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There is a God, and we are not him

A Reflection for Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.

There’s a wonderful scene in the movie “Rudy” that brings the parable in today’s Gospel to life. Rudy Ruettiger, a young man of small stature from a working-class family in Joliet, Ill., dreams of playing football for his beloved University of Notre Dame. With no money or academic prospects, he manages to get into nearby Holy Cross College, where he studies relentlessly in the hopes of being accepted as a transfer student to Notre Dame. After receiving multiple rejection letters, a distraught Rudy finds himself in the basilica on campus, where he bumps into retired university president, Fr. John Cavanaugh. A conversation ensues.

“Maybe I haven’t prayed enough,” says Rudy while looking upward beyond the sanctuary.

“I’m sure that’s not the problem,” replies Fr. Cavanaugh. “Praying is something we do in our time. The answers come in God’s time.”

“Have I done everything I possibly can? Can you help me?” pleads Rudy desperately.

We live in a church today where many Catholics spend their discipleship proactively “weeding out” certain people. As far as I know, there is no scriptural basis or magisterial commission for this practice.

Fr. Cavanaugh takes a deep breath and says, “Son, in 35 years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts. There is a God, and I’m not him.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus likens the kingdom to a field where wheat and weeds grow so closely together that the weeds can’t be removed without damaging the wheat. Only at the end of the age (the final judgment) will the Son of Man, as Jesus referred to himself, separate them accordingly.

Whenever I hear or read this passage, two thoughts cross my mind. First, this is serious stuff. Allegorical parables like this one can’t hide the fact that Jesus believes in a very real final judgment of human beings. If I want to be a Christian, I can’t dismiss that. Second, that final judgment will not happen the way I imagine it. That is, my personal judgment of wheat and weeds will have no bearing whatsoever.

We live in a church today where many Catholics spend their discipleship proactively “weeding out” certain people. As far as I know, there is no scriptural basis or magisterial commission for this practice. To the contrary, Jesus says quite clearly that the Kingdom has both wheat and weeds, and that no one should attempt to separate them–probably because what we think is a “weed” could be “wheat” to God. But many Catholics seem to love doing it anyway.

Often when we pray with Scripture or read a reflection like this, we’re looking for spiritual advice or insight. But when it comes to the most important things—our love of God and neighbor—Fr. Cavanaugh’s humble admittance can be enough for us to help build the kingdom a little more today: There is a God, and we are not him.

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