Correcting in Love

 

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

Our culture greatly values tolerance and niceness. Consider, “you do you,” “if you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all,” are so widespread that we have to admit that they have become jokes among many young people.

Giovanni Serodine – Parting of Sts Peter and Paul Led to Martyrdom

We want people to be kind to one another. We want people to be tolerant of one another. But I fear, brothers and sisters, that sometimes we mistakenly think that kindness towards a person, means tolerating, without judgement their actions.  Our culture teaches us, that to be a be a friend, to be loving to another person means that we must unquestioningly accept everything they do as good.

In the face of this, Jesus presents us with a challenging command, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” Such a command means that Christ assumes several things which are at odds with our way of thinking: 

First, there is such a thing as sin, objectively speaking.  Second, this command means that we have to judge that our brother has sinned against us. But elsewhere, Christ tells us to judge not lest you be judged. Is Christ contradicting himself? No. Here Christ commands us to judge the action of our brother – not to judge his intention, nor the state of his soul, nor whether he is worthy of mercy, nor what punishment he should receive. Third, it assumes that telling someone that they did something wrong, far from being sinful, could actually be a praiseworthy act. This implies that it is an act of Charity. 

Christ commands us to rebuke our brother when he sins against us, just as he himself rebuked those who sinned against God. Our Lord Jesus was not, strictly speaking, nice to those folks. But he was charitable.

A man’s sin always carries with it a multitude of evils. But principally we can divide them into two areas: sin hurts the community and it hurts the sinner. The latter is more significant than the former. The one or the community who is sinned against loses something temporary and passing – perhaps of great worth – but not of ultimate worth. However, the one who sins grievously risks losing eternal life.

Because it has two principle effects, there are two different remedies for sin.

Regarding the harm done to the community, we pursue justice. Justice seeks the common good in community. This is related to but not identical with the good of every individual. Strictly speaking, justice is not concerned with the rehabilitation of the sinner, but rather that the common good be preserved. The one who has care of a community is called to work towards the common good – which is the aim of justice. We ought to punish those who harm the common good of society, and reward those that support it.

Far surpassing, though not opposed to justice, is the charity which motivates the action of fraternal correction that Christ describes today. Christ proposes that Charity must be the basis for our actions when we correct another. Charity or love always seeks the good of the other person as other. This becomes the basis for admonishing a brother.

Note the difference here between these two types of corrections: When we fraternally correct – we do not correct in order to punish or to take vengeance or gain satisfaction from another, rather we do so because we know that it is the right thing to do for the other person. Justice in community is important, but fraternal correction is not justice seeking; rather, it seeks the good of the individual who has sinned as a person.

We want him or her to change, not for our sake but for their own sake – the way that Jesus wants Peter to change not for his sake but for Peter’s sake. The way that Jesus wants you and I to change, not for his sake but for our own good.

This is what it means to “win your brother over.” The goal of fraternal correction is to win the brother – to bring him back into communion with Christ. Remember the prodigal son – the older brother should have been looking for the younger, to bring him back to the Father.

Therefore it is a serious duty for us admonish the sinner. In fact, St. Augustine, reminds us, “If thou shalt neglect this, thou art worse than he. He hath done an injury, and by doing an injury, hath stricken himself with a grievous wound; wilt thou disregard thy brother’s wound? Wilt thou see him perishing, or already lost, and disregard his case? Thou art worse in keeping silence, than he in his reviling. Therefore when any one sins against us, let us take great care, not for ourselves, for it is a glorious thing to forget injuries; only forget thine own injury, not thy brother’s wound. Therefore “rebuke him between thee and him alone,” intent upon his amendment, but sparing his shame.”[1]

Yet, we are certainly not obliged to correct every person in the world – that would be impossible. There is a certain prudence to the statement that we should mind our own business. We are not called to be the watchdog of other’s behaviors that do not concern us. St. Thomas, summarizing the thought of St. Augustine writes of the danger of becoming too concerned with the negative behavior of others, “else we should become spies on the lives of others, which is against the saying of Prov. 24:15: Lie not in wait, nor seek after wickedness in the house of the just, nor spoil his rest.”[2]

My brothers and I on Travis’s wedding day! There was a lot of correction going on going on growing up.

Who then does Christ call us to correct in their sins? St. Augustine tells us, to care for our brothers and sisters, “by correcting what we see,” that is what we know with moral certainty to be harmful to another person’s salvation. Practically speaking this means that we should not go looking for people to correct. Moreover, the wisdom of the saints is that in others we ought to assume their good intentions until we are proven otherwise.

We should also only correct those whom we sincerely believe it will have a positive impact upon. Even if a person has harmed us, it does no good to correct someone if they are unable to hear our correction. If we are likely to be misunderstood, or the person is not in a state of mind to receive the correction we are better off delaying it.    

If it is truly the case, that we wish to correct out of charity, and we believe it is possible that it would be well received, how should we correct? This is one place where the Lord gives us a practical plan right in the scriptures. Go to the brother or sister who has offended you to speak to them one-on-one if possible. We too easily turn to gossip which solves nothing. The Lord knows the psychology of the human person. We get defensive if we feel threatened – no one likes to hear they did something wrong much less be publicly accused of it. Remember in fraternal correction you desire the good of the person.

If they persist in sin, seek counsel and help from witnesses – namely people the person you are trying to help, trusts and respects.If they still refuse to listen, “Reckon him no more amongst the number of thy brethren. But yet neither is his salvation on that account to be neglected. For the very heathen, that is, the Gentiles and Pagans, we do not reckon among the number of brethren; but yet are we ever seeking their salvation.”[3]

Remember the point of this whole thing is to win your brother or sister back to the faith. To help them come to salvation. Is this difficult, yes? Is it worth it, yes! To guide a brother or sister back to the Father’s house. This is a great act of charity, an act of charity which mirrors Christ’s own charity toward us.

