True Prophets and Good Trees, Twelfth Wednesday (II), June 25, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Commemoration of St. Josemaria Escriva (a day early)
June 25, 2014
2 Kings 22:8-13.23:1-3, Ps 119, Mt 7:15-20

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today, as we’re nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us all about false prophets who look just like other prophets dressed in the prophets’ sheepskin mantle but who are “lying prophets” preaching a false message because they’ve got the motivations of “ravenous wolves” trying to lead people from God to themselves. In the Gospel passage we would have had yesterday if we weren’t celebrating the solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, the words that come immediately before today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to us about salvation, saying, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” The gate is narrow because the gate is Christ. To be saved we need to respond to his help to enter into him, to enter into and live his teaching, to enter into and live by his charity, to enter into and live in a holy communion with him who has come to save us and make us holy.
  • False prophets often preach a totally different message than this. There are many types of false prophets. One set of false prophet would be those who preach an easy way, that the road to life is broad and to perdition is narrow, who don’t live and repeat Jesus’ challenge to lose our lives to save them, to sacrifice ourselves to wash others’ feet, to pick up our Cross each day and follow him, to love him in deeds more than every other love. Jesus obviously would have been referring to some of the false prophets among the Scribes and Pharisees, who would on the outside be whitewashed tombs but on the inside full of dead men’s bones. They would preach just on the externals, avoiding adultery in the flesh but lusting in the heart, avoiding murdering but hating in the heart, saying all their prayers but inside full of thoughts totally contrary to God. Other false prophets separate faith from life, union with God in the sanctuary from union on the streets. Others obsess about moral prohibitions, as Pope Francis says, without ever really preaching about God’s salvation or about Jesus’ mercy or on the beauty of God’s love for us as his children no matter how far we’ve fallen. Others, on the other hand, try to pretend that sin isn’t sin, that there’s no need for conversion, that God doesn’t really want us to repent and believe but simply to go on doing exactly what we’re doing. Others try to create and arrogant group of believers apart from others, rather than join Jesus in seeking that all might be saved.
  • Jesus tells us to beware of them. We need to be on guard. He gives us the criterion in order to discriminate between true prophets and false ones, to observe their deeds. This means that they not only need to walk the walk but produce fruits in themselves and others that are truly Christ-like, that represent the whole of Christ’s message and saving work. In order to do that, we need to be discerning, we need to know Christ’s teaching, we need to observe the fruits in prayer and discuss them with God. This is a responsibility many of us would prefer not to exercise, but Christ insists upon it.
  • As we continue with the Fortnight for Freedom, it’s key for us to apply what Jesus is saying to the situation in our country. We have many false prophets. They’re not wearing sheepskin mantles but fine suits and clothes. Many of them are in public office, others have talk shows and other programs on television and the radio, others are in classrooms and lecture halls, and, yes, some are members of the clergy. But they accommodate the spirit of the age rather than the Gospel. They spend far more time examining poll numbers than they do God’s word and wisdom. They say what people want to hear rather than what they hear from God. They substitute opinion for the truth. In religious circles, they’ll preach a prosperity Gospel, that if you’re doing well financially, that means that God is pleased, if you’re poor, that means he’s not. They’ll preach a false irenecism, as if everything is fine and let’s just sit and sing kumbaya together. They won’t mention the attacks against religious freedom, against conscience, against life, against the family, against immigrants, against the poor, all of which cry out to God. They recognize that to do so means to lose popularity, to lose popularity is to lose members, to lose members is to lose money, and to lose money means to lose their lifestyle or job.
  • Jesus wants us all not only to discern true from false prophets but to become true prophets, bearing fruit for the kingdom. By baptism and confirmation, each of us has been commissioned by God to be a prophet, to spread his Word, to pass on the faith. But we need to ask: How do we become the prophets that God wants? We can focus on two things.
  • The first is to bear good fruit. Jesus says twice in today’s Gospel, “By their fruit you will know them.” How do we bear good fruit? By becoming a good tree, because a good tree produces good fruit naturally. And how do we become a good tree? By staying attached to Christ. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of St. John that he is the vine and we are the branches. As long as we stay attached to him, we will bear much fruit. He also tells us that apart from him, we can do nothing. To bear fruit as a prophet we need to remain in him and him in us, to be in the state of grace, to abide in his word and let it abide in us, to remain in a Holy Communion of will and life. That’s the first step.
  • The second is that we need to persevere in this fruitful communion. In today’s first reading we see that the Jews around Jerusalem after the time that the Assyrians had ransacked the Israel and Samaria had returned to the Lord. They prepared for worship by smelting down the metals to prepare new vessels. They read the book of the law to King Josiah and then at the king’s command had “the entire contents of the book of the covenant” to all the elders, priestly, prophets, and all the people Jews of every social class. The King and all the people then made a covenant with the Lord. It was a covenant in which they were promising to be faithful to God, to remain united to him, to bear the type of fruit in the luxurious vineyard of the holy land God wanted. They remained faithful to it for a time but after King Josiah died, they forsook the covenant. As we’ll see tomorrow, the king led the people astray and the people followed the king as a false prophet and eventually what happened in the north and central regions of the holy land happened in Judah: King Nebuchadnezzar came, destroyed Jerusalem and brought everyone except the poor as slaves to Babylon. They didn’t persevere in fruitful communion.
