The Church: Wheat and Chaff
Repeatedly, too often to sift through again for quotes, The Da Vinci Code takes frequent pot-shots at the Catholic Church, portraying it alternatively as power-hungry, blood-thirsty despots to gullible, ignorant pawns. All of the Catholics in the book are portrayed negatively: The "New Pope" is a liberal who is changing the Church's more stringent doctrines (ironically, since the book was written before Pope John Paul II died, the book is trying to describe Benedict XVI, and failing laughably!).
The Parisienne Captain of the DCPJ, Bezu Fache (whose name is an anagram of Zebu, a type of bull, and the French word for Angry, hence, Angry Bull--must have taken his colleagues a long time to come up with that nickname!) is portrayed as a merciless and unscrupulously Javert-esque detective. Although he turns out to be perhaps the best portrayed Catholic in the book, in the sense that in the end he realises the truth of the murder plot and gets the bad guy, his tactics are never repenteded.
Silas, the albino "monk" of Opus Dei, is portrayed as a murderous fiend, a religious extremist, and an unwitting pawn. His mentor, Bishop Aringarosa, is portrayed as desperate and duplicitous (as are his consorts within the Vatican), who is seeking power to maintain his shaky position.
The nun at St. Sulpice is portrayed heroically as a liberal and modern-thinking Catholic, like the Pope. In all, the "Good Catholics" are portrayed as power-hungry and duplicitous, and the "Bad Catholics", who deny the faith and teachings of the Church, are portrayed as forward-thinking, enlightened heroes.
Moreover, Dan Brown repeatedly dredges up (and makes up) sordid details from Catholicism's past. He claims that Constantine made Jesus God (see last week's article) in order to consolidate the Vatican's power (newsflash, the Vatican didn't exist in Constantine's day! It wasn't built for another 1000-odd years!), and he portrays dissenting heretics as noble martyrs who were persecuted for wanting to choose what the truth was. He claims that the Catholic Church burned 5,000,000 witches, which is insane on two counts: The vast majority of witch trials were done in Protestant Europe, not by Catholics; and the actual numbers, according to most historians, was only around 30,000-50,000 witches. Still a tragic number, but nowhere near five million!
Brown claims that the Crusades were instituted to further destroy heretics, when in fact they were defensive wars attempting to beat back the marauding Muslim invaders. He claims that the Church was fully behind the arrest and burning of the Knights Templar, though it was really the too-powerful French prince, Philip the Fair, who used the weak Pope Clement V. Even then, Pope Clement did much to help the Templars even then. Further, historians have shown that, most likely, the Templars were never heretics, much less guardians of the secret that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene!
All this isn't said in order to say that Dan Brown paints the Church in sinister strokes, while the reality is much more pure and good. No, the Church has always had within it evil, sinful people, who, in the name of the Church or of Religion, have done evil things. In fact, the true history of the Church is dark enough at points to make us wonder why Brown bothered to make up stuff at all!
Knowing, then, that the Church contains evil men, as well as good, and has done evil things as well as good, what are we to do? Decry it as evil and leave for the paganism that Dan Brown espouses? Reject religion for a fluffy spirituality, as even some Christian people advocate?
No! We should not be surprised that there are evil people in the Church! Jesus Himself told us that there would be:
He put another parable before them, 'The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, then the darnel appeared as well. The owner's labourers went to him and said, "Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?" He said to them, "Some enemy has done this." And the labourers said, "Do you want us to go and weed it out?" But he said, "No, because when you weed out the darnel, you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn"'(Matthew 13:24-30).Jesus is telling us that it is neither our job to rid the Church of those that are evil, nor to leave on account of the evil. As a pastor once remarked, "There's no such thing as a perfect church. But if you happen to find one, don't go there, because you'll only mess it up." What he was saying is that none of us are perfect, but we, in all of our imperfections, make up this Church. In fact, if the Church here and now was perfect, there would be no place for us. The Church, whose mission is to offer Grace and Forgiveness to sinners, would not be able to do so until those sinners no longer needed Grace or Forgiveness!
So how do we respond to a Church that even in this day and age, is riddled with a clergy sex-abuse scandal, and other failings? St. Augustine said it well:
Stay close to the faithful who are good. Because there are, sad to say, believers who are evil. There are some who are called believers, though they are not. There are believers who abuse the sacraments of Christ, people who live in such a way that they themselves perish while they destroy others. They perish from their evil way of living; they destroy others by the example of their wicked lives. Do not join them, dearly beloved. Seek the good; cling to the good; be good.Here is our answer! Here is our duty! Seek the good; cling to the good; be good.
Don't be surprised at the multitude of bad Christians who fill the church, who go up to the altar for Communion, who make a big deal of praising the bishop or priest when he speaks about good morals. Such people fulfil the prediction made by our shepherd in the psalm: "Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be numbered" (Ps 40:5). They can be with us in the Church of this time, but, after the resurrection, they will be unable to remain in the congregation of saints. The Church of this time has good mixed with bad. It is like a threshing floor, where grain is mixed with chaff, good members mixed together with evil. But, after the judgement, it will have all good members, without the evil. This threshing floor holds the harvest planted by the apostles and watered in turn by good teachers down to the present time. It has been threshed a bit by the persecution of enemies; now only the final winnowing remains to be done. And indeed He is coming, of whom you have repeated in the creed: "He will come to judge the living and the dead." As the Gospel says: "His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:17).
...May the grain rejoice with trembling, and remain, and not leave the threshing floor. May you never try, by your own judgement, to free yourself from the chaff; for you cannot remain on the threshing floor if you seek to separate yourself now from the chaff. What's more, when Christ comes--He Who judges without error--He will not raise to the granary anything He has not found on the threshing floor. And those grains that have left the threshing floor will boast in vain about where they came from. The granary will be filled and closed. Fire will consume whatever is left outside.
So, brothers and sisters, those who are good must put up with evil. Those who are bad must imitate the good. On this threshing floor, grain can rot into chaff, and grain can rise up from the chaff. Such changes take place every day, my brothers and sisters. This life is full of humiliations and consolations. Every day, seemingly good people do wrong and die; yet seemingly evil people are converted and live. For God takes no "pleasure in the death of the wicked," but only "that he should turn from his way and live" (Ezek 18:23).
Listen to me, grains of wheat! Listen, you who are what I wish you to be! Don't be saddened by the mixture with chaff. The evil ones will not be with you forever. How heavy, after all, is that pile of husks? It is light, thank God! We must only remain as grains, and then, however heavy it gets, it will not crush us. "God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10:13). (From Sermon 223. Quoted in Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians, ch. 33, edited by Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina.)