Questions for us to ponder:

  1. Have I given into the relativism of our cultural situation?
  2. When it is necessary to correct another how well does my approach align with Jesus’s call to charitable fraternal correction?
  3. Do I shy away too much from conflict when I should speak to a brother or sister? Or do I, on the other hand, concern myself with things that are not my business to correct? What am I doing to work to foster charity?
  4. Do I engage in gossip, either in person or online? If so what am I doing to overcome this sin in my life?  

Today’s readings can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090620.cfm

You can subscribe to future audio versions of homilies here: https://frwill.fireside.fm/

(23th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Mass in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite)


[1] Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 359.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.). STh., II-II q.33 a.2 ad 4

[3] Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 359.

Prophetic Anguish

There are certain moments that stick in our hearts as human beings. Moments which we will remember for many years to come.

One of those moments for me, occurred on the Feast of John Vianney a few years ago, when I was called to the hospital room of a three-week-old baby boy. The little boy had been in the NICU for the entirety of his life outside the womb, and the doctors had exhausted every effort to help him survive but to no avail. I was called as a chaplain to be present and minister to the family as they delivered the news that there was no longer any human hope for the child’s survival. I cannot adequately describe the anguish of the parents in that room – devasted is a severe understatement. My heart too broke for them and their little boy.

The family was Catholic, and I was able to have a priest come to baptize and confirm the little boy. Then the parents overcome with anguish decided it would be best for them to say their good-byes and they departed the hospital. I returned to be with the doctors and nurses as they removed life-support from the child. As we took turns holding the baby who slowly faded away, there was not a dry eye in the room at that moment.

I offered the prayers for the dead and dying. Prayers for the consolation for his parents and for the doctors and nurses who had cared for the child. It was a difficult moment. A moment I would have much preferred never to experience. What was so strange about the experience was that I both wanted to be there and didn’t want to be there at the same moment. When I heard a baby was dying in the hospital earlier in the day, I didn’t want to go to the room because I knew I would suffer as a result.

But at the same time, I knew with unshakable certainty that God was calling me to go precisely to that place and to be with those people. I knew that God had called me to witness to the hope which comes only from him. A hope which surpasses all human capacity without grace.

Horace VernetJeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem (1844)

It was a prophetic moment.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, “The prophet is a spokesman, a herald, who speaks in the name of God; he is one called by God to be his spokesman.”[1] While prophets sometimes predicted future events, they did so only confirm the authenticity of their message. Likewise, any miracles that they were able to accomplish were done in order to show that they were authentic prophets of God. While prophecy often involves words and miracles, neither of these are essential to it.

Rather, the witness of life of the prophet is the definitive measure of the prophet. This witness encompasses all the rest of these things, but it goes beyond them. The prophet’s way of acting follows from his way of being which is in communion with God. The prophet desires above all to be in communion with God. It is from this communion with him that the desire to act according to his will springs.

He recognizes that he is called to witness to the hope that he has within him, yet he knows that if he does not remain with God first, his prophecy will be in vain. In fact, if he stops following God or rejects the message he is given, his false prophecy will be destructive and lead only to evil. The prophet recognizes that the call to bear witness while remaining in communion with the Lord, always comes at a personal cost.

The lives of the prophets were usually difficult. They were often despised by those they were trying to help. The ones they loved rejected them because they sometimes had to speak the truth which opposed the prevailing current of thought. They also bore the personal anguish of knowing that often this rejection would cause these people – the ones they loved –  to greatly suffer.

In the face of this personal cost, Jeremiah – if you have some time this week, go read this book, it’s a little long but well worth your time – cries out so humanly, that he does not want the burden of being a prophet anymore.

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem

Jeremiah is tired of preaching to a people who will not listen. He is in anguish because the words of the Lord, which could be instruments of salvation if heeded, fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts. “He stands out as a lonely, tragic figure whose mission seemed to have failed utterly. Yet that “failure” was his triumph, as later ages were to recognize”[2] “He was overwhelmed by the sheer burden, the humanly impossible demand of his task; his prayer is the prayer of Gethsemane.”[3]

Jeremiah’s anguish is the anguish of every parent who has seen the child they love choose something they know will be harmful to them. It is the anguish of the one who pleads with a friend to do what is right and fails. It is the anguish of the counselor who cannot seem to help a young person choose what it right. It is the anguish of the pastor who must speak the high call of the Gospel in a world so broken. It is the anguish of every Christian who does what he or she knows to be right, but it fails to make a difference on any human scale. It is the anguish of integrity.

Michelangelo / Public domain

It is an image the anguish of the Father’s own heart which desire that all men come to him and live. it is the anguish of the Father who cried out, “where are you,” after man had fallen from grace in the beginning.

It foreshadows the anguish of Christ’s heart which is moved with compassion when he sees the crowds. It is the anguish of Jesus as drives the money changers from the temple. It is the anguish of Jesus who tells Peter to “Get behind” him, today. It is the anguish of Jesus who offers Judas every chance to repent of his plan to betray him. It is the anguish of Christ on the Cross who dies even for those who will reject his love, who died even for Judas – to give him the chance to repent. This prophetic anguish is the Cross – a failure from every human perspective – which stands as the focal point of all history.

But it is precisely from this anguish of having failed in every human sense of the word, that testimony is given – because Christ remained in communion with his Father and submitted his human will to the divine will. The folly of the Cross becomes the salvation of all.

 For Christ, “came to what his own, and his own people rejected him,” but to those who receive him, he gives the power to be the sons of God,… born… of the very will of God and capable of seeing his glory.

Peter echoes Jeremiah’s anguish today. He rejects the Cross. He does not want the anguish of witnessing his friend fail. We should remember that this is often our human reaction as well. But this is not the end of Peter’s journey. Because he always returns to communion with the Lord, Peter learns to think according to the will of God. He literally takes up his cross dying in imitation of him.  

Brothers and Sisters, the cost of discipleship is high; in fact, it will cost us everything to follow Jesus faithfully. This is because to follow Jesus means to imitate him; where the Master goes, the disciple follows. This means we must be willing to accept the Cross in our lives. We do not get Cross we would want, rather like Christ, all the prophets, and the saints we receive our Cross.

