My coworkers and I often just have to shake our heads in disbelief. Working in a medical office as we do, we see a lot of sick people who want to be well. They are sick of being sick. Many of them will insist emphatically that they will do anything, “whatever it takes,” to regain their health, and yet… when the doctor starts making his recommendations, their “anything” turns into “anything but that!”


Yep, one of the sad truths of modern medicine is that, even in this world of miracle drugs, you still have to take your medicine. That’s reality. No getting around it….


We Christians often react the same way when God tries to straighten us out. We pray and pray for a cure to our perceived ills, and God provides one. Our reaction sounds a lot like “Thanks, God – but no thanks!” We are following in the footsteps of our spiritual ancestors as encountered in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Naaman the leper, having explored every avenue of healing available to him in his native land, travels out of desperation to the Jewish prophet Elisha. Elisha, for his part, doesn’t even bother to speak to the man; he sends a servant to announce to him “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” This prescription was not exactly received in a spirit of thanksgiving:


Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.


Lot’s wife was yet another noncompliant patient. The Lord in His mercy wanted to save her; all He asked was that she not turn around and look back. In the New Testament the rich young ruler was eager to inherit eternal life, but he found the prescription too difficult to fill; “Sell everything you have and give to the poor…. Then come, follow Me.” What? You mean I have to do something I’d rather not do? Can I negotiate a better deal, Lord?


Fortunately for Naaman the leper, his servants were more level-headed than he:


Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.


This good advice, of course, is exactly in accord with the directions given by the Blessed Virgin to the servants at the wedding feast of Cana. It’s simple, yet profound: Do whatever He tells you. Like it or not, you have to face reality – He established His Church upon Peter (Mt 16:18), His Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), and if you want a remedy for your ills, you will need to receive His Body and Blood from that Church (Jn 6:53). Don’t even try to negotiate; there is no better deal. He’s the Great Physician, and He’s written His prescription. Now it’s up to you to get it filled.



On the memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and companions


Deo omnis gloria!

Of all Christian holy days, I do believe that it is the feast of the Ascension that scares me the most. Abandonment – that’s what we’re celebrating, actually. We’re celebrating the day that Jesus commissioned His apostles to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, while He supervises from on high. Sure, as the angels instructed the thunderstruck apostles, “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven,” but that doesn’t really answer the question, does it? – how are we supposed to do this ourselves?


Obviously, the apostles figured it out eventually. After the descent of the Holy Spirit they burst out of the Upper Room and proceeded to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth – according to tradition, as far as western Spain, eastern Turkey and southern India. Part of their job was to teach their converts to do the same, to be the body of Christ here on earth. The results were frighteningly mixed, as documented in St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians:


… in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you?


Jesus Himself had a few choice words for the members of His body (in Thyatira) in His Revelation:


I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.


Yep, and it’s remained a mixed bag down through the centuries, this body of Christ. I always greet the Easter Vigil with mixed emotions – mixed because I myself as a convert know the inexpressible joy of being reconciled to the Church, as well as the bumpy reality of life in this struggling body of Christ. I know that those entering the Church at the Vigil will sooner or later have to face what all converts have to face: you and me.


It’s not a pretty scenario. Pity the poor convert who rises early to attend the daily recitation of the Rosary before Mass. She arrives starry-eyed, only to be greeted by – me. Bear in mind that I am not a morning person, nor am I a people person, and becoming a member of the body of Christ did not change that overnight. As I sit silent and aloof in my corner, you enter the room. You are by no means as antisocial as I am, not by a long shot, but after having had the mother of all arguments this morning with your better half (she was right, and you know it), you are in no mood for small talk. Ms. Convert waits uncomfortably for something to happen, and it does – Ramona bursts in, she of the huge devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the even huger devotion to the sound of her own voice. The daily wrestling match ensues between you and Ramona, as you struggle to get the Rosary started so we can end before Mass, and Ramona struggles to fulfill her pathological need to recount a blow-by-blow of her recent pedicure. Ms. Convert’s eyes widen as she wonders exactly how uncharitable this is going to get. You can see her straining her brain, trying to remember why exactly she was so keen on becoming Catholic….


