Thursday, July 24, 2008

Are we weeds or are we wheat?

In 1982, Pope John Paul the Great canonized St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe. St. Maximilian was born in 1894 in a Russian town named Zduńska Wola. He eventually crossed the Russian border into modern day Poland in order to be ordained a priest for the Franciscan order. He seems to be a very good student and preacher, eventually becoming a superior for the order and founding several monasteries, including one in Nagasaki, Japan that, not only survived the Atomic bomb attack in 1945, but exists to this day. St. Maximilian got into some trouble, however, during World War II when it was discovered that he was sheltering Polish Jews and using his radio station to preach against Nazi atrocities. In the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, when ten men were ordered to be starved to death, St. Maximilian stepped forward and offered his life in place of another man who had a wife and children. Before his death, St. Maximilian led his fellow starving prisoners in songs and prayers and, after three weeks without water or food, his Nazi captors murdered him with an injection of carbolic acid. The man he replaced, Franciszek Gajowniczek, not only lived to see his wife and hear of the death of his sons, but also lived tell the tale of the heroism of St. Maximilian Kolbe to the world.

One would think that the canonization of such a great man would be unquestioned. Yet, there were reporters in this country that unearthed statements by St. Maximilian in a 1939 article in which Fr. Kolbe referred to "international Zionism" as the guiding hand behind the "criminal mafia" of Masonry, which in turn was stoking the fires of "atheistic Communism." According to the reporters who unearthed this, it proof that John Paul was acting incorrectly by calling this man a saint. The Vatican’s response was to release 1500 pages of Fr. Kolbe’s writings to show that only 31 of them even refer to Jews and most of those references were what you might call “missionary zeal” for the conversion of people to the faith. This, along with Fr. Kolbe’s zealous protection of up to 2000 Jews during the war seemed to indicate that he was a truly holy man, not a rabid anti-semite.

Stories like St. Maximilian’s and Blessed Pope Pius XII remind me of one thing: we are truly blessed that, in eternity, we are judged by God not by people. We hear this sentiment also in our readings today. From the first reading’s insistence that, despite the fact that God has no reason to be patient with us, he nonetheless is to the gospel’s understanding of the God who patiently waits to clear and burn the weeds while the wheat work to differentiate ourselves so as to be reaped with joy, we hear this message of the leniency of God over and over again. God gives us time to confess our sins, to repent, and to prove to him, what we are really made of. Life is less like a sprint than it is a long-distance endeavor. We don’t just find a moment in time when we can declare ourselves saved, regardless of what our fundamentalist brothers and sisters say. God’s judgment of the status of our soul comes after we have lived our life and shown whether we intend to live as weed or wheat.

If we intend on living as wheat, it doesn’t mean we won’t experience the fire, however. While the weeds will be uselessly burned up, let us remember that it took wheat to make the bread that the Israelites took into the desert. It takes wheat to make the bread, the body of Christ, that we will soon eat. We are the members of the body of Christ. Just as Maximilian Kolbe suffered but somehow found a way to still be joyful when he did so, so we must reflect the light of Christ even in the midst of difficult situations. This is one way that we show the hope that is part of being a member of the body of Christ: when we maintain hope in the most frustrating situations. We may be surrounded by weeds in this world, the friends, family, and coworkers that sow weeds of intolerance, lewdness, pornography, impure language, and other such immorality, we must not give in but, instead, live the wheat life and inspire others to do so as well.

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