That means, we should expect that sometimes, perhaps even often, despite our best efforts, we will fail from the human perspective – in our families, in our workplaces, in our friendships, even in ourselves. Even Christ fell in anguish on the road to Calvary. Should we expect anything different?

Thus, let us make no mistake about it. We will be in anguish if we follow Christ – because he will form his heart in us. Look at the lives of all of the saints – Our Blessed Mother, Irenaeus, Monica, Augustine, Dominic, Thomas, Francis, Ignatius, Teresa Benedicta, The Little Flower and her family, Mother Teresa, John of the Cross – all experienced the Cross in some way.

These will be moments of great pain for us – but we have that pain only because God has given us the gift of sharing in his own still greater love for his people, for our brothers and sisters. I thank God for the privilege of being able to be with that family in their suffering – to suffer with them – to witness hope for them. – to share in the anguish of Christ’s own heart. Brothers and sisters, to share in his anguished heart which beats for every human soul. What greater joy could be found?

Questions for us to ponder:

  1. What/where have I encountered the Cross in my life? Where do I encounter failure from a human perspective? How has God used that failure to bear witness to the hope we should have in him?
  2. Where or to whom am I called to be a prophet of hope today?
  3. What sinful habits or tendencies do I tend to use to avoid the Cross in my life?

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

Today’s readings can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083020.cfm

You can subscribe to future audio versions of homilies here: https://frwill.fireside.fm/

(18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Mass in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite)


[1] Wilfrid J. Harrington, Record of the Promise: The Old Testament, vol. II, Key to the Bible (New York: Alba House, 1993), 45.

[2] Wilfrid J. Harrington, Record of the Promise: The Old Testament, vol. II, Key to the Bible (New York: Alba House, 1993), 62.

[3] Wilfrid J. Harrington, Record of the Promise: The Old Testament, vol. II, Key to the Bible (New York: Alba House, 1993), 64.

Making friends by being friends

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

I was blessed to grow up with the experience of having some terrific friends right down the street from us until about 6th grade. When we are young, we have an incredible ability to get to know others. Though we were different in many ways, my friends and I shared much in common. This made it possible for our friendship to continue even beyond the time we moved away from that street. In fact, the friendships I developed on Sunflower Trail continue to this day. I was at their wedding, and they were at my ordination. We have a lot in common – as the saying goes, you cannot make old friends. But you can make new ones.

Me and my good friends (clearly looking into the Sun) when I was turning 15.

Friendship and the consequent feelings and choices are always based on some common good. This common good unites the will of true friends in a way that they repeatedly choose the good of one another. Our natural inclination, proximity, and many other factors dispose us to natural friendship with other people.

 It is through repeated acts of friendship then that people become friends. These are the friendships of our youth, which are primarily based on usefulness and utility. This was certainly true growing up on Sunflower Trail; we spent time together and found fun and mutual help from one another. A friendship develops because one person acts as a friend to another, and this action is reciprocated.

The excellence of the friendship thus depends on the good pursued by friends. Aristotle would say that friendship is best when it has as its object the best good, the highest things. For him, this means virtue and the flourishing of the friends in common.

Plato (left) and Aristotle in Raphael’s 1509 fresco, The School of Athens. Aristotle holds his Nicomachean Ethics and gestures to the earth, representing his view in immanent realism, whilst Plato gestures to the heavens, indicating his Theory of Forms, and holds his Timaeus.

But Christians, unlike Aristotle, have (or ought to have) a higher purpose in mind in friendship. Natural friendship should not be despised but is not sufficient for us. Our desire is for God; our hope, in fact, is to be friends with God. Thomas Aquinas says that charity is nothing other than friendship with God.

But how is such a thing possible? What common ground is the basis for our friendship with God? What unites the creature with his Creator?

Indeed, we could not do this ourselves. Instead, God takes the initiative in the Incarnation.When the Second person of the Holy Trinity takes our nature to himself without a change in himself, he heals us, and He raises humanity to himself to be his neighbors – to be his friends.

This is the highest meaning of the parable beyond any ethical or moral imperatives – that Christ himself is the Good Samaritan who finds you and me wounded and naked on the side of the road. Our nakedness was the result of having lost the original justice – that free gift of grace in which humanity was constituted. The wounds represent the harm done to our nature as a result.

By Aimé Morot – Marc Baronnet, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7901316

Finding us in such a miserable condition, Christ cleanses our wounds with the saving bulb of the oil of gladness and with the wine which is symbolic of his own blood. He binds the wounds healing us through the sacraments and relationship with him. He, himself, picks us up and places us upon the beast of his humanity, which is the instrument of our Salvation. Then he takes us to the end of the church and pays the cost of our continued healing, our continued divinization.

By Rembrandt – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=157819

In other words, brothers and sisters, God makes us his neighbors, and he does so by being a friend to us despite our rejection of his pleas. Again, and again he offers himself to us, making the first movement of friendship.

For concrete proof of this, we need to look no further than the Sacraments. All the sacraments point us to friendship with Christ. In baptism, he first regenerated our nature that we might be his friends. By Confirmation, we were strengthened by the spirit to be able to act as his friends – to bear him witness in the world.  In reconciliation, our friendship with him is restored if we have lost it. In the anointing of the sick, he comes as a friend to visit us when we are weary tired, ill, or dying. In marriage, our friendship with him is expanded as he gives new life to his church. In holy orders, he chooses men to be sharers in his very priesthood. And above all, the sacrament of the Eucharist is the sacrament of friendship. Aristotle said that it is the quality of friends that they live a common life. In the Eucharist we do just that with God. In the Eucharist, we have a foretaste of that union which we will have in heaven one day.

In every way, Christ is the Good Samaritan who makes us his neighbors. Then he tells us to go and do likewise. This highest perspective in no way diminishes the importance of the imperative, which also follows from it. Christ says, “you are my friends if you do what I command you.” Christ commands us to imitate him by extending God’s friendship to others.

