to go to church, as long as we keep excusing ourselves from actually going because we think our particular parish isn’t good enough. If he can keep us looking for a parish with no flaws, he will keep us away from church until our Lord returns. As Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima used to say when he served as a priest in our archdiocese, there are two types of parishes — those that admit that they have serious problems, and those that lie.

Don’t despair over frustrations

The same thing applies to our workplaces. Unless we are working with robots or mannequins, our coworkers will find ways to annoy us and the system at our place of work will need reform. We must never let those things that annoy or frustrate us deceive us into believing that we cannot serve God by doing good work in an imperfect workplace.

It is even more important that we understand this in our homes. Family life brings warm embraces and deep affection. It also brings frustration, disappointment and annoyance. There are no weeds in our family. Everyone is wheat, loved by God and beautiful. However, there are weeds in every human heart. Where there are people living in close proximity, there will be conflict. As Pope Francis said in his recent apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love, families argue and “sometimes the plates fly.”

We must never listen to the devil, who wants us to believe that the ordinary conflicts and frustrations of life are an excuse to despair of working things out with those we love. We must never be tricked into thinking that a family with flaws and problems cannot be good and holy. Instead, we need the same kind of perseverance exercised by faithful Christians throughout history who have been patient with the existence of weeds among the wheat, remembering our Savior’s counsel: “The field is the world.”

Northwest Catholic - June 2018

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at eric.paige@seattlearch.org.