It is not at all unusual to hear people talk with great authority on things of which they know very little. I think that is the very definition of social media, wouldn’t you agree? Pick any news story or world event, and within a few minutes you will find a dozen or more viewpoints posted online from self-described experts, usually each contradictory. The more technical a topic is, or the more personal, the more opinions are expressed, often leading to harsh words and escalation. The blind leading the blind until they all fall in a pit.
One topic that almost everyone has an opinion is – other people. Everybody feels they have the right to find the defects in others and criticize them, at least in their minds and often enough publicly. There are many who would point out the speck in your eye and fix it for you, once and for all. The thing to notice is that fault-finding keeps the focus on other people. That way their own deficiencies remain hidden and they can feel self-righteous.
Jesus asks us to search as carefully as possible for our own faults as we do for the faults of others. Stop standing toe to toe poking at the speck in each other’s eyes. Try standing shoulder to shoulder instead. Otherwise you will both end up with so much eye damage that you might as well be the blind leading the blind all over again.
This week’s Gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples on how to live in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, everything depends on the inner person and not on the outward appearance. No good tree can produce bad fruit, and no bad tree can consistently produce genuinely good fruit. Apply this first to yourself and your own life in the spirit.
Jesus is teaching us the supernatural effect of living a holy life. When we live our lives so that we are grounded in Christ, the effect will be that good fruit is born from our lives.
What spiritual fruits does your current way of life yield? Does it yield good fruit that sustains you on your journey to the Lord, and perhaps with some left over to share with others? Or does it flower, and bear fruit only occasionally, or even sometimes bear sour fruit that puts your teeth on edge? All of us should listen to the advice we heard in the first reading: the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had. Trees need light to grow and blossom. Jesus is the light of the world. Does your life get enough exposure to his light?
This Lent, care for your spiritual life so that it bears good fruit. Work at becoming holy. See yourself as a tree that is planted in the ground. See your roots stretching far and wide. See yourself being nourished and basking in the light, the one light of the world who is Jesus. See yourself growing and flourishing, living the life that God always intended for you. This is the life of grace, and the effect is that good fruit automatically comes forth.
Prepare yourself to become this “good tree” by doing the basics well. First, pray, pray well and pray hard. Learn to pray by reading the lives of the saints. Let your life be centered in prayer. Second, learn your faith. Read the Gospels, learn all that God has revealed through the Church, study the teachings of the popes, and learn from other holy people. Third, live a good sacramental life. Go to Mass, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, understand the grace of your Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, etc. The Sacraments nourish you in powerful ways – embrace that nourishment with your whole heart.
Especially at this time of the year, the devotions of the Church nurture your spiritual life. The ashes of Ash Wednesday quite literally ground us in the physical reality of Jesus. The Stations of the Cross teach us to always to look upon others with mercy and tenderness, especially those who suffer, and the certainty of the faithful love which God has for you. Eucharistic Adoration flows from the sacrifice of the Mass and serves to deepen our hunger for Communion with Christ and the rest of the Church.
God’s great desire is to live in us so that we can be fruitful. When we allow Jesus to live in us more fully, our lives become more and more fruitful because Jesus is living and loving through us. The fruit you yield may prove to be nourishment for others, maybe in ways you will never know about. Your vigorous growth may shelter others from the harsh winds on their journey to being fruitful.
You have been given an important mission to go forth and to bear an abundance of good fruit in our world. Your mission will only be accomplished when your roots are firmly grounded in the life of grace. Embrace this life of grace through the many means that God has set before you, and know that the commitment you make to holiness will bring health not only to your own soul, but also to the souls of those whom God will touch through you.