One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

+ + +

The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

March 11, 2007

For the Third Sunday of Lent

Luke 13:1-9
Exodus 3:1-8,13-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12

In the Lord’s teaching today, a barren fruit tree receives a “grace period” in which it is left free to bear fruit or not— an unmerited grace period in which it is given unmerited extra time, unmerited extra care, and unmerited extra possibilities.
Each of us is like that tree.
We have sinned.
To bear no fruit at all is just as sinful as bearing poisonous fruit.
Despite our sins, God provides possibilities for us in his grace.
He provides HIMSELF to us— without our deserving that, without his owing that to us, without our having any right at all to that.
He simply makes it possible in his grace for us to freely choose to bring forth the fruit he expects and asks.
However, the power and possibilities given to us by God in his grace do not bring forth in us AUTOMATIC fruit.
That is up to us in our freedom to choose.
God respects the freedom that he has given us.
Because we are free, God also holds us responsible.
There is a balance being struck in the Gospel today between the fig tree on one end of the scale and the patient landowner providing time and fertilizer on the other end of the scale.
Likewise, there is a balance to be struck between human freedom on one side and divine grace on the other.
We are not saved by our willing it so; but neither are we saved against or without our willing it.
If we minimize or— worse yet— DENY the reality, importance, goodness and objective necessity of human freedom, then we minimize or deny human responsibility.
That is the teaching of the first Protestant, Martin Luther, holding that human nature has been TOTALLY corrupted by the first sin.
If that were true, it would make no sense for God to hold us accountable for bearing any fruit at all.
However, the mere opposite of such a situation is not true either.
If we minimize or— worse yet— DENY the necessity of the help of divine grace, then man is ultimately equal to God, or—worse yet—there really is no God, only man.
We, however, acknowledge— as a fact— that God IS.
God is.
Today we heard him tell his own name to Moses.
God is.
There was NOTHING else until God brought the universe and us into being OUT OF NOTHING.
He created us in goodness and freedom.
In his grace, he graciously makes himself available to us, asking us to freely make ourselves available to him and virtuously bear fruit.
The Church’s teaching in the Catechism [CCC 2002] puts it this way.
God’s free initiative demands man’s FREE response,
for God has created man in his image by conferring on him,
along with freedom,
the POWER to know him and love him.
The soul only enters FREELY into the communion of love.

Why— if we are free and essentially good as images of God— why are there crimes, violence, evil and sin?
The book of Genesis reveals that God made us originally and essentially good by nature.
As the Church’s Catechism [CCC 375] puts it, the human race was:
constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice.”

Nonetheless, near the beginning of human history there took place an incident by which humanity has fallen into an ACCIDENTAL— NOT ESSENTIAL— NOT SUBSTANTIAL— but an ACCIDENTAL condition of sin and sinfulness.
Our tradition calls this event and condition “original sin”.
The Church’s Catechism [CCC 405] says that original sin:
is a deprivation of original holiness and justice,
but human nature has NOT been TOTALLY corrupted:
it is WOUNDED in the natural powers proper to it….

So, we were holy by nature from the beginning, but we have been PARTIALLY corrupted and wounded by our own sin.
Note the careful distinction: ORIGINAL holiness, but SUBSEQUENT and ONLY PARTIAL corruption.
If we tamper with or deny this distinction, then we must say that humanity commits crime, violence, evil and sin because humanity is ESSENTIALLY, TOTALLY and ORIGINALLY corrupt.
Both Scripture and the Church deny that pessimistic conclusion.
We ask, then, how we are to have our original holiness reinvigorated.
How are we to be saved from the sin and sinfulness that have befallen us through our own abuse of our freedom?
The Lord indirectly touches those questions in his parable today.
We are saved and restored if, after we have received God’s grace, we make right use of our human freedom and choose to bear fruit.
Here in the Eucharist that we are now to offer, celebrate and receive, God gives us not just grace.
He offers us his very own self as the precious, life-giving fruit of the Burning Bush of the Cross and the Garden of the Empty Tomb.
Yet God, our Gracious Savior, will not bear fruit in our lives against our will.
In the power of his Spirit, he does not force fruit from our lives.
The bearing of fruit by the power of his Spirit is a choice he leaves us free to make or not.
He lovingly gives himself to us.
We bear similar fruits of love if we freely choose to give ourselves in return.

That God Be Glorified in All