By Jacob Jordaens – si.wsj.net, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19655930

By being like the Samaritan, we also can bring relief to those in need physically, perhaps, and this is a good thing. But all the more, we can bring them to Christ, who is the one that every soul desires. Our supernatural friendship with Christ, compels us to want to bring others into that friendship so they can share that joy.

A friend of mine’s young son asked me a couple of years ago, “who is your best friend?” I said to him, Jesus. He then asked his dad the same question, and his dad replied the same way. I told the child, “that’s why your dad and I are such good friends. Because we have the same best friend.” My friendship with his father finds its basis in the Lord. My friend helped me be friends with his best friend, Jesus, and it did not take anything away from our human friendship, but rather elevated it. Our friendship is more excellent, more beautiful, and truer than any merely natural friendship because we are both turned towards the Lord.  

My friends Chris and Kendra, and their beautiful family!

We are called to invite others to become our neighbors by being their neighbors as Christ did for us. Then we must invite them to meet our best friend, the Good Samaritan, the one who raises us up, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Questions for us to ponder:

  1. Do I recognize Christ as the Good Samaritan who comes to me? What wounds do I need to let him heal and bind? Have I left the inn of the Church – if not physically, spiritually – by willfully commiting grave sin? 
  2. Do I recognize that Jesus is both my Lord and my friend? (How) Am I spending time with my Friend through prayer and regular reception of the sacraments? How can I actively work to grow in the virtues so I can be a better friend?
  3. When am I most tempted to act like the priest and the Levite and refuse to treat someone as my neighbor? How can I act differently in the future?

Today’s readings can be found here: https://www.missalemeum.com/en/2020-08-23

You can subscribe to future audio versions of homilies here: https://frwill.fireside.fm/

(12th Sunday after Pentecost, Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite)

Harsh Healing Words from the Word

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

The words of our blessed Lord seem unusually harsh to our modern ears today. Even perhaps racist. He insults the woman with the truth that she is not part of the chosen people. He calls her a dog – an unclean animal for the Jews. 

The Woman of Canaan by Michael Angelo Immenraet, 17th century

Is the Lord simply a product of the xenophobia of his historical time? Or of the human tendency toward xenophobia that we’d like to think is gone today, but unfortunately, is often still present in our culture? Is he perhaps unconsciously expressing the sentiment of his people?

No! We must recognize whom we speak here. Jesus of Nazareth is no mere man He is the second person of the blessed Trinity: God from God, light from light, the very one in whose image this woman was created in.

The “Heavenly Trinity” joined to the “Earthly Trinity” through the incarnation of the Son, by Murillo, c. 1677

Have you ever misinterpreted a friend’s silence? What about his words? I found myself in that position many times. With painful irony, we often find ourselves understanding and seeing the wisdom of our parents and teachers and other authorities only after many years.

What is happening here in the gospel is something similar. The Lord’s words and his silence are easily misinterpreted in both their intention and their object. But to understand them well, we must remember who he is and what he does consider the whole gospel.

If the Lord, if the Word, speaks harshly, we must strive to understand his meaning. There is a hidden purpose both in the silence and in the harsh words. Because always the Word is working.

So what is the Lord doing? If we give God the benefit of the doubt – which ironically, in this case, reflects a deep faith in him – what do we see?

First, look at the context. Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon. After having preached many parables about the Kingdom of heaven to his countrymen in Galilee, He comes from Genesseret. If we think his words to the Canaanite woman are harsh, we should read what he has to say to the Jews. He calls them hypocrites and broods of Vipers, honoring him with the lips but in their hearts far away from him.

Jesus’s movement from Jewish cities to gentile ones shows that his preaching, which is sufficient for salvation if believed, is intended for the salvation of all people. What else? He comes to a gentile city – imagine that, a Jewish rabbi traveling to a gentile city. What is he doing? He has to expect, even to desire, interaction with gentiles.

Why then does he stay silent when the miserable woman calls out to him?

The woman’s intention and her character are clearly apparent; she desires mercy because she has taken upon herself the burden of her tormented daughter. How many parents and priests, brothers and sisters, have done the same? This woman, through the mysterious working of God, already loves in the manner of a Christian.  She loves in imitation of Christ, who took compassion upon us.

Jesus exorcising the Canaanite Woman’s daughter from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.

But this impassioned plea appears to yield no results. It is met with silence. Perhaps though, in the quiet, we find the response of the Lord. A quiet reply which serves its purposes in the Providence of God.

For one thing, through being silent, the Lord teaches the woman (and us) to persist in prayer. Prayer does not change the mind of God, but it does bring us into a relationship with him. It draws us more deeply into conformity with his will. This shows us that in the new covenant persisting in prayer – that is in relationship with the Lord is much more essential than fulfilling the law – though the law is not disparaged.

Through this persistence, the Canaanite woman grows in devotion. This also teaches us. Often the Lord waits to give us what we desire because we do not yet desire rightly or with the ardor necessary to make proper use of the gift. He expands our heart for him in this way so that we can properly receive the gift. This is why fasting before the feast days of the Lord is important. It gives a visible sign To the desire helping us to grow in that desire for the Lord.

Third, he teaches us the importance of intercession through his silence. The Lord wishes that we would cooperate with him in seeking the salvation of others and allow others to do the same for us. The disciples, albeit imperfectly, do take the woman’s petition to the Lord. Although they only do it because they are annoyed, it still teaches us something. And we can see this because He only speaks after their intercession. 

He then says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt 7:24)

Because he is in the gentile territory, we see that those words – harsh though they may seem – express his desire that the House of Israel, gathered back together in him, would be the beacon of salvation for all the world by pointing others to him. He was sent for all but to the Israelites first that through them, all might be chosen in Him.

