There is a tree in my front yard that reminds me of this parable. A few years ago a friend of mine lost her son to a drug overdose. I noticed that afternoon that the tree was only getting leaves on half of it's branches. Today it stands much the same with half of it looking pathetic, and half of it healthy and green. The bark on the side that does not bloom is riddled with holes and falling off, and on the other side strong and firm. It was as if that tree lost part of itself. I wrote a poem about that, how that losing someone can be like that... like losing half of your self.. losing your way. That tree is still plugging away trying, even if it doesn't feel like it.. even if seems like the world is against it, some disease eating away at it trying to sap it's strength.. it still struggles to find breath, digging in it's roots until it finds the nourishment it has to keep going.
CCC 1832 The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity."
You and I are called to be like that. Regardless of the pain and suffering we might endure. Even if the entire world turns against us, father against son, mother against daughter, friend against friend; we are called to continue to produce fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We are to bloom where we are planted and to produce those fruits. Peter reminds us in the first reading that the greatest of all these fruits is love, because love produces all of the others. He challenges us to let our love for another be intense. Another translation says let your love be fervent. That is hot, burning and glowing! Visible. Apparent. On the surface not just under it.
My wife and I have been married for ten years today. For all of those years she has stood by my side, even when pain and illness made it impossible for me to stand as well. She watched and cared for me as I had my back surgery and through the long, tedious recovery. When I had my knee operated on, through many kidney stones, and days in which the pain was so horrible that I did not even move from the couch. All through this she showed a fervent love, a love that bloomed and produced fruit regardless of how I treated her back. There have been times when it wasn't smooth sailing. Every couple argues at some point, every couple disagrees. The thing is I don't remember those times as much. When I think back I remember that kindness, the laughter, the smiles, the patience, and the trust.
1642 Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony." Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:
- How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.
I think that's why Jesus reminds us today that sometimes we've got to turn over the tables that get in the way. Every relationship has rocky moments. For some, that means walking away. I've heard hundreds of people say "we just fell out of love." That does happen. It happens when you let the tables get in the way, when you let the money changes fill up your temple, when you let the roots starve your growth until you produce none of the fruit. Love isn't just a sappy feeling that makes you have butterflies in the stomach. It's a choice. An action. It's deciding each and every day to stand by someone, even when they aren't pleasant. It is being willing to fight for the beauty that is the person you are and the vocation you are called to. You are the temple of God. You and your spouse are one, joined together by a Sacrament that transcends this visible world. Are you willing to fight for it? To dig in your roots and continue to bloom even when it seems like the bark is falling off and the ground is filled with rocks? Are you ready to look into your heart and life and ask where are these money changes and tables that stand in the way of my relationship with God and my spouse? That's what it takes to produce fruit. I haven't always been the perfect husband, and there are many days that I am not a pleasant man to be around... but I do know this.. I want to turn over those tables, to drive out those things which inhibit me from producing fruit, and to grow day by day into the man and husband that God is calling me to be.
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."