This morning at mass, I heard the parable of the fig tree. In this parable, the land owner gets angry at a fig tree that hasn’t produced fruit in three years, and wants to have it cut down so it doesn’t drain the soil of nutrients. The gardener proposes that he be allowed to tend to the tree for another year, and if it doesn’t produce fruit by then, it can be cut down. The owner agrees. (See Lk 13:1-9).
This morning, I saw much “fruit” in this story. First, it can be a call to analyze one’s life; to see if one is producing fruit in his or her faith life. Second, it can be a call to ponder the relationship between a Christian and the Holy Spirit or Jesus, depending on which person of the Trinity you relate to the gardener.
In analyzing the first point, it seems important to know what is meant by “fruit in the Christian life”? Here are a few examples. If discipleship is about dying to self and cross carrying (Mk 8:34), one might ask how much progress has been made. Another way of analyzing fruit is whether you are experiencing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Are you experiencing heavenly knowledge, wisdom, and/or understanding? Are you manifesting the gift of tongues? Prophecy? Healing? Are you growing in the virtues of faith, hope, and/or love? In addition, people who are bearing fruit should be drawn into some form of selfless apostolic work. I say selfless because it seems to me that dying to self means one is becoming selfless.
Second, what does the gardener’s efforts towards tending the fig tree tell us about the spiritual life? Again, there are many ways of explaining this, and here is one example. Scripture talks about baptism being a transformative event. When we get baptized, we allow the Holy Spirit to take up residency within us, and it is his job to sanctify us; to lead us in the way of Truth. This job takes a lot of effort, and the entirety of our Christian lives.
How does it work? It is hard to explain, but I’ll give you a personal example. Several years ago, I was reading “The Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales. In the early part of the book, he provides several meditations for the reader to try. I read the meditation on pride, and I closed my eyes to ponder his words. I invited the Holy Spirit in, and I accidentally fell asleep. (Luckily, St. Therese of Lisieux tells us not to worry about occasionally falling asleep in prayer.) When I awoke, I had this understanding that I had been healed of a layer of pride. I knew that while still proud, I was less proud that I had been before starting my prayer. As I said, it is hard to explain. Still, when we invite the Holy Spirit into our activities, he works with us to remove everything that is sinful from our lives.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own faith life. Are any promises contained in Scripture manifesting in your life? Are you allowing the gardener to do his job of tending to you? Jot down a few thoughts and any action items you intend to take to improve this area of your life.