The woman’s response is moving. Our translation fails to do it justice – “paying homage — just does not seem to have the force to convey what she was doing. She adored. She worshipped him as God. And her profound faith in the Lord as God as one who trusts that her prayer for help will be heard is on display here. Would that we also might experience the same increasing devotion.

The next words of our Lord are probably the harshest, but they serve an outstanding purpose. She is invited by our Lord to humility by them. The Lord asks her by these words to persist even more humbly.

In her words, she expresses what is true for all of us: we have no absolute claim on the mercy of God. In fact, just the opposite by nature, we merit nothing. And because of our sins and because of original sin, we deserve even less. How remarkable her trust! She knows that God is good enough to feed us to redeem us to heal us.

For her benefit and for our benefit, the Lord draws faith out of the Canaanite woman. She becomes a remarkable example of what trusting prayer in faith looks like.

Faith which is prompted by God coming to meet us first; Faith which does not deny our own needs while at the same time being compassionate towards others; Faith that is persistent in asking for what we need and what others need; Faith that asks for intercession from others; Faith that is, above all else, humble, which recognizes with gratitude the gift God gives us. For when we desire in prayer, nothing other than the will of God, then it will be done in our lives.

Questions to Ponder

  1. When have you experienced silence from God? How have you reacted to God’s seeming silence?
  2. How might God be working in your life to greater faith right now?
  3. What are areas of your life in which it is difficult to trust the Lord? What “harsh words” might the Lord use to rouse your faith?
  4. Who can you ask to pray for your intercessions today? Who can you pray for? (go do it, now!)  

Reaching out to the one who reaches for us

Have you ever tried to help a little child do something quite simple for you? That is something quite simple for you, but perhaps not so simple for them?

When kids are tiny, they instinctively receive our help. But as they grow and gain a little autonomy, we expect them to do some things by themselves, and they want to do so. But sometimes kids (I am told by sources close to the events that I was one of them as a child) refuse to let others help them even when they can’t do it themselves. How many toddlers have emphatically let their parents know, “I can do it myself”? Thus, we see the preschooler in mismatched and wrongfooted shoes wearing his shirt inside out and backward.

My mom and I, in 1992, at Lake Como in Minnesota

Now the desire to do something oneself isn’t a bad thing. In fact, we want our kids to grow in autonomy, to be able to make decisions, and do things themselves. Part of that process is also learning to ask for help when needed. Teachers in school have to help students learn how to ask questions when they need help. Parents, you have the hard job of helping your kids learn the balance between doing what they can do themselves and asking for and receiving support when necessary.

But this balancing act does not end in childhood, we adults often have the same difficulty: One temptation for me as I learn how to be a priest is the temptation to appear completely self-sufficient. I would wager that a similar temptation to appear perfect is present in many places of business and jobs. The temptation also emerges in families who fear asking for help from others. This temptation toward self-sufficiency, towards not allowing our needs to be known by people who could help is a form of the sin of pride.

In the moments when I have chosen humility by admitting I needed help in a situation, I have grown the most. When I’m in over my head, the counsel of a friend, or a mentor often brings a sense of peace. But even more than this, I have found that when we admit and express our need in a healthy way to someone, we grow in communion with others.

Let me be clear, discerning how and when to do this is essential. We should not trust an acquaintance as much as we trust a best friend or a spouse. We should guard our hearts with those we do not know well. But at the same time, we should be willing to ask for help from others.

Above all, we should never try to hide our needs from the Lord. Sometimes we are afraid to let Jesus know our weakness or needs for fear that he will reject us because of them. We have the mistaken illusion that we need to be perfect before we go to God. But this fear and shame before the Lord, though truly felt, is not in accord with who God has shown us that he is. In fact, it is precisely in our weaknesses that he comes to find us.

Fr. Fernandez, a late 20th-century commentator on the scripture, writes, “The experience of our personal weakness will serve for us to find Jesus who puts out his hand and enters our heart, giving us great peace in the midst of every trial.”[1] Look at the movement of Christ, who immediately helps Peter as soon as Peter turns his gaze back to him. Fr. Fernandez continues, “If at times we realize we are out of our depth, that we are sinking, we should repeat with Peter, ‘Lord save me!’ We should neither doubt his love nor his merciful hand.”

St. Paul laments in our second reading precisely because his fellow Jews refuse to receive the love which God offers them. They either believe that they are already perfect through the Law or cannot imagine that God would come to them in this way as one who was weak and needy, to raise up the weak. Paul tries to shake his countrymen into realizing the greatness of their call. He wants them to know that God will give them all that is necessary to fulfill it if they will merely receive his gift.   

François Boucher: Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water

In the Gospel, Peter’s boldness teaches us that Christ desires us to be bold and serving him and others. Because with Christ, we can do great things; we can do works that would be altogether impossible otherwise. Peter’s humility teaches us that we can only do these things when we humbly admit our need to Christ.

In these,  trying and difficult times when we are filled with fear and anxiety, when we are buffeted by the winds and waves of life, do we recognize that God is at once calling us to step out of the boat to walk on water? Do we realize that we will only be able to do so by remaining in communion with him, by looking to him?   

Will we admit our need before the Lord brothers and sisters? Will we call out to him? Most importantly, will we accept the hand he offers, clenching it however weakly, so that he can raise us up?

Questions for us to ponder (with the Lord):     

  1. What are my weaknesses, vulnerabilities, wounds? Where am I about to drown and in over my head?
  2. Have I taken those to the Lord? If not, why not, what am I afraid of? If I am burdened by sin have, I taken it to the sacrament of Confession?
  3. Who are the people that God has putting in my life with whom I can be appropriately vulnerable and ask for help when needed?
  4. Where is God calling me to be brave and step out of the boat? Do I ask him for courage to do so each day?

Today’s readings can be found here

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Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

[1] In Conversation with God, IV, p. 337

Fighting Temptation Relationally

“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength”

(1 Cor 10:13)

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

How do you approach temptation? Consider the last time you were aware of a temptation to sin. Or the general pattern of sin in your life. What did you do? How did you fight against temptation?

