Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lessons from Fig Trees

Readings for Sunday, November 18/ 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

Once when I was around twelve years old or so my parents went to one of the LSU games and left me home for the evening. I got permission for my best friend Stephen to come over but my parents made the point clear that we couldn’t go swimming in our pool and I wasn’t to leave the house. I told them I’d be good and they went off to the game. Thinking I was smart, I calculated the time they’d be gone and figured I had at least 5 hours to do whatever I wanted before they returned home late that night. So, Stephen and I called some friends over, we all went swimming and then we left and went riding bikes around Stephen’s subdivision. As we passed by Stephen’s house during our little excursion his mom came outside and told me, “Brent, your parents just called and said they want you home.” I rode back home, walked through the pool water soaked back porch and into the kitchen where my parents were waiting. I had no excuse, nothing to say. I just went to my room to await whatever punishment and grounding was inevitably headed my way.

Nowhere in my brilliant calculations had I considered the possibility that my parents might leave early. Never did the thought cross my mind that they’d leave after halftime because the Tigers were doing so well; I figure four quarters of football meant they’d be there for all four quarters. I was wrong and I was totally caught off guard when I realized that they were home and I wasn’t.

Looking around at the world today, it seems to me that far too many of us are out riding our bikes and we are absolutely unprepared for what is inevitably coming our way. The Lord reminds us today in the Gospel that though we know not the day or the hour, He will return. It could be tomorrow, next week, a hundred years from now or it could be before I finish this homily. He is going to come in glory and judgment for each of us, and the Lord challenges us to be prepared.

The problem, though, is that there are so many things going on in the world around us that we get caught up in those things and lose sight of the main thing. We get consumed with sports, fashions, and all the latest news, gossip, and fashion. We get prepared for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and for all that comes with it. And in the midst of all that preparation it’s easy to lose sight of the most important preparation of all – that of our soul. We forget that He really is coming back. Without really being conscious of is we seem to tell ourselves that He hasn’t come back yet and it’s been 2000 years – surely we have more time. And we might. But we almost might be wrong like I was with my parents. So we must prepare our hearts to be ready for whenever He does come. We must strive for holiness, to be saints on earth who long to be brought up to Heaven.

And to do this we must put the desires of our heart into action. This is why the Lord calls to mind the image of the fig tree in the Gospel today. Many of the trees in that region were evergreens – they stayed the same year round with little change in them. But the fig tree changed visibly. It’s branches would change and leaves would sprout as summer drew near. In the same way, our lives ought to be visibly changing little by little as we are perpetually drawing near to the return of Christ in glory. As the weeks and years go by people should see the change in us that leads them to the understanding of the Lord’s coming in the same way the fig tree indicates summer.

'Fig Tree' by Yvonne Ayoub
All of us want to improve ourselves, to become better people – better parents, better spouses, better children, and a whole variety of other things. We know those places in our lives that need to change and we have the desire to change them, but the reality is – and you know it as well as I do – that we aren’t going to change unless we actually begin to put out desires into concrete actions. At our priest retreat this year Bishop James Tamayo from Laredo, Texas challenged us on this point. He said ‘You want to pray more? Good. Make a concrete resolution. Every day at twelve noon I will stop what I’m doing and pray for 15 minutes. Or everyday from 6 to 7 in the morning I will be at prayer in the church.’ This was just one example, but it’s a clear one. If we want to change something about ourselves, to grow in a virtue or cut our a bad habit, we have to make it concrete so we can measure it and push ourselves when we start to fall away from it.  So I want to challenge each of you, and myself, to spend some time in prayer this week to find that one thing we want to change right now and come up with a concrete way to change it, then hold ourselves accountable to that in the coming weeks and months. We need not worry about having the strength to do it because God will provide that. If He permits the simple fig tree to change itself based on the coming of seasons, how much more would He bless us who are created in His own image and likeness with an abundance of grace to conform ourselves more to His Will in preparation for the Lord’s return? He has been faithful and He will be faithful to us. And as we continue to change things in ourselves one by one, surely when the Lord comes or when He calls us to Himself, we will not be caught off guard and unprepared, but rather fully prepared and happy to finally behold the face which we have longed to see.