Today's Gospel is somewhat puzzling and, therefore, challenging. First, we have Jesus warning people if they do not repent, then they will also perish. But will not all people in fact perish? I am reminded of the joke about the priest who began his homily by saying that everyone in this parish will one day die. One man in the back of the church began to laugh. The priest called out to him and asked him why he was laughing. “Because,” he responded. “I am not from this parish.”
So, Jesus says that if they do not repent, then they will perish. But if they do repent, they will perish, so what does he mean here?
The answer may be found in the parable that follows and it also gives us an important lesson.
The tree was not bearing fruit. Why? Because it was not fully alive. Something was wrong and, ultimately, it was dying because a tree that does not bear fruit is dying.
He gives the tree more time after he cares more for it. He does all he can to make sure the tree bears fruit, giving it three years.
He does that he can to make it more alive. Notice if it is an apple tree, it will not just bear apples, it will grow more healthy leaves, limbs and seeds. It will be stronger, healthier, and more alive.
Catholicism is not just about doing the right thing, it is about being fully alive. We can only be fully alive if we are in Christ, because he is the source of our life.
If we fill ourselves with anything else, we may appear alive, but, we may actually be closer to being half dead. That is because we are not following the right path to being fully alive.
Following the right path, may not mean living a pristine life. It means actually more relying on Jesus and bringing our lives closer to him every moment.
It means to take risks in the name of our faith and to live in such a way that others are attracted to our faith.
One exercise I teach confirmation students is from St. John Bosco who was greatly involved with youth. He used to teach them do what you want, just don’t sin.
So, I would ask the confirmation students to give a list of things they can do that are not sins. I am always amazed by the answers:
Brush your teeth, do your homework, go to school.
I always explain that this is a bad list for the list of things you can do—and not sin—is huge.
Skydiving, at which I suggest that they have someone take them to watch the skydivers at Jumptown in Orange Massachusetts.
Mountain climbing at which I remind them that Pior Giorgi, who is a blessed, was a young Italian Mountain Climber. He also was a pool hustler. He would play someone in pool and wager that if he won then his opponent would join him in a holy hour.
Guido Schäffer was a surfer, but he was also a doctor and would care for the homeless, especially those near Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro. He had money, so he would do it for free.
Dorothy Day was a journalist and a writer.
If they had something in common, it was each of them had a deep relationship with Christ and allowed that relationship to affect every aspect of their being.
St. Paul tells us to do all for Christ. When we do that, we become dynamic people who lead others to know Christ. That is despite the fact that we are sinners, so we have confession which is to help us turn from sin so that we may grow in grace and bear fruit for the kingdom.
When the Vatican is studying whether someone should be a saint, the investigators always check to see if the person had a sense of humor. Not having a sense of humor is a sign that one did not reach heroic sanctity. It does not mean that they are in Hell, but they are not model saints.
The opposite is also true. Occasionally, you meet someone who takes themselves so seriously, they grow into great despair when they sin. The Saints always warned against this explaining that such attitude is a sign of pride.
As we see in the parable—through confession, we trust in the Lord to help us in grow in grace and in doing His will. We grow in our ability to bear fruit. We trust in him to convert us more and more daily and help us continue. We trust in his mercy and his grace.
So, our call as Christians is to bear fruit by becoming fully human and fully alive. (St. Irenaeus). Like the tree that becomes more alive, a good Catholic is not morose, but alive in the knowledge that he is living in Christ, surrounded by his grace.
Those destined to perish were dying because they sought life where it could not be found. Christ calls us to the fullness of life which can only come when we allow Him daily to transform us and make us more holy and alive through our cooperation with his grace.
The final note here is that often you hear about the need to remain in a state of grace to ensure that you go to Heaven. However, that is an individualistic understanding that is a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching. We need to remain in a state of grace that we may bear fruit for the kingdom as we journey to heaven.
If our sole focus is to make sure we are in a state of grace that we may go to Heaven, we miss the point of the need to bear fruit. We become like the tree that looks alive but never bears fruit. We need to remain in a state of grace not only to journey to Heaven, but also to make sure others get there as well.