Diego Velázquez, Thomas is girded by angels with a mystical belt of purity after his proof of chastity

How we try and fight against temptation reflects our beliefs about God. Is God a policeman trying to catch us? Is God far away and acting like an accountant who tallies our credits and debts?

Or is God Our Father? A Father who so loves the world that he sends his Son to die that we might have life. The Son, who is God, became the Firstborn of all creation – our Older Brother, in whom we have our Sonship – out of love for you and me. To call fallen humanity back to himself, he became man and dwelt among us.  

So, what should we do when we are faced with temptation? I want to invite you to pray using the acronym A-R-R-R. Sometimes this is called praying like a pirate (ARRR – get it, just use it to remember it). This sounds a little cheesy, but it may help you to remember the acronym. Which stands for Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond.

Acknowledge the temptation

To be able to acknowledge the temptation, we need to be aware that we might be tempted. I encourage you to grow in self-knowledge. Parents please help your kids to learn to do this as well. What are the situations and occasions that often lead you to sin?

It takes humility to admit we are being tempted or might be tempted in a particular situation. Sometimes pride enters into our hearts in the form of “I’m beyond that temptation…I overcame that…I couldn’t be tempted in that way.” In these moments especially, we have to “take heed lest we fall,” and acknowledge first to ourselves that we are tempted, “for they do not crackle in the furnace of who do not have the wind of pride”[1] It is helpful to be specific about this, I am being tempted to … this or that, rather than being general.

Relate it to God

Once we have acknowledged that we are tempted, we have a decision to make. Do we allow ourselves to entertain it, or do we take it to God? Do we ask for grace or choose to indulge? Relating talking to God does not need to be fancy, far from it. Just speak to him like you are speaking to a friend. He wants to know your hurts and desires because he loves you.

Recieve His Love and Grace

Next comes the most challenging part, at least for most of us. Receive his love. Once I hurt my leg, and an athletic trainer friend was working with me to help it heal. As he was working on my leg, he had to repeatedly tell me to relax. And the harder I tried to relax the muscles, the more I failed to ease the muscle tension. I think the same thing is often true in the spiritual life… we don’t know how to simply relax and receive the love of God. Receiving is more fundamental to Christianity than activity.

Simply bask in the fact that God loves you. Your sin, your past temptations, your present struggles, none of them can change the fact that God loves you. He’s loved you from the beginning, and he will always love you. You are his son or daughter.

St. Catherine of Siena besieged by demons.National Museum in Warsaw / Public domain

Respond to this gift of grace.

From this love, respond to the grace to live as a son or daughter. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “truly faithful is God, who gives us power so that we may not be vanquished, grace so we may merit, constancy so that we may conquer.”[2]

You are a temple of the Holy Spirit… far more valuable than the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Christ compassionately weeps when he sees us in sin because he loves us. Christ is always present and desires to enter the temple of our hearts and cleanse it of the robbers who wish to cause us harm.  Let him love you. Receive that love and live in freedom from sin.

Questions for use to ponder

  1. Am I honest with myself about my temptations and the vices in my life? How am doing at truthfully acknowledging my thoughts, feelings, and desires (even if they are not all holy)?
  2. Do I honestly relate my struggles and temptations to the Lord? Are there areas of temptation that I struggle to be honest about?
  3. How do I feel loved by God? What are signs of his love for me?
  4. What prevents me from responding to his love? 

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1st Corinthians, 535

[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1st Corinthians, 535

“Give them something yourself…”

When was the last time you encountered a person in poverty? How did you react? If we have lived in Austin for any length of time, we have probably been approached by someone asking for money or for food.  Often like the disciples, we simply want people in need to go away. I’m not proud of it, but I know I’ve consciously desired to be able to walk past a person in need without them asking for something. Why do we shy away from encountering poverty?

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

Perhaps we are afraid that we will not be able to do anything to relieve the person’s suffering.  Perhaps we recognize that even if we can help someone through a corporal or spiritual work of mercy, we won’t be able to completely alleviate the suffering

Or perhaps, we want them to go to other towns and cities because we are afraid that their poverty will reveal our poverty. We don’t like admitting our own poverty – our own need. Maybe we shun the poor because we idolize the myth of the self-made man or woman, and we fear that the poor force us to see our own poverties.

Perhaps in encountering an impoverished person, we recognize our own poverty. Perhaps we notice how close we are to financial poverty – the worry about making ends meet. But perhaps other – more serious types of poverty as well: The poverty of love, a lack of friendship, loneliness. The poverty of envy and jealousy. The poverty of being a slave to lust or gluttony.  The poverty of our own hidden sins, which we cover with a thin veneer of respectability. Or the poverty of worry and anxiety. The poverty of mental illness, the poverty of hidden family problems. The list could go on.

But the mythical self-made man simply does not exist. Our personal choices are formative – they matter – and we bear moral responsibility for them, but no man is an island.

From the first moment of our conception, human beings exist fundamentally in relation. No one gives birth to himself. No human being who ever lived or who will ever live has come to maturity without the intervention of another human being.

My dad and I, Thanks for giving me a place to nap dad!
Mom and I when I was at Texas A&M

This fact is made perfectly clear in the incarnation, the enfleshment of Our Lord Jesus, who is God, needed his Mother. Think about that statement. God needed his Mother. We should tremble at the truth of it. God is perfect without need, truly without poverty. But when he became flesh and dwelt among us, he needed his Mother and St. Joseph to survive. Our Lord Jesus Christ grew to maturity because his Blessed Mother and St. Joseph chose to love him.

His ultimate poverty comes on the Cross when he empties himself, taking the form of a slave. This poverty continues in every Eucharist, when Christ, the King of King, allows himself to be held, broken and received by poor sinners that we might know his love.

This is what St. Paul speaks of today: there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Christ impoverished himself so that he could encounter us in our poverty and raise us up with him. He makes our poverties places of victory through his love. He gives us himself at the bread that satisfies us, and in our weakness, makes us strong.

