Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lent 3 C - Feb 28, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Lent 3 C - Sunday, February 28, 2016

Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9
A fruitful fig tree. I think we'll keep it!
At the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality; “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And Saint Benedict, in his rule, enjoins his monks “To keep death daily before one's eyes” (RB 4:47). These instructions are given out of love and not morbidity. They are to remind us of our need to turn around towards God and make progress in that direction while we have a chance.


Today’s gospel reminds us that we do not get to choose either the time or the manner of our death. Death comes to us on its own terms.

In today’s gospel, Jesus also warns us that the time and manner of our death says nothing on how good we are in the eyes of God. We all shall die some day and we are all sinners. We all fall short of how we could love God and neighbor.

But as long as we are alive, we are given new opportunities to turn to God and to consent to God’s healing action in our lives.


An “act of God” is a legal term for events outside human control, such as sudden natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible. It’s convenient short hand in legal language to name it an act of God, but it is theologically unsound. No act of evil whether natural, political or personal can be imputed to God.

God does not cause evil or hurt. Evil causes evil and hurt. Sin happens all the time and sin, by definition, is not God’s will. So whether natural or human-caused, hurtful occurrences are not God’s retribution for our sin.

It would be tempting to want God to act as a comic strip super-hero stopping every evil act or hurtful phenomenon. But in that case, we would no longer have free will. We would no longer be able to freely do what is good. We would no longer be able to embrace God with a love that we voluntarily initiate and direct to God and neighbor. God tolerates evil because he wills that his children freely will or choose to live with him and according to his ways.

Being free children of God requires our freedom of choice and our being exposed to all the risks that being alive implies. We are not a puppet on a string and that comes with the risks of having autonomy of will; one of which is the ability to sin and even cause evil.


So catastrophes and evil do happen. Bad things happen. The news cycle makes sure we never forget about that. And those things happen to all kinds of people. Good people and “bad people” alike are the victims of catastrophes. We do not need to ask whether they deserved what came to them. And attributing their ill fate to sin is just a way of making ourselves feel superior.

We are all sinners anyway. Victims of catastrophes are not worse sinners than we are. They are sinners as we are; on average, no more, no less. When we escape catastrophe, we are not morally better than those who perished or got hurt. We are just lucky. And we receive the grace of living a little longer to bear good fruit in our lives.


And that is what the parable of the fig tree can teach us; bear good fruit while you can. We do not know the length of our life. In the light of eternity, our lives are short. We should use well every moment. We are called to live every day as fully as we can. If we lose sight of eternity we can be lulled into thinking that we have plenty of time, that we can reform later, and that for now we can do as we please. Procrastinating is not a good idea though.

In the end, God may not look kindly on parasites. The fig tree that year after year produces nothing good, but only takes up space, time, and natural resources is a symbol for willfully unproductive human beings. These are the takers, the consumers, the parasites. They take out of the environment, but put nothing back in. The world and people exist simply to meet their needs.

Does this paint the picture of a society we know?

The parable teaches that nothing will survive that merely takes out and gives nothing in return. That is the definition of a parasite. True, we all draw strength and sustenance from a soil not our own by God’s grace, but we are to bear fruit so that others may draw from us. The parable teaches that we may get a second chance, or a third, or more, but eventually comes the final chance.

On a personal note, I am an adept of the doctrine of universal salvation. Universal salvation, or Christian universalism, is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God.

I imagine that our triune Godhead, through the living experience of Jesus, has a deeply human yet infinite mercy and love.

In the end, I believe, we will be judged and found lacking, but God’s mercy will prevail. Jesus will be our advocate. He will show how we availed ourselves of his help in our life. He will point out the good fruit we bore. And he will ask for forbearance for our shortcomings.

When I was growing up as little Roman Catholic boy, I was taught about the Purgatory. I do not believe in a purgatory, where the souls of sinners suffer in expiation of their sin.

But I imagine something like remedial classes in loving like God loves. I imagine that being in the presence of the all-loving God will be enough to make us regret our sins and finally fully turn towards God; call it ultimate conversion, metanoia.

I hope, for the benefit of obdurate sinners, that God will give us our last chance at conversion even beyond death. Those who, even at that stage, will adamantly want to further reject God’s abundant and free love will indeed be removed from the presence of God. And an eternity of that will be hell indeed.

But the biblical record is mixed on this issue of salvation and there is also is plenty in the bible to support the idea of damnation of some, or even many. So conversion in our lifetime could be a prudent choice. Don’t you think?

But even more compellingly for me, we should tread the path of conversion out of sheer love for the God who showers us with his grace and mercy in this life and beyond.

So I enjoin you, repent and turn towards the God who loves you beyond all human knowing while you still have your living. It will give you full and abundant life, even now. Amen.

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