For all those converts who are starting to have trouble remembering, the only valid reason to enter the Church is Jesus Christ. That’s why it is fitting that converts be initiated at the celebration of His triumph over sin and death. The problems arise when starry-eyed converts knock at the door of Jesus’ house and find us, the ones He left here to carry on, the spouse charged with conducting His business until He returns. It can be a shock to them when they find out how imperfect we are; we are in many cases even less appealing than some people who don’t pretend to be Christian – at least they’re honest….


But remember, O earnest, Christ-seeking convert, that we are all converts, too – even the cradle Catholics. Our conversion is meant to be daily, even moment-by-moment, for we too are here to encounter Christ in the Holy Catholic Church. He is truly Emmanuel, truly “God with us,” in the Holy Eucharist, and yes – in His people as well, despite all appearances to the contrary. Bread maintains the appearance of bread, and the body of Christ here on earth still looks an awful lot like me and you. Yet the Ascension of Christ was not some grand letdown or a Plan B; it was the beginning of something greater than any of the apostles could have imagined. For if you have been crucified, killed and resurrected, what do you do for an encore?


You indwell Your body, so that each member may learn to rise to new life as well. Despair not, O convert – He is making all things new.



On the memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury


Deo omnis gloria!

We moderns have got some funny ideas. Many of us educated 21st-century folk defend the view that an unborn child is somehow not a human being. Fewer and fewer of us these days believe that there is a God, and some look to the brave new world of genetic engineering to usher in a golden age of transhumanism. Those of us who reject such folly and dedicate ourselves to the Christian belief system are still not immune to the lure of decidedly weird notions. We fool around with worldly pleasures, convinced that aiming for Purgatory is, well, close enough. We fall for worldly values such as looking out for Number One. We make ourselves believe that the times in our life when we are drawn particularly close to God are meant to define our own new, personal status quo. God, we forget, is Constancy itself. We are human. God woos and waits for us to respond, and we humans may respond passionately for a time, mistaking our ardor for a permanent state. Inevitably though, our passion cools – and we panic. Waking up one Sunday and realizing that we are actually toying with the idea of skipping Mass can be a real jolt. Being the generation that disposes of relationships as easily as used tissues, we are tempted to assume that our response to God was “a phase,” because of course the fervor of “real” love will never cool. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh put it:


We have such little faith in the ebb and flow of life and of love and of relationships. We leap forward at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb, for we are afraid it will never return.


How can I feel this way? If I were really the Catholic I thought I was, I would never, ever lose my ardor….


Imagine a child who visits the seashore and watches the waves recede. It would never dawn on him that what he was watching has been occurring since the oceans were formed, and that the water he sees receding will return with full force if he simply gives it enough time. So it is with us. We will have experiences that promise us Heaven, followed by droughts that leave our souls parched and pondering whether we have only imagined the existence of God. When those latter times come, prayer and Mass attendance become even more important as we beseech God for the grace of perseverance in the Faith and in all good works – easy to say, but particularly hard to carry out when our boat has been deserted by the ebbing tide of our emotions. Yet with such perseverance comes hope. Just as we can be confident that low tide will be followed by high, and high by low again, so also can we “be confident of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” – not simply despite the ebb and flow of life, but in it and through it.



On the memorial of Bl. Ivan Merz

Deo omnis gloria!



