A Lesson From A Tree

FigsToday’s reflection is based on the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 18, 2018.

As we near the end of the Church’s Liturgical cycle, we reflect more seriously about the end of all things–the end of life and the end of time. As the adage goes, all good things must come to and end. But today we ask the question with regard to the end, do we recognize its nearness? Are we prepared?

Jesus tells his disciples that as the end nears, there will be difficulties, darkness, and chaos. Jesus uses natural imagery to reveal the truth of what happens in our world and in our heart as the end approaches. He says, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” While THE END of all things will certainly be a scary sight to see, for 2,000 years no one has seen it, and while we may or may not see the FINAL end in our lifetime, we can certainly look around and be quite afraid of the present darkness in our world, or even be afraid of our own final hour.
Dormant FigWhen things get difficult or scary, I know that I too often cling tightly to the ‘ol saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” But Jesus today offers a different way of thinking; an alternative to what is natural to us. Jesus tells us that the fig tree has much to teach us in this regard–how we should respond when times become dark and when the end is near.
Far from becoming hard in our heart and in our head, we should instead do exactly the opposite! When times get tough for us, we should realize also that times are tough for others as well. And the truth is that many others have it much worse than you or I!  Instead of becoming hard and circling the wagons when things become difficult for us, we should instead become tender and soft and produce much fruit! We should show more love, share more joy, bring more peace, have more patience, be more kind, more gentleness, and more faithful, and display not less, but more self control. (GAL 5:22)
Sprouting FigJesus tells his disciples, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.” MK 13:24-32
The fig tree becomes dormant during the winter and its branches become very hard. That’s okay for the fig tree, but not good for us! When the storms ofl ife come, if  we are in the midst of our “winter,” when life becomes difficult and we begin to struggle, we must resist becoming hard to the world and to the needs of others around us. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned above both in and out of season. We are called at all times and in all places to be the light of Jesus Christ–to bring warmth and goodness, and healing and love to those in need. We simply cannot do that if our hearts are dormant!
And so Jesus tells us today, that in these last days our hearts must become more tender not less. Our hands and hearts must become warmer–not cooler. We must be more generous in our dealings with others, not less. In spite of greater economic uncertainty, we must become more joyful and generous with our giving to those in need. In a consumeristic society bent on convincing us that we do not have enough, we must be more convinced than ever that our cup runneth over! We must be more grateful, more loving, more Thankful–and that’s right on time!
As we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, remember the lesson from the fig tree. Be tender of heart. Produce much fruit. Be generous with others who have so much less, and for the love of Jesus Christ, GIVE THANKS and be grateful for all that we have. Jesus tells his disciples that the end is indeed near, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If we can learn and live this lesson from the fig tree, then we won’t have to know when our end will come, not the FINAL end, because we’ll be ready!
Happy Thanksgiving!
For Reflection:
What is my natural tendency when life becomes difficult for me?
Am I producing the fruit of the Spirit-filled life? How can I do a better job as Thanksgiving approaches?
How can I be an instrument of peace and generosity during Thanksgiving and as the Christmas Season approaches?
With what has God blessed me, that I might be His blessing to the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the religious, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the destitute, both near and far?
By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Your two cents

Today’s reflection is taken from the thirty-third Sunday in ordinary time.

Not so long ago there was a very popular country song by Billy Rae Cyrus called Some Gave All. The song was written in honor of a veteran he had met in 1989, and all of the men and women who put their life on the line for the love of their country. As the lyrics go, All gave some, some gave all. Ultimately, the song seeks to honor and recognize that in this life there are those who are willing to give their life for something or someone greater than themselves.

On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I want to give a shout out to all who “gave some” and offer a prayer for “some who gave all.” I want to also recognize that, tragically, approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S.

I joined the Marines right out of high school (pictured here on the left), as did my dad (pictured here on the right) and uncle before me. I joined right after the first invasion of Iraq, in 1992 and was blessed with a 4-year tour free of conflict. Our soldiers today enjoy no such peace in their time of service. Many who join today give their whole life in the service of our country, and all who join take that same risk. Today we stop to reflect on the life they selflessly offer for our good and the good of others, and to give thanks for it.

Many Marines with whom I served are surprised to discover I am a man of God and a candidate for ordination to the permanent diaconate, and many in the Church are surprised that I am a former Force Recon Marine, but the truth is that the requirements for both are shockingly similar.

Both require a willingness to serve and maybe even to lose one’s life for claiming the title. Both require discipline and courage. Both require selfless sacrifice and long suffering. Both require a love of fellow man and a sure binding to one’s brothers and sisters in service. Both require knowledge and study, time alone to reflect and time together to train. And both demand that a man or woman be “all in.” There’s no half-way with either.

The Gospel today invites us to consider what it really means to go all in for Jesus. Many wealthy people offered large sums of money–but according to Jesus, there were yet far from total commitment. It was only the poor widow today that made the leap from mere “involvement” to total “commitment.” I’ve heard that the difference between a chicken and a pig in the making of eggs and bacon for breakfast, is the difference between involvement and commitment. The chicken is certainly involved in the endeavor, but there is no bacon without the pig’s life–total commitment is required.

Sadly, in our Church we have a lot of chickens and very few pigs. As Americans, myself included, we have a difficult time giving up all for him, and many are simply unwilling to give him their last two cents. Jesus demands time and time again that those who would follow him be of a total commitment sort. Like the widow of Zarephath in the first reading, we need to hear the call to faith and put ALL out confidence in God’s providential care for us–not an easy thing to do for sure–which might help to explain why Western nations are experiencing such a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. For too many who have wealth, it’s asking too much. We don’t mind being involved–but committed we are not.

On this Veterans Day weekend, take the time to pause and reflect on the commitment given by so many veterans, stop, thank, and shake a veteran’s hand–especially if he or she is homeless and hungry, and pray for the souls of those who have died both in the service of, and because of the service to our nation. Be inspired by their commitment to others and a greater cause, and be willing to commit yourself to others and the greatest cause, Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

Take it or leave it, after all, it’s just my two cents.

May God bless and care for you, Stephen

For reflection:

Have I freely committed my time, talent, and treasure to the Lord and His Church?

How is God calling me to love and serve him and my neighbor?

How can I help support and encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life?

Do I appreciate the freedoms and blessings that have been won for me by Jesus Christ and by brave men and women in uniform? How can I show it?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos