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Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, GA

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, GA

For what is man made? What is the purpose of human existence? These two rather profound questions may seem somewhat removed from the parable we have just heard in today’s gospel, and yet there is a profound truth hidden amongst that familiar story; a truth which reveals as much about the nature of who God is and what our relationship with him should be, as it reveals about who we are and who we are supposed to be.

The world would have us believe that the Christian religion is about pointing out and highlighting our faults, a depressing and ongoing examination of conscience, living with ‘Catholic guilt’. Certainly there is an element of this. We know we are sinners, and we are called to repentance, when necessary confessing our sins to God with true contrition. But this we do, not – as some would have it – as a mere form of self-deprecation, but in order that we might seek and receive the forgiveness of God, and return to the relationship begun with him at the baptismal font. We recognize our faults not so that we can ‘beat ourselves up’ about it, but so that we can receive the mercy of our heavenly Father, and be raised by him to the glory of his eternal presence.

So we ask again: for what is man made? What is the purpose of our human existence? It is this: to live for all time in the presence of Almighty God. It is to return from this world of darkness and sin, this ‘valley of tears’, to the paradise for which we were made; the paradise forfeited by our sin in the Garden of Eden, and restored to us in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary. ‘As in Adam all die’, says Saint Paul, ‘even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22).

And this is why, in today’s short gospel passage, the enemy – the evil one – comes in the night to sow his weeds amidst the good seed of the field. The devil, who seeks to poison and sully the relationship we share with Christ, comes to bring evil and death, but before that – at the heart of who we are – there is already laid down good soil, planted abundantly with good seed. The natural state of the Christian soul, through the grace imbued in holy baptism, the fullness of what it means to be human, is not sinful and dead, but pure and lively. Our ‘default setting’ as Christians is not this world, but the next, and it is there to which are called. It is heaven which is our rightful home. For this reason Saint John Chrysostom comments that this passage reminds us of this important fact: that goodness, and beauty, and truth have primacy in the life of the Christian; a threefold garland whose beginning and end is none other than Christ himself.

This means that our toils and efforts in this life must not be for the things of this world. Living in the sure and certain hope that we are bound for the glory of heaven, it would be foolish to spend ourselves on the finite and temporal goods here below. As the gospel tells us, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven […] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Mt. 6: 19-21).

How does this become a reality in our lives? First, and most importantly, it is here at the altar of the Lord. In the Eucharistic sacrifice we enter fully and really into the worship of heaven. The Church, the mystical Body of Christ with Christ the head, stands before God the Father and offers the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. As Christ offers himself to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, so we enter into that cosmic relationship of self-giving love, the Most Holy Trinity, and even here enter the worship of the heavenly realm. If we want to experience heaven, then it is here in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we first catch a glimpse of the life to which we are called: the life in which we join with the company of angels and saints in the unending hymn: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts’ (Is. 6:3).

Secondly, it is in living not for the things of this world – being tied down to material goods, or money, or the things that lead us to sin – but rather living now as heirs of the kingdom of heaven. If we are united to Christ in baptism, and enter into the mystery of his sacrifice through our worship in the Mass, so we are already one with he who is risen, ascended, and glorified; seated at the right hand of his heavenly Father. The Church, which is present in earth and in heaven, is one in Christ, and so the covenant-relationship in which we participate as baptized Christians, means that we are already living in the eternity he has promised. How do our daily lives reflect this reality? How often do we walk away from this eternal gift, and return to our old ways of sin and death? If we were truly aware of our citizenship of heaven, how could we possibly prefer the things of earth?

So may we be resolved to live with our eyes looking always upward to the glory that is promised to those who are faithful. May we enter more deeply and profoundly into the mystery of the Father’s love in the Mass and in our daily lives. And may the wheat that is sown in our souls through our baptism and incorporation into Christ, not be strangled and overwhelmed by the weeds and thorns of sin, but rather watered by the grace that God showers on us through the sacraments of his holy Church, that we may be gathered into the barn of God’s heavenly kingdom and, with all the righteous, shine like the sun (Mt. 13: 43).