  • So the question for us is how do we persevere?  How do we keep our communion so that we may be a good tree bearing good fruit?
  • Today we’re celebrating a votive Mass of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, who was an apostle raised up by God to help especially lay people stay attached to the vine and bear good fruit in the midst of all the ordinary activities of their life, to help them become saints as husbands and wives, as honest nurses, teachers, taxi drivers, farmers, teachers and more. He taught that one doesn’t have to become a Carthusian or a Poor Clare to become a saint, that one doesn’t have to leave the world to become holy, because God wants to help us all become holy by helping us to unite all of our activities to him — a teaching eventually enrhsined in the Second Vatican Council’s universal call to holiness but which was controversial in the late 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s until Vatican II placed this teaching, which had always been present but underemphasized, in center stage.  Tomorrow is the 39th anniversary of St. Josemaria’s death and his feast day but insofar as it’s also my 15th anniversary as a priest, I’m anticipating St. Josemaria’s feast so that I can say the special prayers the Church gives priests to say on their ordination anniversaries.
  • St. Josemaria knew that for many Catholics — lay, ordained and religious — the “spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He sought to help us all to strengthen our flesh to obey our spirit, by receiving and responding to God’s grace to become holy disciples and ardent apostles. He first taught about the importance of unity of life, that we see to unite all the aspects of our day to God, including the work we have to do each day, which is so much a part of our day-to-day existence. He wanted to help us learn how to pray our work, to offer it to God like Abel offered his sacrifice, and to offer ourselves together with our work. In order to help us to pray our work so that through it we bear fruit for the kingdom, he exhorted us all to live a “plan of life,” a list of good spiritual practices that can help us keep our communion with God every day.
  • He advised us to begin the day as soon as our alarm goes off with a “morning offering,” consecrating the entire day to God and asking for his assistance for the challenges and temptations God knows we’ll endure that day. He urged us to try to attend Mass or if we can’t at least to make a spiritual communion, asking the Lord to increase our hunger for him and give us the grace of communion that we long for in receiving Him in the Eucharist. He counseled to pray for a half hour in the morning and another half hour in the evening, making room to listen to what God is saying to us so that we can keep the conversation going throughout the rest of the day. He advised us to pray the Rosary each day, entering into Mary’s school, who teaches us how to center our whole life around the Blessed Fruit of her womb. At noon, he encouraged us to stop to pray the Angelus, recalling how God became flesh and reminding us that he wants to live in us like he lived in Mary. He asked us to end the day with a good examination of conscience, reviewing God’s presence in our lives throughout the day, thanking him for those graces, apologizing for those times we didn’t receive or respond to them, and begging his help for the morrow. Each week he urged us to make a good confession. Every month, he suggested we take at least part of a day for more extended prayer. Every year, he recommended we make a retreat. And always he exhorted us to remember that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters; to study our faith and grow in love of that gift; to seek to purify our work so that we might sanctify it by offering it to God and sanctify ourselves and others through that work of service and charity; to keep an order to our day by ordering it all toward God and others; and to do all of this with a cheerfulness that comes from recognizing that Christ risen from the dead is with us seeking to help us.
  • Persevering in a group of spiritual practices like these, not done externally as a list of to-do’s but as a means to keep a continued communion with God throughout the day, week and year, will help us to bear fruit, as it has helped so many people in Opus Dei since God called St. Josemaria to found it in 1928.
  • St. Josemaria said in one of his several great books of pithy sayings, which are fruits of his many years of giving spiritual guidance, “If you follow faithfully the promptings of grace, you will yield good fruit, lasting fruit for the glory of God. To be a saint necessarily entails being effective, even though the saint may not see or be aware of the results.” God’s blessing, he said, “is indeed the source of all good fruit, the necessary climate for producing saints, men and women of God, in this world of ours. … Notice, however, that he goes on to point out that he awaits our fruit — yours and mine. … He expects abundant fruit since he fills us with his blessings.” To those who were worried about not bearing the type of fruit they’d like to, or that they believe the Lord wants, he reminded them about the hope that’s contained in Jesus’ giving the barren fig tree more time. “This Gospel passage makes us feel sorry, yet at the same time encourages us to strengthen our faith, to live by faith, so that we may always be ready to yield fruit to Our Lord. Let us not deceive ourselves: Our Lord does not depend in any way on the human results of our efforts. Our most ambitious projects are, for him, but child’s play. What he wants are souls, he wants love. He wants all men to come to him, to enjoy his Kingdom for ever. We have to work a lot on this earth and we must do our work well, since it is our daily tasks that we have to sanctify. But let us never forget to do everything for his sake.” 
  • The Mass was the “center and root” of St. Josemaria’s day. He had unity of life because he united everything to Christ in the Mass. After he celebrated Mass at 7 am, he would continue to give thanks to God in all his work through noon, and thereafter he would unite all that we would do to the Mass he would be celebrating the following morning. From the Mass he would draw the strength to do his work well and to the Mass he would unite all his sacrifices, struggles and successes. As we come forward today, we ask the same Jesus to whom St. Josemaria was attached like a fruitful branch on the Vine to unite us to Him in the same say, so that the Lord’s vital sap may flow through us in all that we do, so that we may not only be good trees bearing fruit in season and out, but true prophets of the Lord through holy lives that announce Christ and seek to bring all others to unite their minds, hearts, souls and lives to him.

