Being the Fruit God Calls Us to Be
There is an interesting structure in some of the saints’ writings. For example, in St. Alphonsus Liguori’s writings, he spends the first couple chapters expounding Fire and Brimstone. Once that is done, he moves to the most beautiful and powerful teaching.
Too often in the past people heard only the fire and brimstone from preachers and although it was popular again it eliminated the rest of what the saints preached. Prior to my days in the seminary, I went to a parish mission at my local parish. The preacher spent the whole week in fire and brimstone which has its place but it was too intense and too long and frankly too cold.
After the mission, we had a meeting to discuss how it was and I thought people would give a list of what was wrong with the preaching. Instead, to my surprise, I was the only one who did not adore the mission. I was shocked.
People love the fire and brimstone and many people hear it spoken of all the time. So they heard stories of how few people had any chance of going to Heaven. You may have heard that whole legendary story of the saintly person who returns from heaven just to tell his friend that of all the people in the whole community only three made it to Heaven. People love that stuff but it is not accurate.
Fr. Paulo Ricardo Azevedo, Jr who himself in Brazil has a fire and brimstone style teaches that Jesus never says how many are going to Heaven and how many are not, he just says You live the narrow path.
The problem with this fire and brimstone preaching is that it puts all the effort to get to Heaven on you. Further, it adds that to the understanding that God has no part in your hard work until you encounter him in Heaven. None of that is true.
Today’s Gospel reveals something we must never forget. God is in charge and despite appearances to the contrary, everything that happens is focused on a greater good that leads to your salvation.
St. Thomas Aquinas quoting St. John Chrysostom described Jesus’ words in light of the law of God. He basically explains that just as you have crops grow—first you have the blade, then the ear, and afterward the full corn in the ear. He explains first you had natural law, followed by the law of Moses and finally the law of the Gospel.
So we see everything in the past through the law of the gospel. We do not take it on its own. What is the law of the Gospel? Love God and neighbor. It is said that St. John in his latter years explained to his disciples that everything was love.
So we cannot read anything that comes before us except through the Gospel. Jesus further teaches that what brings fruit is a natural process. In other words, the farmer can help the process along he can do that to a point but the process is a natural process that happens automatically by God’s design.
The Fire and Brimstone focus took people out of the understanding that God is working for your salvation and instead made God kind of deist. He forced you to do all the work as he waited at the finish line. That is not the Christianity we believe in at all. All of this is part of his creation and you as his creatures are part of his creation. Allow Him to work in your life. Trust in his life for you and tap deeper into that lifeblood through daily personal and family prayer and through communal prayer. When you are praying, you are acting like the creatures you were created to be by tapping into the nourishment needed like a plant taps into the nutrients in the good soil.
We also understand that our fight is not to achieve our salvation, it is against the weeds trying to reject the gift that it is. They are the weeds of discouragement the devil’s greatest tool. The weeds and parasites of ignorance, of worldly anxiety in believing that we are the gods of the universe. Those weeds try to destroy God’s grace in our lives and if we let them, then we will be distracted against all God does to lead us to salvation.
Remember, in Catholicism you are the plant that Jesus mentions, we can consider the field to be the Church. The Church is a field that helps you to grow. It is a gift from God but as an actual farm is not the crops brought to market. In the micro reality, it is filled with all the things that any soil would contain. So your focus is on Christ as you journey to the Father guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church is the soil that helps you get there but it is still just the soil it is not the destination. The crops cannot exist without the soil, and you can’t be formed into all Christ created you to be without the Church.
We then allow God to challenge us and to grow and be powerful signs of his love to the world around us. That must be our task from this point forward to be those powerful signs. Signs cannot be seen if they mix with the background and you cannot be whom God is created you to be if you are just like everyone else.
Now is the time for us to be reformed so that we can be and bear the good fruit God wants us to be. That means that we will be challenged and formed in ways not typical to others are you ready to do that.
Take this exercise, go outside and look at the trees and the plants. Notice that they all reach up and that of course is because they are opening themselves for the nourishment of the sunlight. Similarly, our reaching up is our prayer and we pray to God to help us to become as he is creating us just as he created the plants, etc. So our prayer liturgically here, personally at home and as a family also at home is your source of growth as sunlight is to the plants around us.
Allow God’s grace to conform you to whom he wants you to be not to whom everyone else wants you to be, which Jesus explains today is a natural process if you allow it to be.