Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In today’s Gospel Christ offers a very challenging image. He speaks of a person who has a fig tree that puts forth no fruit and decides that it should be cut down. His gardener convinces him to relent and give the tree another chance, but the first portion of the passage still gives a menacing message: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” We are given a strong word of encouragement to renew our commitment in Lent to repent and transform our lives so that, more than anything, we may produce good fruit.
And reflecting on our third Lenten practice of almsgiving, we realize that the good we do for others is the good fruit we’re meant to produce. So often we forget, but God has given us so much good, literally all that we have and are, and he does it so he can work through us in a powerful way. He fertilizes us so we can make the world a more beautiful place. St. Thérèse of Lisieux speaks of “God’s living garden” as our souls, each beautiful in its own way. But our challenge is to embrace that beauty.
So this Lent we’re meant to ask ourselves if we accept God’s gifts and allow Him to work through us for the good. Are we a positive presence in our families and work places, do we volunteer to serve in our community and Church (please join one of our ministries!), do we always think of how we can serve others before we worry about ourselves? Maybe we ask ourselves, and this may sound surprising, do I have that spirit of giving with even those closest to me? Often we are quick to give to the foreign mission and be kind to the stranger we meet on the street, but are the least charitable to our spouse or our family or those we deal with most often. G.K. Chesterton said it best, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
The final piece regarding almsgiving, but what we probably think of first, is supporting charitable causes by giving. Interestingly though, we so often fail to realize why this is so important. Especially in our society today, we can get so caught up making enough to get by, keeping up with the standard of living we become accustomed to, that we don’t realize we’d probably be just as stressed if we made more or if we made less, because we’d constantly be aiming just beyond our means. We can get in the habit of giving in a limited way because we are strapped, without realizing that those who give substantially to charities tend to be happier, because rather than live beyond their means, they live within them, and plan to have extra they can share with those less fortunate.
This includes, then, charitable giving to the Church. I must admit that since arriving at Notre Dame, I have been blown away by the generosity of so many in this parish. Between volunteering and charitable donations, this parish is able to offer so much to the community thanks to so many of you. And I think that’s exactly how we need to see it, and how I see it as pastor. My job is to help the parish utilize the resources it has to serve all of you in the best way possible. I certainly would always encourage parishioners to think of increasing their offerings from time to time, the way the cost of everything in the world goes up over time, but that is all I can do.
May we reflect then this week on the ways we give: in time, in compassion and kindness to our neighbor, in the resources we are able to share. As God has given us so much, may we strive to give back to Him in all that we do, that we may produce much fruit and make the garden of the world that much more beautiful.
Yours in Christ,