Having received such a gift, should we not do the same for those we encounter each day?

We can, indeed, we must be compassionate to those around us if we wish to be Christians in reality rather than merely in word. Hear these strong words from St. John Chrysostom for those who fail to show mercy after receiving the Eucharist:

“You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother, … You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal.… God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.”[1]

As we pass through our daily lives in the City of Austin, we encounter a vast multitude of people who do not know Jesus and who have never received the bread which will satisfy. The Lord’s words should resound in our ears: “there is no need for them to go away, give them some food yourselves.”

We are Christ, brothers, and sisters, and though we may not be able to give a person money or food each time they ask, we can be compassionate as he was. But there is a cost: Compassion – suffering from another – requires poverty. It requires being vulnerable as he was. Emptying ourselves as he did. To be poor in spirit as he was.

Is this difficult? Yes. But is it worth it? Yes. When we offer compassion, this offering becomes like the two fish and five loaves. It becomes an offering to the Lord and bears a rich harvest through him who lives and reigns forever and ever in the unity of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.


[1] St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 27, 4: PG 61, 229–230; cf. Mt 25:40.

Where is your heart?: Vain Treasures

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

What would you ask of God if he told you to ask him for something? Put another way, what is the deepest desire of your heart? What is the thing that you live for?

Even though he is young, Solomon asks for something very wise. He asks for an understanding heart to be able to govern well. To be able to distinguish between what is right and wrong. He so pleases God by requesting a gift ordered to the good of others – something that will help him rule charitably and justly – that God gives him many other gifts in addition to this wisdom.

By Luca GiordanoWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, Link

And Solomon is hailed as the greatest of all the Kings of Israel because of his great wisdom. He is just and wise for much of his life. But as he ages, Solomon slowly becomes enamored with earthly goods to the exclusion of heavenly ones. He lusts after foreign who lead him astray, even into worshipping false gods and building temples in the land of Israel to these false gods.

By Willem de Poorter – http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/SK-A-757, Public Domain, Link

This raises a question, was God unfaithful to his promise to give Solomon wisdom? Did God fail to provide what he had promised? 

No! God is faithful to his promises. Look at what Solomon accomplished when he followed God’s commands! He was the greatest and wisest of all the kings. When his heart desired God above all things, he was able to use the gift of wisdom. God gave Solomon everything he needed to follow him and to persevere in following him to the end. But at some point, Solomon began to compromise with what he knew was evil so he could satisfy some lesser desire. He gave into lust, perhaps thinking, “it is just this one time.” He gave into greed, compromising his integrity. And as he did so, he stopped using the gifts that God continued to provide him with.

God did not stop giving the gift. God does not stop offering Solomon wisdom. Solomon knows what is right. But Solomon chooses to reject it. He decides to do something wrong.  And then he does it again. And again. And every evil choice makes it easier and easier for him to choose evil. This is vice. The gift remains. But vice destroys man’s ability to use it.

Brothers and Sisters, knowing what right is essential, but it is not enough. We must choose to do it. We must decide each day to live according to what we know is right. We must desire God above every other good thing or person. God is supremely generous with you and me.

He gives us a treasure, a pearl of high price. He gives with every gift we need. Above all, he gives us the virtue of charity.  Through the scandal of the Cross – God dying for love of you and me – he provokes us to love him. He gives you the one thing your heart truly desires above all – himself. As St. Augustine says, “you have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until we rest in you.” In having him, in loving him, by his gift, he gives you the one thing necessary, the one thing that will superabundantly fulfill all of your other desires.

But will we use his gift? Or will we receive it in vain?

We know that in him is found our very life, for we who have been baptized in Christ live no longer, but rather he lives in us. But will we go and sell everything to secure this treasure? To receive this pearl? What are we willing to give up, so we can take up the one thing which is worth everything? What do we desire?

Sons nor Servants: Living without fear

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

In the letter to the Romans and throughout his writings, Paul contrasts the attitude of a servant and a Son. The Son and the servant may do the same thing, but their reasons for doing so differ significantly. A servant acts from fear; he is concerned with protecting himself from harm. But a Son acts from love.

To be clear, the attitude of the servant is reasonable. In St. Paul’s time, as in today’s time, slavery was cruel, harsh, and inhumane. Acting as fear would indicate, to be clear, is not always a bad thing. If a lion is chasing you, you should run.  It is not wrong for us to act motivated by fear on a natural human level as long as it is reasonable. 

Yet, in recent months we have seen how powerful a force fear can be in our lives. Fear can be paralyzing. Sometimes it prevents us from doing what we would know is right in a difficult situation. On the other hand, sometimes it disposes us to do something wrong even though we know it is wrong.

St. Paul uses this contrast to invite us to consider something fundamental in our spiritual life. He says that we do not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but a spirit of adoption by which we cry out Abba Father. You are a son or daughter of God in the image of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do we realize the profound truth that St. Paul tells us today and its implications? I would argue that our Christian life is at the heart of the unfolding of this mystery. That God wishes to conform us to the image of his Son, to make us sons and daughters in the Son.

We are conformed to his image at Baptism. This is not merely a “covering over” of our old nature, but rather the renewal of ourselves. In Baptism, the Spirit remakes you and me into the image of the Son. This is one reason why the Our Father plays such a prominent role in Baptism.

Some point during the Eucharistic Prayer at my first Mass

Consider also what we do each day here at Mass. We call down the Spirit upon bread and wine, and He makes present Christ under the humble species of bread and wine that we might again unite ourselves to his Sacrifice. But this Sacrifice because it is the Sacrifice of the Son out of love for the Father always has a filial character. Consider that the first words of the Canon are “Te igitur clementissime Pater” – to you, therefore, most merciful Father! Moreover, immediately after the Canon, we unite ourselves in praying the Pater Noster – the Our Father – the model of every prayer for a Christian. The Spirit has not only made Christ present on the altar but united us as one body in union with Christ our head.

