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A Good Tree Bears Good Fruit

‘The test of a person is in their conversation,’ is taken from Ecclesiasticus 27:5-8. It would be interesting to hear your comments on this verse.

Of course, we have all sorts of different conversations. The test comes when we can converse in appropriate ways considering the context, we find ourselves in. We have lighter and more serious conversations. If someone is experiencing something painful in their lives, we don’t dismiss it or make light of it. We would soon discover that people would not want to confide in us. If we are serious all the time, we would not be much fun to be with.

We learn a lot about people when they open their mouths? Maybe, I should quit while I am ahead.

Yes, we do discover a lot about someone in their conversation, but we learn even more when what they say matches what they do.

Ecclesiasticus is full of practical wisdom on how to live our lives. It was written several thousand years ago but can still speak to our situation and context in 2019.

‘The test of a person is in their conversation’.

What conversations are you proud of recently? What have you revealed about yourself in the conversations you have had? Have you been truly present to the people you have been talking to? Have you been supportive, encouraging and understanding? Have you been able to give constructive, helpful criticism if necessary? Have you been Christ-like? As a priest, I ask myself, have I been an instrument of God’s love and mercy to those I have met today? And if I haven’t what’s going on?

Living a life of Leadership and Integrity

In St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 15:54-58, what do we learn about him in the light of the Ecclesiasticus statement? He teaches them to be thankful and never to give in or to admit defeat when it comes to working for the Lord, because Jesus has won the ultimate victory over death and sin. St Paul shows true leadership and integrity. He was aware of his limitations. He was humble in admitting his earlier persecution of the Church. He faced incredible challenges, hunger and deprivation, persecution and violence but was able to say at the end of his life ‘I have run the race and fought the good fight’. He never gave in. From the tree of his life and experience he produced good fruit. As our teacher, he is guiding us to do the same. We know by what he says and what he does, the kind of man he is and the kind of person he encourages us to be. His heart, words and actions are integrated and motivated by his relationship and absolute trust and faith in Christ. That’s what we hope for in our own situations. If we allow ourselves to get discouraged it’s important to remember that it is a work in progress.

I am sure at times, St Paul, wondered about his mission when he faced his personal weakness, failures and opposition from others. Have you ever felt like that and wanted to give up? Or thought what you have been asked to do is beyond you? What keeps you going? What keeps you running the race?

And if we are struggling to believe and wanting to make sense of our lives, given some of the failure in Church leadership of recent times with the sexual abuse crisis, it is understandable that some would want to walk away and give up. If the leadership is like that, why should I follow? The parable of Jesus rings true, ‘Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit’. It’s a sobering thought.

Reflecting on our own shortcomings and failures to live the Gospel though will hopefully keep us humble and motivate us to pray for our Church leaders and for an enlightened future for our Church having learnt from these shameful mistakes. Cardinal John Dew recently returned from Rome commented that he had spoken to Pope Francis and assured him of the prayerful support of the Catholic people of New Zealand, so please pray for him... the sexual abuse crisis weighs heavily on his heart, and he is genuinely trying to find a way to address this very difficult issue.”

As individuals and as a Church, we need to look into our own backyard rather than over the fence at our neighbours, ‘To take the plank out of our own eye first’. I think a lot of positive work is being done in that direction. If we love the Church, we needn’t be afraid of facing the hard decisions. Our confidence in the end is not ultimately founded on this or that Church leader or this or that charismatic person, although it helps, but on the person of Christ who has promised to be with his Church to the end of time. A Church made up of weak and fallible men and women to which we belong.

Jesus in today’s Gospel taken from Luke 6:39-45, draws on a whole lot of practical and familiar wisdom like that found in Ecclesiasticus. They sound like proverbs. ‘Every tree can be told by its fruit. People do not pick figs from thorns.’ There is a clear link between ‘the test of a person is in their conversation’ with the statement of Jesus, ‘For a man, (and a woman) words flow out of what fills his (or her) heart’. What fills our heart which in turn influences the words that flow from our lips? Is it a genuine love for God, our neighbour and ourselves?

This coming Wednesday we begin the Season of Lent. That time of preparation for Easter where we focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a time of renewal, reflection and conversion of heart. Today’s Gospel is a wakeup call to get ready for action.

We judge ourselves by the standards of Jesus: a good tree bears good fruit. The fruit of a good tree would be those conversations and words we use full of warmth because our own hearts are warm, to be affirming, encouraging and compassionate because our own hearts have experienced all those things. Every now and again those conversations may involve challenging others in a constructive way (taking the splinter out of our brother or sister’s eye) because those challenges from others have helped us to grow as well. However, Jesus challenged his disciples about hypocrisy, and it is important that we look into our own hearts first to see that we are coming from a genuine place of love and concern.

The beautiful Irish hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’ which is recorded on ‘A Noble Work’ includes these lyrics, ‘Thou my best thought by day or by night’, ‘Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word’, ‘thou and thou only first in my heart’ connects with Christ saying that our words flow out of what fills our hearts. You may like to listen to or even sing the hymn with me in the light of our readings today.

Listen to Track 2, ‘Be Thou My Vision’ from the album "A Noble Work".

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