“By their fruits you shall know them.”
[ Ordinary of the
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Today our Lord speaks to us of “false prophets.” In modern terms that might
mean being ware of false friends, corrupt politicians, modernist clergymen,
and such people who have an impact on our lives. “By their fruits you will
know them,” He tells us. In other words we ought to evaluate them not so
much by what they say, as by what they do. And, obviously the fruits our
Lord had in mind are not so much worldly, material things, as the fruits of
the spirit. We ought to follow and emulate those whose lives bring them
into close contact with God; those who foster good relations with the people
around them for the love of God.
We also ought to use the same standard in evaluating ourselves. Do the
things that we do bring us closer to God? Are we making progress in the
spiritual life? Do we respect those around us as God's other children, made
in His image and likeness? We might turn the familiar Catechism answer
around a bit and ask ourselves whether or not we are: knowing, loving,
and serving God?
Those three are related. Serving God in any meaningful way seems to depend
on loving Him—serving Him out of fear doesn't seem very meritorious. And,
of course, loving God requires knowing Him and something about Him. Some of
us may be more or less intellectual and some of us have a greater or
lesser disposition to show love and affection—but no matter what the extent,
we have to do some of each in order to serve God and produce the “good
fruit” our Lord demands.
Some folks know that there is a God, but don't want Him to become involved
in their lives. We've all heard people say something like, I believe in
God, but if He doesn't bother me, I won't bother Him." Often they boast
about how they are able to live good lives without fear of God's
punishments, or expectation of His rewards. They are simply fooling
themselves, as it is impossible to have a good and complete life while
ignoring life's purpose; it is impossible to treat other people with full
human dignity if we deny fully half of their nature. Man is meant for
God—human beings have a soul as well as a body. To ignore this fundamental
human dimension is to live a life that is not fully human.
There are other folks who make a fetish out of knowing God, but who seem
content with that knowledge just for the sake of knowledge. This is a trap
that intellectual people sometimes fall into. They think that they please
God simply by knowing a lot of things about Him. They can quote canon law,
recite long passages from the Bible, and argue fine points of theology
but they rarely (or never) spend a few minutes of friendship or love with
the God whom they know so much about. Some of them don't even realize that
the facts that they learn in books have any application in the real world
memorizing facts is just another intellectual game.
Some try loving God without knowing about Him, or allowing their knowledge
to direct their actions. They seek God through their emotions, or by
following the fashions and false prophets of the age. When they approach a
spiritual problem they insist that God instruct them with visions or voices,
demanding miracles instead of relying on the brain God gave them.
Finally, others—probably rarer today—think they can approach God just by
self-denial. They go beyond a holy abstinence, to a fear and suspicion of
God's material creations. Life doesn't have enough rules for them; they
disdain learning about God, for fear that they will be misled—they mistrust
“letting themselves go” enough to love God, for fear that any kind of love
will only weaken their iron resolve.
As you might expect, the true course to holiness lies somewhere between the
extremes. God gave us an intellect, and we must use it to know Him, so that
we can know our purpose in life and know the object of our love; so that we
can make decisions about how to conduct our lives to best serve Him in this
world. Some of us are smart; some not so smart—it doesn't matter, for we
are still called upon to use our minds according to their capacity.
God also gave us a will—the ability to love; to desire what is good. Just
as we must exercise the intellect, we must exercise the will, growing closer
and closer to God as the object of our affections. Again, some will find
this easier, while others will find it more difficult. But still, just like
the intellect, we must use the will according to its capacity.
“By their fruits you shall know them,” says the Lord. And the fruits He is
talking about in us and in others—are the knowledge, the love, and the
service of God. For it is by these three that we “do the will of the
Father, and enter into the kingdom of heaven.”