The Baptismal Call to Bear Fruit
In Today’s passage from Luke we can see the point of being good in our Christian faith. It is not about us getting to Heaven, it is about getting others to Heaven. The writers of the New American Bible, Revised Edition, which is the version of the Bible we read at Mass point out that the early Christians were called prophets.
As in the case of the Old Testament prophets, there were both true and false ones, and . . . the difference could be recognized by the quality of their deeds, the fruits (Mt 7:16). The mention of fruits leads to the comparison with trees, some producing good fruit, others bad.
The point of being good or bad is about your witness to others of the truth of Christ. The reason why we live a moral life is because an immoral life leads us away from the fullness of Christ and it undermines our witness as Christians. So, living a moral life is also one of the ways we testify to Christ, when we live an immoral life then who will believe us about Christ?
Remember our mission is always the salvation of souls and we live our witness so that we may lead others to know Christ and be saved. In Earthly terms, there is a lot a stake if our witness is silenced.
One of the most powerful words that has dogged our Church for the past seventeen years has been “The Bishops have lost their moral voice.” This is because of the abuse crisis. The assumption is that if the bishops have lost their moral voice then if we listen to them, we are listening to hypocrites. Therefore, say these people, there is no reason to listen to them. If they are speaking about something with which the world around them disagrees, their voice can easily be dismissed. There is a lot at stake in silencing the voice of the bishops. This is why the crisis is so intense, it is also why it is so focused on the Catholics, exclusively.
Jesus says, our sins undermine our witness.
Our pursuit of virtue leads us to see Christ more clearly and grow more in divine wisdom. We are to bear much fruit by pursuing holiness through prayer, the sacraments and the fostering of virtue. This strengthens our witness.
This is the reason why the pursuit of holiness through fostering virtue is so important but not just for the bishops but for all because the call to be prophets for Christ comes not at ordination, but baptism. Therefore, you receive the same call the ordained do. That is the meaning of the priesthood of the laity.
When we pursue holiness, we become prophetic voices for the salvation of souls. So, even though one may be the most learned scripture scholar in the universe and know everything there is to know about every word that came from the mouth of Jesus, if he or she does not pursue holiness, his or her words have no backing, they are just words.
However, if you seek to live the Gospel to pursue holiness so that you may draw closer to Christ and grow in divine wisdom, even though you may have only a second-grade education, you still have the calling and ability to be a prophet of God.
The way for us to lead others to salvation is the pursuit of holiness through prayer, lectio divina, the fostering of virtue and putting all this in action.
We draw people to the road to salvation when we walk that road as well, not when we are walking around and telling others they are going to Hell. Our role is to live a holy life as witness to the truth of the Gospel It is not our role to scream at people, bonk them over the head and tell them they are going to Hell.
The media will tell you that unlike what Jesus teaches, the Church teaches that your role is to pay, pray and obey and you must fight against it. That has never been your role. Let me give you an example.
Let us take a lay person, how about a woman and let us decide that she must pay, pray and obey. Let us give her a name: it is Dorothy Day, a great Catholic social reformer from the mid 20th century.
We’ll say she needs to obey: she did. The co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin, she had Catholic Worker houses all over the country including Boston and her main house in New York serving the homeless and the poor. She said that if Cardinal Spellman, who was not fond of the movement, told her to shut down her houses, she would immediately. She was obedient. But, the rest of that quote is: And they would open themselves back up again. She knew it did not matter what Cardinal Spellman said, if she was doing the work of God, nothing and no one could stop it. To this day, that house in the Archdiocese of New York on Second Avenue still operates.
Pray: She believed that nuclear weapons were immoral. To spend so much money while the poor suffered is a grave sin. She, a good lay woman, prayed that the Church would stand against them and would put that position in the Vatican II documents. She prayed—on the steps of the Vatican and told every priest, bishop and cardinal who walked by that they better do the right thing. They did. You can find that teaching in the paragraph numbered in the 80’s in the Vatican II Document Gaudium et Spes.
Pay, she founded the Catholic Worker Newspaper, which to this day is still published out of New York and still only costs a penny a copy. She would pray that they could pay their printing bill. She received a bill once that said: Pray and pay.
She understood the role to be a prophet and lived that role to her death. We have the same call as Servant of God Dorothy Day did at her baptism.
Live the road to holiness and your witness will speak powerfully regardless of whether or not the bishops have lost their moral voice. That is because you and they have the same mandate to bear fruit.