The fruits of life: the seventh Sunday after Pentecost
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD | 20 July 2022
Help me, O Lord, not to be satisfied with words, but to bring forth fruits of sanctity.
Both the Epistle (Rom 6:19–23) and the Gospel (Mt 7:15–21) for today speak of the true fruits of the Christian life and invite us to ask ourselves what fruit we have produced so far. “When you were the servants of sin,” says St Paul, you brought forth the fruits of death, “but now, being made free from sin and become servants of God, you have your fruit unto sanctification.” Our sanctification should be the fruit of our Christian life, and we must examine ourselves on this point. What progress are we making in virtue? Are we faithful to our good resolutions?
Every Christian may consider himself a tree in the Lord’s vineyard; the divine gardener, Jesus Himself, has planted it in good, fertile, productive ground in the garden of the Church, where it is watered by the living water of grace. He has given it the most tender care, cut off its useless branches by means of trials, cured its diseases by His Passion and death, and watered its roots with His precious Blood. He has taken such good care of it that He can say “What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard, that I have not done to it?” (Is 5:4). After all this solicitude, one day Jesus comes to see what kind of fruit this tree is bearing, and by its fruit He judges it, for “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit”. Before the Redemption, mankind was like a wild tree which could bring forth only fruits of death; but with the Redemption, we have been grafted into Christ, and Christ, who nourishes us with His own Blood, has every right to find in us fruits of sanctity, of eternal life. This is why words and sighs and even faith are not enough, for “faith … if it have not works, is dead in itself” (Jm 2:17). Works as well as the fulfilment of God’s will are necessary, because “not everyone that says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
In the Gospel of the day, Jesus directs our attention to the “false prophets” who appear “in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly are ravening wolves”. There are many who claim to be teachers in spiritual or moral matters, but they are false teachers because their works do not correspond to their words. It is easy, in fact, to speak well, but it is not easy to live well. Sometimes false doctrines are offered to us, even though they may not seem false at first because they have the appearance of truth. Thus any doctrine which, in the name of an evangelical principle, offends other doctrines is false: for example, that which, in the name of compassion for individuals, does harm to the common good, or that which, in the name of charity, sanctions injustice or leads to a neglect of obedience to lawful superiors. Equally false is any doctrine which tends to make us lax, disturbs peace and harmony, or, under the pretext of a greater good, brings about dissension between superiors and subjects, or does not submit to the voice of authority. Jesus would like us to be as “simple as doves”, averse to criticism and severe judgments of our neighbour; but He also wants us to be as “wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16), so as not to let ourselves be deceived by false appearances of good which hide dangerous snares.
Furthermore, it is not given to all to be teachers, nor is it expected of all; but of everyone — learned and ignorant, teachers and pupils — Our Lord asks the practice of the Christian life in the concrete. What good would it do us to possess profound, lofty doctrine if, at the same time, we should not live according to this doctrine? Before we begin to instruct others, we must try to instruct ourselves, pledging ourselves to follow all the teachings of the Gospel in imitation of Jesus, “who began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). The genuine fruit which proves the worth of our doctrine and of our life is always that indicated by Jesus: the fulfilment of His will. This fulfilment means total adherence to the laws of God and of the Church, loyal obedience to our lawful superiors, fidelity to duty — and all these in every kind of circumstance, even at the sacrifice of our own ideas and will.
“O eternal God, when man was only a tree of death, You made him a tree of life by grafting Yourself onto him! Nevertheless, many people bring forth only fruits of death, due to their sins and to their refusal to be grafted onto You, O eternal life. Many remain in the death of their sins and do not come to the fountain from which Christ’s Blood flows to water their tree … and thus it is seen that You created us without our help but You will not save us without it.
“What great dignity, O God, does the soul receive which has been grafted onto You and what excellent fruits it produces! How does this tree bear these fruits, if, by itself, it is sterile and dead? It bears them in You, O Christ, for if You had not been grafted onto it, it could produce no fruit by its own power, for it is nothing.
“O eternal truth, inestimable love! You brought forth for us, O Christ, fruits of fire, love, light, and prompt obedience, by which You ran like a Lover to the ignominious death of the Cross; You gave us these fruits by grafting Your divinity onto our humanity. Thus, a soul who has been grafted onto You cares for nothing but Your honour and the salvation of souls: it becomes faithful, prudent, and patient. Be ashamed, my soul, that you deprive yourself of so much good on account of your faults! The good I do is of no use to You, O God, and the evil of which I am guilty cannot harm You, but You are pleased when Your creature brings forth fruits of life because she will reap infinite good from them and attain the end for which You created her.
“O God, Your high, eternal will desires only our sanctification; therefore, a soul who desires to sanctify itself, strips itself of its own will and clothes itself with Yours. O my sweet Love, I think this is the true sign of those who have been grafted onto You; they fulfill Your will according to Your pleasure and not according to their own, so that they become clothed in Your will.” (St Catherine of Siena)