February 28, 2016
EverySunday afternoon parishioners served food for about five hundred people at St. Mary’s Cathedral Hall, Calgary. As usual, after the meal, they gave people some food to take home. It was a very cold day in the winter, Joe, received food, and went away, carrying his stick. At the end of the stick was a bundle which contained all his worldly belongings.
Two days later his friend came by and showed me the stick and told me that Joe had died that night; no, he did not die, he froze to death.
When that man went away, I thought that he belonged to his world and I had nothing to do with it. At his death, I felt ashamed; and every winter, I remember it. What I say now is meant only to myself. I do not want to annoy anyone’s conscience. What I wish to say is this: the evil that we do, God will forgive. But the good that we fail to do perhaps will not be easily forgiven since many of us do not consider it as an offense to God. What disturbed me most of all was not the evil I had done to Joe, for I hadn’t done any, but the good which I had not done was not enough for him.
I believe this is the main point of Jesus’ parable about the barren fig tree (Luke 13: 1-9). What is a fig tree for, if not to give figs? The owner is disappointed with the tree, not because of any poisonous fruits it has produced, but because it has produced nothing. It is judged and found guilty because of what it has failed to do.
We, Christians, rarely ask ourselves the question: what have I failed to do? I know we ask it at the beginning of the Mass, but generally we just skim over it. The call to repentance is not merely a call to turn away from evil, but a call to produce the fruits of good living. That is why it is relevant for everybody. So often we are content with the former. We go to confession, tell our sins, get rid of our guilt feelings, and then go out and live very much the same as we did before.
Inwardly we make the same cry as those possessed by devils made when Christ approached them: “Leave us alone; don’t interfere in our lives.” In other words we want to be left alone, left as we are. We don’t want anyone, even Jesus, to disturb our quiet life, a life which may contain a lot of selfishness. We may not be guilty of great evil but yet we can be so selfish, demanding, totally inconsiderate, but we don’t want to know, much less do anything, about this side of our nature. The incident happened last week as Pope Francis was pulled by a fan, and almost fell over a handicapped boy. He lost his balance and his temper too. He spoke twice, “don’t be selfish!” We are all called from being self-centred, to become other-centred and God-centred.
Perhaps we need an awakening. Perfectly good people can sink into a life of selfishness and pettiness slowly and imperceptibly. There are currents in life which will take us away from the values of the gospel. In times of prosperity and ease we can make a lot of concessions to ourselves and a lot of compromises. But then by the grace of God, we can be growing, however slowly, in awareness. We may not have any big moment of conversion such as Moses had. One day he was tending sheep. Next day he was leading an oppressed people to freedom.
But conversion is a joyful thing. It is good news. It is a call from the slavery of every form of sin to a life of grace and freedom. It is a call from a life of barrenness to a life of fruitfulness. It is a call to enter into the joy of the kingdom. However, it is not something that is done once and for all. It calls for growth and development. May the Lord Jesus help us and be with us.