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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 23, 2017

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By Deacon Jeff Mevissen

I love the parable of the weeds and the wheat because if God is all-powerful and all-loving, then how can we explain evil in the world?  “It is the work of the enemy,” we can say.  If good and evil coexist, however, until Jesus returns in glory; we must learn to avoid evil and embrace good. St. Ignatius of Loyola called this “discernment of spirits.”  St. Ignatius advises us to spend a moment at the end of each day to thank God for his many gifts.  Then we sort through our experiences to sense what impulses were from the evil one and which impulses were from the Holy Spirit.  For example, if I agree to lead a new project, is it for my ego or for the glory of God?  Most of our activities are a mixture of self-interest and generosity but St. Ignatius calls us to purify our intentions.  Jesuits signed their papers, AMDG: ad majorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God.)


Jesus cautions us not to pull up the weeds or we may uproot the wheat.  This means if we combat evil with violence, sometimes the innocent are harmed.  Resisting evil by nonviolent means is not the same as being passive.  St. Paul says, do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)


In Matthew 6:39, Jesus says, “When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other.”  The only way a right-handed person can strike you on the right cheek is by a back-hand.  This slap is dismissive and contemptuous.  Jesus is telling us to stand firm and make the aggressor strike you on the left cheek as a sign that we will not be dismissed but will resist their violence.

The film, Hidden Figures, is the story of three black women working for NASA at the space flight center in Langley, Virginia in 1961.  These are brilliant women but they are constrained by the racial segregation of that era.  In one scene, the director of the center finds that Katherine Johnson, his best mathematician, spends 40 minutes to use the segregated restroom on the other side of the campus.  Al Harrison understands how foolish it is that segregation is hampering his mission to calculate trajectories for human space flight. He bans segregated bathrooms on campus declaring, “at NASA we all pee the same color.”


Mary Jackson wants to become a certified engineer but needs to take a university extension course at the all-white high school.  Ms. Jackson gains a court date and makes a personal appeal to the judge.  At first the judge upholds the law that prohibits people of color from attending the high school.  Then Ms. Jackson appeals to the pride of the judge.  “Your honor, do wish to be known for how you handled routine cases, or for be known for allowing a black woman to become a NASA engineer through the white high school?  Mary Jackson was granted permission to attend night classes at the high school.


Dorothy Vaughan taught Fortran Programming Language to the black women in her computing division at NASA.  Then, when there was no one to operate the IBM mainframe computer purchased by NASA, the women were ready to fill these positions.  This shows how these women overcame prejudice not by violence but by clever persistence.  They were not conquered by evil but conquered evil with good.


Mahatma Gandhi resisted English domination with nonviolent resistance: once he said,

For the cause of independence, I am prepared to die but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. We will attack no one, kill no one but we will resist unjust laws. We will not strike a blow but we will receive them. And through our pain we will make them see their injustice. And it will hurt as all fighting hurts. They may torture my body, break my bones, and even kill me: Then they will have my dead body but not my submission.

My dear brothers and sisters, as we encounter evil in the world may we recognize it by  discernment of spirits and conquer evil with good.