In Anglo-Saxon lore the great mead-hall of Herot, the palace of the noble King Hrothgar, has fallen unto disarray and ruin. Joyful laughter and rousing songs have ceased, as the demon-beast Grendel nightly stalks the land. Under cover of darkness the monster lurks, the gilded halls are dimmed by his destruction, and a deathly pallor has settled over all.
King Hrothgar’s misery at his kingdom’s demise “leaps the seas,” and is heard by the great warrior Beowulf, who, in true heroic fashion, arrives to face down Grendel and rescue this beleaguered kingdom. Cognizant of the cunning tactics of the enemy and unwilling to compromise with evil, Beowulf lies upon a bunk to await the fight, alert and aware, a “wakeful sleeper” at the ready. When Grendel attacks, Beowulf’s pure and noble strength prevails, thrusting the demon back to the depths of Hell, never to menace the Kingdom again.
Such vigilance is how the heroes of old protected their realms.
Do we, who guard the Church and her patrimony, a greater good than any upon the earth, watch thus attentively? Are we, in our blessed and prosperous land, at the ready to discover the enemy lurking in his work, and challenge his encroachment on all we hold good and holy? Or have we been sleeping the slumber of the unaware, the unconcerned, the neglectful, or the fearful?
If a devout Catholic from former times re-awoke in the Church today, he would find a disorientating and disturbing scene. A change has come upon the palace. A deathly pallor has set in. The sacraments lie dormant, the courtyards overgrown, the fruits of the Councils overrun with thorns, and the fountains of the Spirit choked with weeds. Has time alone produced this effect, or are more nefarious forces at work?
Our Lord Himself foretold how this would happen.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ identifies the work of darkness which takes root when the forces of good drift off to sleep. The insidious overgrowth, He tells us, is not merely the result of passive neglect, but of an intentional sowing of subversive seed.
“The Kingdom of Heaven,” Christ explains, “is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.” (Matthew 13:24-25)
While everyone was sleeping.
“When the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also,” Our Lord continues. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.” (Matthew 13:26-28)
An enemy did this.
While everyone was sleeping, the enemy was lurking. While the Church slept, the enemy sowed dissent and disarray. The key to the enemy’s success, in fact, is our somnolent slumber, allowing his devious dealings, unhindered and uncontested, to overrun the castle.
So, what happens?
In the world at large, we see and fear the spreading weeds. We see our cities burning, youth embracing violence, public discourse drowned out by shouting mobs. Cathedrals across Europe burn and the once-vibrant halls of faith are overcome with a deathly pallor. A demon-beast, it seems, has stalked us into submission.
So, what do we do?
We run to Our Lord, and alert Him to the overwhelming growth of the weeds. How do we deal with this intrusion of error? Raze the field? Plant it anew? We cry out in anguish, with the servants in the parable, “’Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’” (Matthew 13:28)
Stunningly, He presents a different stratagem: “’No,’ he answers, ‘because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow until the harvest.” (Mt 13:29-30)
In journalism and media and academics, the wheat is threatened by many noxious weeds.
We focus on the weeds, while He cares fiercely for the wheat. We cannot be dismayed, distracted, or paralyzed by the presence of the nefarious nettles. We must focus on the harvest, which, as Christ tells us “is plenty, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
In education, in catechesis, in vocational cultivation, the wheat requires our care. In the pro-life cause, fruits are ripening. Precious seeds of Christian life, to be watered and protected, cling to the soil of the Middle East, and emerge in the hidden fields of China. In our urban centers, children wanting to go to school and come home to a family at night, are alive and must be nurtured. In our churches, pastors plant the Word, nourish with the Eucharist, water through Confession, and ask the Lord to bring the fruit. It all matters, desperately.
And every mission field, small or large, must be tended with the tenacity of Beowulf the brave. Unforeseen threats of pestilence, of flooding, of drought, and of intrusion are constant. The weeds spring up relentlessly, testing our mettle to persevere. And finally, in the reaping, mature judgment is essential.
“At that time,” Our Lord declares, “I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)
Darkness prevails only until the morning light. In His own good time, His dawn is coming, “In the tender compassion of Our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79) Awakened to our task, alive with joyful courage, perseverant in faith through the terror of the night, we will heed the King’s command, and gather the promised harvest in all of its abundance into the fullness of His Heavenly Storehouse.
*Image: The Enemy Who Sows (L’Ennemi qui sème) by J.J. Tissot [Brooklyn Museum]