I am intrigued by discussions on the subject of evangelization. In the Protestant tradition in which I was raised, evangelization is pretty much the be-all and end-all of Christianity – you get saved so that you can tell others about Jesus and get them saved, so they can tell others about Jesus and get them saved, and so on. I’ve noticed, of course, that Catholics don’t put the same emphasis on evangelization as Evangelical Protestants. In a way that’s good, because Catholics have not been deceived by the “once-saved/always-saved” heresy which leads Evangelicals to play up evangelization because, well, really basically that’s all their belief system boils down to. In a way, though, that’s bad, because many Catholics have been lulled into believing that evangelization, like “once-saved/always-saved,” is some kind of Protestant invention with which Catholics need not concern themselves. Our beloved pope John Paul II attempted to lay this misconception to rest, referring repeatedly to the initiative he called the “New Evangelization” which he felt would be absolutely critical in the coming years. Pope Benedict XVI took up the call, urging Catholics to place increased emphasis on evangelization. Pope Francis has successfully embodied this New Evangelization, successfully gaining the ear of folks who had written the Catholic Church off years ago. It’s an exciting time to be Catholic, if you ask me. There are now many differing approaches to evangelization in the Catholic Church, which unfortunately has led to some conflict. Some want to follow the time-honored adage “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly!” Just get out there and evangelize! That’s the approach behind Evangelical Protestant endeavors like the Halloween scaremares, hell houses and “Judgement Houses” – poorly conceived and poorly executed, but popular because “decisions for Christ” are actually forthcoming. Of course, follow-up on said decisions has always been an Evangelical weak link, so it is hard to really measure whether lasting conversions actually come from a hell house. I live in the part of the country where they were popularized, and I have yet to meet anyone who told me they became a follower of Christ at such an event. Many Catholics cringe at such well-meant but hokey attempts at evangelization. Real evangelization, they feel, has to maintain a certain dignity. Father Barron evangelizes “properly,” you see, sitting in his den giving short, well-planned, interesting talks on various subjects of Christian interest. Standing out on a street corner with a sandwich board simply gives the wrong impression. The seriousness of our faith demands a certain dignity in delivery. There is a right and a wrong way to evangelize.


Because of these differing views on evangelization, I have been utterly fascinated by both an Italian nun who went out to do exactly what she feels the Holy Father has told us to do, and by the discussion that has surrounded her undertaking. I’m sure by now you’ve come across the news on the Internet: “Italian Nun Wows the Voice of Italy Judges,” “Watch a Sicilian Nun singing Alicia Keys bring a Rapper to Tears,” “Why a Sicilian Nun’s Song Moved Me as a Jew.” The lovely Cristina Scuccia is at the center of the controversy, and she has quite a backstory. Raised Catholic but uninterested in God, she was nurturing her singing talent and preparing to marry. She accepted a part in a production about the life of St. Ursula, and it turned her life upside down. She eventually broke off her engagement and became an Ursuline sister, and now hopes to use her singing talent to evangelize. “I am a sister who has the desire to tell everyone about the joy of having met Jesus through the gifts that He has given me,” the good sister has proclaimed. On the feast of St. Joseph, she appeared on the Italian version of “The Voice” and did just that. The response was phenomenal. She chose the first judge to turn around to be her coach, and he is blatantly smitten with her. “When Sister Cristina sings,” he gushed, “she transmits joy, and this is her gift. I know it from watching my fellow coaches and the audience.” She certainly has been given opportunities to explain what she’s trying to do; one of the judges told her almost immediately that she was intensely curious about Cristina’s decision to become a nun considering that she has such talent. The show has been very accommodating, making the story of her conversion readily available on their website, going along with her requirement of remaining habited rather than asking her to dress for the occasion, and putting up with her innocuous choice of songs like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Hero.” Has her decision to appear on a secular reality TV show had an impact? No question at all.


But what impact? To some it’s been a scandal. A habited sister singing and dancing around on television, trading quips with dissolute rockers and foul-mouthed rappers? What was she thinking??? The show’s ratings are up, and there is no end to the comments on Youtube from people all over the world who have discovered the less-than-savory music of several of the Italian coaches because of her notoriety (“the nun sent me” is a popular comment). Is this a good thing? Images have been photoshopped portraying Cristina next to her rapper coach, the young nun looking scandalized as the rapper makes obscene gestures. As a religious sister, she of all people should have known that eating and drinking with sinners can’t end well. Had she really understood how to evangelize, she would have stayed in the convent.