The readings for the Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 KGS 22:8-13; 23:1-3

The high priest Hilkiah informed the scribe Shaphan,
“I have found the book of the law in the temple of the LORD.”
Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, who read it.
Then the scribe Shaphan went to the king and reported,
“Your servants have smelted down the metals available in the temple
and have consigned them to the master workmen
in the temple of the LORD.”
The scribe Shaphan also informed the king
that the priest Hilkiah had given him a book,
and then read it aloud to the king.
When the king heard the contents of the book of the law,
he tore his garments and issued this command to Hilkiah the priest,
Ahikam, son of Shaphan,
Achbor, son of Micaiah, the scribe Shaphan,
and the king’s servant Asaiah:
“Go, consult the LORD for me, for the people, for all Judah,
about the stipulations of this book that has been found,
for the anger of the LORD has been set furiously ablaze against us,
because our fathers did not obey the stipulations of this book,
nor fulfill our written obligations.”The king then had all the elders of Judah
and of Jerusalem summoned together before him.
The king went up to the temple of the LORD with all the men of Judah
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem:
priests, prophets, and all the people, small and great.
He had the entire contents of the book of the covenant
that had been found in the temple of the LORD, read out to them.
Standing by the column, the king made a covenant before the LORD
that they would follow him
and observe his ordinances, statutes and decrees
with their whole hearts and souls,
thus reviving the terms of the covenant
which were written in this book.
And all the people stood as participants in the covenant.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 119:33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40

R. (33a) Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them.
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Lead me in the path of your commands,
for in it I delight.
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Incline my heart to your decrees
and not to gain.
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Turn away my eyes from seeing what is vain:
by your way give me life.
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your justice give me life.
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.

Gospel
MT 7:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”