On the Barren Fig-Tree.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Barren Fig-Tree.
On the Sunday before the feast of the Pasch our Lord made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and after He had remained in the temple teaching until evening, He left the city and returned to Bethania, where He spent the night. The next morning however beheld Him again on His way to the city of David, and it was whilst pursuing that road that our Lord cursed the fig-tree that was by the wayside. St. Matthew narrates the incident in these words: “In the morning, returning into the city, He was hungry; and seeing a certain fig-tree by the way side, He came to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only, and He saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee hence forward for ever: And immediately the fig-tree withered away.” (xxi. 18, 19.) Realize this incident, represent to yourself our Lord standing before the fig-tree, and consider His words and actions.
1st. Jesus seeks fruit on the tree. “Seeing a certain fig-tree by the way He came to it.” The Creator goes to His creature, looking for fruit upon it to appease His hunger. If this tree had been endowed with sense and understanding, what would its feelings have been when it perceived its Creator approaching, in search of something. What might He be seeking? The tree stands proudly there, a well-grown, stately tree, not planted in a remote, barren spot, but on the highway, where every passer-by could see it and admire its height and fine growth, the beauty of its thick foliage. But all that is not what the Creator is now seeking. He cares not about the size of the tree or the situation it occupies; He only desires and requires one thing of it, and that is fruit. Ponder this attentively. That of which the fig-tree could not be conscious you will one day know and feel with fear and trembling. The hour will come when your Creator, your Redeemer, your Judge will draw near to you seeking for fruit the fruit of life eternal, and nothing else. Of all the rest He takes no notice. It is a matter of no moment to Him whether your outward appearance is beautiful or unsightly, whether you are finely developed or stunted; it is immaterial to Him whether you stood by the wayside, i.e., occupied a position of distinction and influence, or lived in obscurity and seclusion. He is only concerned about one thing whether fruit is or is not to be found on you. Reflect upon this truth, my soul, and let this be your chief anxiety. Never lie down to rest without having gathered one fruit for life eternal, for only think, one single fig would have preserved the tree from being cursed, but that one was not found on it.
2d. Our Lord found nothing on it but leaves only. The stately tree stood by the wayside, with its thick, luxuriant foliage, and the very abundance of its leaves seemed to promise that its fruit would be equally abundant, but this expectation was not realized. Thus it is with many persons, very often in fact with the very men who have an appearance of great virtue, whom one supposes and expects to be fruitful in what is good: Priests and Religious for instance. In them our Lord finds nothing besides the leaves of pharisaical tradition, as St. Augustine says; finds nothing but the mere leaves of regal pride without the works of truth; faith alone without fruit. Ask yourself therefore, ask yourself seriously, if you are a fig-tree of this description, abounding in leaves but destitute of fruit. You are perhaps much esteemed by your fellow men; your natural gifts, your talents, your external activity attracts approval and applause; you may have the reputation of being a good preacher, an able missioner, an excellent schoolmaster, an admirable instructor of the young, but after all, those qualities are nothing more than leaves. Those things have their value, but only in as far as all we do is done for God, and in the day of judgment our God will certainly not ask whether we are fluent orators or clever workers. He will ask, as we read in the Imitation, “not what we have read, but what we have done; nor how well we have spoken, but how religiously we have lived.” St. Dorotheus once said to a Brother who prided himself somewhat upon his attention and care in nursing the sick: “You are, I acknowledge, an excellent and careful infirmarian, but I cannot say that I notice you to have become a good monk.” Can this be said of you? Have you more leaves to boast of than fruit; more merit in man’s sight than in God’s sight?
3d. Our Lord cursed the tree. “And He saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig-tree withered away.” In this admire the goodness of God while you tremble at His severity. He shows Himself to be a merciful and loving God inasmuch as He chooses an inanimate creature, incapable of feeling pain, as an object whereby to teach us what, in the strictness of His justice, He will be compelled to do to His rational creatures if they bear no fruit, if they are satisfied with the mere appearance of sanctity. In that case the just God who was ready to pour out the plenitude of His benediction upon His creature, who had already for years lavished on him blessings and graces, cannot do otherwise than utter the curse, address to him the terrible words: “Away, you cursed!” Would to God that this withered fig-tree might not prove a useless teacher to you, as it was for the people of Israel. Begin at once, begin this very day to bear fruit, that you may escape the fate of that hapless tree. Do not say to yourself that it is not the time for figs yet; St. Mark tells us that this was so in the case before us; the Lord came before the time, He came, as He Himself says, like a thief in the night; and should He so come to you and find you destitute of fruit, then you will fare no better than the tree of which for your warning it is recorded: “And immediately the fig-tree withered away.”
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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