I would certainly agree that evangelization can be a messy business. Sitting at home waiting for sincere inquiries is unquestionably tidier than going out into the streets and meeting people where they are. The one drawback to that approach is that sitting at home fails to address the command of the Master Who was let down by all those tidy inquirers. When they failed Him, He issued the order:


‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.’ Lk 14:21-23


Those spiritually “poor and crippled and blind and lame” aren’t going to come knocking at our door – they’re 100% sure we don’t have anything they want. We will have to go out and show them the goods in order to “compel them to come in” – without distorting the message or misrepresenting the cost. In so doing, we make ourselves subject to misunderstanding, a problem that has plagued our good Pope Francis, the man whose encouragement inspired Sister Cristina “because he invites us to go out, to evangelize, to say that God doesn’t take anything away from us, on the contrary, He will give us more.” The bottom line is that there isn’t a right way and a wrong way to evangelize; some methods are certainly preferable to others, but waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself is like sitting at home waiting for fish to invite themselves over and jump headlong into our frying pans. Are we fishers of men? Then sometimes we’re just gonna have to go out, dig up some fat, juicy worms, and tell the world we’re going fishin’.



On the memorial of St. Peter Claver


Deo omnis gloria!


The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ tends to be viewed in a predominantly positive light. Seriously, what’s not to love? It’s the story of the spotless Lamb of God, unjustly condemned, abandoned by His friends, tormented, mocked, tortured and executed with common criminals, hastily entombed because of the approaching Sabbath, with the incredible plot twist of the defeat of sin and death when He rises on the third day! Who saw that coming? The story of the Resurrection is the ultimate saga of the triumph of Good over Evil; it is the mother of all feel-good narratives. God wins!! But in our excitement over this happily-ever-after we forget that, for certain people, the Resurrection of the Man they crucified would, of course, have looked an awful lot like their worst nightmare….


First of all, there were the people who crucified Him. Imagine yourself as a Pharisee standing at the foot of the Cross, mocking this dying Man with the words, “He saved others – let him save himself!” Or say you were just a face in the crowd outside Pilate’s residence, one of those who rejected the offer to set Jesus free in favor of the release of an insurrectionist. Or you could have been one of those soldiers who bent your knee before Him only to mock Him, just to make His impending death that much less bearable. Then of course there were those who let Him be crucified. It’s true that they certainly didn’t will it or work towards it, but when He could have used a friend or two, those people evaporated like the dew before the desert sun – people He should have been able to count on, people who had literally promised Him, “Lord, I would never betray You.”


If this had been scripted in Hollywood, what happened next would have followed a very predictable narrative. Movies have made popular lines such as “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,” and “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” King Herod was familiar with that plotline; years earlier when he had heard about Jesus and His popularity with the crowds, his guilty conscience whispered to him in the night, warning him that surely this man was John the Baptist (whom he had killed) risen from the dead to have revenge upon him (Mt 14:1-2). It’s the way of the world: mess with me, and I will do everything in my power to make you wish you had never been born. We can only imagine what it must have been like to sit cowering in the Upper Room when Jesus, the Crucified One, walked – quite literally – through the door.


So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst….


Yet the astonishing plot just keeps getting better, for the One Who had been abandoned, betrayed, tortured and killed had not been resurrected for the sake of revenge. His first words to His apostles are a dead giveaway: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19-23).


This is forgiveness, and this is to be the new order. This forgiveness that Jesus offers His friends is so important, so necessary, that it is the first thing of which He assures them. He then commissions these forgiven ones to assure that His forgiveness reaches all mankind:


“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”


Mercy is that central to Jesus’ being; reconciliation is that crucial. Out of love for us, He gave His representatives the authority to forgive sins in His name, and He did it right out of the gate. Let the importance of that not be lost on us next time we are tempted to put off confession. Divine Mercy is the most original plot twist of all time.



On Monday within the Octave of Easter


Deo omnis gloria!

According to St. Faustina, the Polish nun who received the revelation of the Divine Mercy, Jesus told her, “The prayer most pleasing to Me is prayer for the conversion of sinners. Know, My daughter, that this prayer is always heard and answered.