The Sacrifice of the Mass is not like the pagan sacrifices of old, which were made in servile fear.  It is not the Sacrifice of a slave, or a servant to the Master but rather a Sacrifice of Love offered willingly. A sacrifice of Christ’s filial love, into which we are caught up. We participate in Christ by the Spirit. So also, our entire life is meant to be caught up into this one Sacrifice, so that it can be continually transformed. This is what Paul means when he implores us not to live according to the flesh but rather by the Spirit.

While we might begin our spiritual life motivated mostly by fear of punishment, part of our life is to grow more and more in what St. John calls perfect love – which casts out all doubt! Our only concern spiritually speaking, should be about becoming separated from the one we love.  “We’ve got to be filled, to be imbued with the idea that our Father, and very much our Father, is God who is both near us and in heaven.”[1]

As the bread and wine are made Christ, who always cries out to the Father, so also our lives must be made into Christ through the work of the Spirit so that in union with him, we too cry out Father through that same Spirit. I invite us in prayer to examine ourselves: Do we act with the freedom of sons who are brothers and friends of the Son or as if we were servants. God came to make us coheirs, not slaves. He said, I no longer call you servants…Will we receive his love?


[1] Saint Paul’s Letters to the Romans & Galatians, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005), 101.

What fruit should we expect?

Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear WLR Homilies

Trust not fear.
  1. Repent and Believe: Metanoia not Fear
  2. Who do you say I am?
  3. Prudence (Cardinal Virtues Series)
  4. Called By Name
  5. Seek, Find, Worship, Show

Recently, a priest friend of mine and Seminarian Phil went to get some food at the Clay Pit  – it was delicious. When we walked in, we were a bit disappointed that it was not open for dine-in. But we placed our order for take-out and were told that it would take about 30 minutes for it to be ready. Resigned to hunger, we sat down and began talking. In about 12 minutes, we got out food. Elated that we received it so quickly, we proceeded to the rectory to enjoy. We expected one thing (less good) and received another (excellent).  

Have you ever gone to a bakery and chosen something from the case which looked so delicious bit into it and found it less appealing than what you expected? You were probably more disappointed because you expected it to be so pleasant.  What we expect can change the way we interpret an event. In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us what fruit we ought to bear and in light of this to consider what fruit we expect from others and ourselves.

We are the trees, brothers, and sisters, in the garden of the Lord. We are perhaps a variety of different trees, but we are all meant to bear good fruit.  “The tree is the soul, that is, the man himself; the fruit is the man’s works.”[1]

Let us begin with that layer of this parable. “A good tree bears good fruit,” says the Lord. How can we come to bear this good fruit? First, we need to be good, healthy fruit trees. The very basis of a tree’s ability to bear good fruit comes from its nature. But, a good healthy tree does not come about of its own accord but receives its nature from another.

In our case, we received human nature when we were conceived. But our nature was wounded. Our human nature was not as it ought to have been but rather diseased from original sin. But in Baptism, our nature was substantially healed and even elevated. At our Baptism, we received a permanent character – as a son or daughter of God. We were conformed to him – as St. Thomas Aquinas says grace makes us like God – deiform.

But it is not enough to have this character (to be made like him). Consider, in the beginning, God formed man, and then he breaths his Spirit into him, making him come alive. Similarly, so now, God breaths new life into you and me at Baptism. And if we have lost this life, which we call sanctifying grace or charity – he revives us through repentance.

We are not empty, barren trees, brothers, and sisters, no instead, he gives us a new life with him — the life of grace. The life we live is not our own but rather His life. This life is like the sap, which fills the tree from its roots to its highest branches. Without the sap, the tree will not bear good fruit; it will wither and die. If we want to give good fruit, we must be connected to the Lord. We need to receive our life from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit the way a tree receives from the ground, the sun, and the air. Without living in communion with the Blessed Trinity – that is – with charity, we will neither grow nor bear fruit. The basis of our bearing fruit consists primarily of receiving the gifts that God wishes to give us. Receiving is more critical than doing in the spiritual life.   

Finally, if we wish to bear fruit, we must allow ourselves to be pruned and molded – once again, a type of reception. With great courage, we ask God to change our hearts and receive the grace of repentance. We must let him regularly prune us, removing the parts of our soul that will not bear fruit so that they can grow.

In summary, what makes works good – how to know if we bear fruit? In a word, charity. The charity which allows us to love God above all things and others as he loves them. Charity is our life. It gives good fruit. As St. Gregory tells us (Mor. xx. 7.) “By this sentence it is given to us to learn, that among men charity and humility, and not mighty works, are to be esteemed. Whence also now the Holy Church, if there be any miracles of heretics, despises them, because she knows that they have not the mark of holiness. And the proof of holiness is not to work miracles, but to love our neighbor as ourselves, to think truly of God, and of our neighbor better than of ourselves.”[2]

If we are growing in charity, practically speaking, we know we will bear fruit. This brings us to the second, important part of the parable—the warning about those who come in sheep’s clothing but are really wolves. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing. Beware of how evil can come looking so comfortable. Be aware of how it appears so attractive. Be mindful of how our expectations of how holiness looks color the way we react to those around us. Our expectations color the way we judge things as good or evil, even how we judge people as good or evil or even better or worse.

We need to remember, as St. John Chrysostom says,  “the discerning of a tree is done by its fruits, not the fruits by the tree. A tree is known by its fruits. For though the tree is the cause of the fruit, yet the fruit is the evidence of the tree.”[3] We must remember that charity is the measure and nothing else. This goes for communities as well as individuals. If a community is unkind to outsiders or each other, each individual needs to discern what type of tree he or she is.

Charity, proven by love towards our neighbor and love of God, which always looks like the Cross, is the accurate measure of whether we are good trees.  For ultimately, as St. John of the Cross so eloquently put it, “in the evening of our life we will be judged by our love.”


[1] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 284. Augustine. (Serm. in Mont. ii. 25.)

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 290.

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 461.