So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank whoever it was that obtained for me the grace of conversion. Twelve years ago I was an Evangelical Protestant with no interest whatsoever in the Catholic Church. I was nudged into checking out the Catholic belief system simply because I couldn’t answer a 6th-grader’s questions about Catholicism to my satisfaction. When I investigated the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the suddenness of my conversion rivaled that of spontaneous combustion; I read through John 6 just to see where the Catholic Church had gone wrong, and kaboom!! – my doctrinal system exploded. My only explanation for this is that someone, somewhere, had prayed for the conversion of poor sinners, and the grace that they obtained trickled down to me.


This time of year as I prepare to celebrate the anniversary of my reconciliation with the Church, I always find myself thinking about this. So – thank you, whoever you are, for praying for me, even if you didn’t know me, even if you’ve never met me. I hope to thank you in person someday. Till then, I will be praying for you.


On Holy Thursday


Deo omnis gloria!

I was reconciled to the Catholic Church in 2003; up until that point in time I had been a member of several different Protestant denominations. When my children were little, we were Baptist, and since Baptists only administer “believer’s baptism,” my husband and I had our infants “dedicated to the Lord.” As we and many other couples stood before the congregation, the pastor (Jerry Falwell) joked about how we young parents had all taken seriously the Lord’s command to “be fruitful and multiply!” While the congregation chuckled, I asked myself about that command – “be fruitful and multiply.” No one I knew took it seriously in the modern day and age. Obviously Dr. Falwell and the congregation of Thomas Road didn’t take it seriously. So I mentally wrote it off as one of those Old Testament mandates that are “not for us today.”

That indifference towards the concept of fruitfulness is the norm among Protestant Christians, just as it is among the non-Christian population. Fruitfulness is seen as an antiquated notion. It would seem that the majority of adults in the developed world nowadays have their hearts set on being rendered pharmaceutically or surgically sterile, and many are doing their darndest to impose this state on the denizens of the developing world as well. This contraceptive attitude does seem, though, to run contrary to God’s instructions to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones who got “the Talk” from the Lord:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” “… As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” Gen 9:1, 7

God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you.” Gen 35:10-11

Genesis certainly makes it sound as if fertility in marriage is something that God takes a real interest in; if that’s correct, then there’s a problem with the Protestant contraceptive mentality. The Catholic Church teaches that the marital act is to be open to life, even if a couple has already has their 2.5 children. The Church also, however, teaches that while marriage is very, very good, celibacy is better. So, does God want us to be fruitful and multiply, or not? Does the fertility issue pose a theological problem in regards to the Catholic insistence that St. Joseph, foster father of our Lord, never consummated his marriage with the Virgin Mary, who Catholics insist remained a virgin after the birth of Christ? After all, the Catholic Church insists on the one hand that Mary had no children other than Jesus, and yet that

By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.

You can’t have it both ways! What was up with Joseph and Mary? Why didn’t they have sexual relations after the birth of Jesus if the command, “Be fruitful and multiply” is directed toward all married people?

We’ve looked at God’s command to Adam and Eve, to Noah and his sons, and to Jacob. God’s instructions to the patriarch Abraham, however, and God’s explanation of His plan for Abraham’s life and legacy, put the Catholic understanding of Genesis 1:28 in a new light:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed….” Gen 12:1-4

And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Gen 15:5

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Gal 3:6-9

We see that God expected Abraham to be fruitful and multiply, and Abraham became a father. But God told Abraham that he would be fruitful in another way when He said, “In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Because of his faith, the faith which led him to pack up and head off to a foreign land, Abraham became a spiritual father to all those who have faith. Abraham was therefore fruitful not only in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well.

And it is spiritual fruitfulness that is emphasized in the New Testament; we can trace its importance through the Gospels. John the Baptist begins his ministry by assuring the scribes and Pharisees:

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Jn 3:8-10

A pretty strong message delivered by the voice crying in the wilderness – be fruitful, or prepare to be cut down! Jesus certainly didn’t tone that message down:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Mt 7: 19-23

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. … Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. Jn 15:1-2, 4-6

And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’ Lk 13:5-9

The message is crystal clear – zero tolerance for fruitless living. God commanded Adam and Eve to bear fruit in a physical sense. Jesus commands His disciples to bear fruit in a spiritual sense. What do these two have in common? Simply put, no one is placed on this earth to live for himself. If you call yourself a Christian, then your life is not your own. The sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes laborious, sometimes thankless job of bearing fruit is your calling. Jesus was quite outspoken about the necessity of fruit, underscoring its importance with a sobering miracle:

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. … As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” Mk 11:12-14, 20-21

A hypoglycemic Jesus throwing a hissy fit? Think again. Even at that time of year, although it was not the season for figs, the fig tree should have had edible little knobs on it that appear before the actual figs grow. Jesus found none of these, and thus knew that no figs would be forthcoming, either. In a most memorable object lesson, Jesus cursed the fig tree because it bore no fruit, and it withered and died.

There’s no way around it: bearing fruit seems to be quite a big deal in the Kingdom of God.

And so, we must be about the business of bearing fruit. Our culture, however, encourages the opposite. Ours is a consumer culture. We are taught to seek to be served and entertained. Christians have to swim against a very strong current, both in our nature and our society, to be obedient to the Lord’s command to bear fruit, because the process of bearing fruit throws a serious monkey wrench into the gears of the consumer lifestyle. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; all of these require active cultivation, which means less time for me, in more ways than one. Less time for me is really the point of the fruit – less me, more Jesus. Pretty awkward if you’ve already got plans for the weekend.

We see the same factors at play when we examine people’s reasons for not having children – offspring eat up one’s time, money and energy – not to mention the banana pudding that I was saving just for me. Children simply aren’t what I want to do with my life. I won’t have as much for me if I have to share. My free time, my career choices, my discretionary income – all these will be limited. I know what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future – changing diapers and tying shoes and packing lunches and wiping snotty little noses, when I could be water-skiing and auditioning for plays! Life will simply be much easier if I remain childless, or if I at least keep my fertility from getting out of hand, so that there’s some kind of life left for me at the end of the neonatal tunnel….

I believe Protestants simply haven’t thought their fertility through. They love God, and many of them are willing to go to the ends of the earth to win souls for Christ, yet they are reluctant to bring souls to Him through marriage and childbearing.

God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him for ever in heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvelous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man. From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock.

If the joy of eternal life with God is really all that, why would Christians be reluctant to bring more souls into this world? If we really believe that unimaginable indeed are the delights of God’s fellowship, why hesitate to make those delights possible for more human beings? And greater still, not only are our children potential heirs with Christ, Pope Pius XI reminds us in Casti Connubii, but as such they are also members of Christ’s body, His bride – and she, too, is called to be fruitful!

But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and Our Savior may daily increase.

Married couples are called upon to imitate Christ and His spouse, the Church. As He works through her, He is fruitful to the end of the age as countless children of God are born through the waters of baptism. Married couples bring their children to God and His Church, and those children are called to grow up to bring others into the fold. Biological children and spiritual children – both are evidence of fruitfulness, the fruitfulness enjoined upon us by God. St. Joseph, though he never attempted to father children in his marriage to Jesus’ mother, is therefore rightly considered by Catholics to be the “Pillar of families.” He was a chaste spouse to the Blessed Virgin, and a holy foster father to Jesus. In guarding the virginity of the spotless Mother of God, Joseph forfeited his opportunity to bear physical offspring, and in so doing became a spiritual father to all those who come to Christ. When you behold the Catholic Church, you are contemplating the fruitfulness of St. Joseph and of all the saints.

So, yes, the command “be fruitful and multiply” is still very much in force, and applies to all, implying physical fruitfulness (for those who can – not all are blessed by God with children) and spiritual fruitfulness, i.e., personal holiness which leads by God’s grace to the generation of spiritual offspring. This is the “abundant life” which we have been promised.  In God’s kingdom, where the blind shall see and the lame shall walk, not even eunuchs have an excuse for sterility, for there are, as Jesus told us, “those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Those “eunuchs,” too, are called to be fruitful and multiply, adding to the population of the Kingdom. When that census is taken, St. Joseph will be counted as a father to one and all.


On the memorial of St. Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Deo omnis gloria!