Gratitude, Generosity and Taking the faith for granted

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply, 
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way 
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed 
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty 
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable: 
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, 
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree 
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also, 
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; 
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”

I must admit that I was incredibly tempted to not write on this passage.  In fact, the Gospel reading for Year A (of the Scrutinies, which some parishes used this past Sunday instead of the Year C reading) is one of my favorites: The Samaritan Woman at the Well. It’s so rich in symbolism and beautiful, it speaks of God’s never-ending attempt to draw all His children into Himself. My husband and I love it so much, in fact, that we got special permission to use it as the Gospel reading at our Wedding Mass, even though it wasn’t one of the options the Diocese provided (which frankly I think is silly). Not to mention, the Gospel reading for Year C is yet another dreaded fig tree story. Ugh…

Yet I felt God tugging at my heart strings, almost daring me to reflect on this reading. A challenge to try and apply it to my life! Ha! But surprisingly, it didn’t take long. In fact, all it took was one terribly humbling line:

…For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree 
but have found none…

Yikes. As I read through the passage the first time I put down my bible and just stared at the cross on our wall. And then I cried (shouldn’t surprise anyone that knows me). All I could think about was something my husband had been encouraging me with for a month now: gratitude.

Before Ryan went on a three week international journey, I begged him to go to confession (it just makes me feel better. Sorry if that’s morbid, but God forbid if something were to happen I could at least rest in knowing Ryan’s soul was as pure as possible). He actually enjoys this request, and sought out the sacrament from a great priest while we were at a dear friend’s wedding reception (hey, a guys gotta do what a guys gotta do). Ryan shared with me some of the struggles he conveyed, and the priest offered him a beautiful challenge: do you practice gratitude? Ryan at first thought it was a strange and irrelevant question, but the priest continued: “Every time we fall to the smallest bit of impatience, anger, resentment, etc, it’s because we aren’t grateful for what we have. We must have an attitude of gratitude.”

This simple encouragement completely changed Ryan’s attitude. He walked away humbled but excited: he knew what he had to do (at least in part) to begin to change some of his actions. And it worked. Over the next three weeks while he was gone, I noticed our conversations were incredibly encouraging. As I complained over the days without a kitchen and our home being taken over by projects and workers, Ryan always seemed positive. “Well, that’s just because he’s not here!” I would think. “If he really knew how inconvenient all of this was he’d be singing a different tune.”

But still he didn’t. He came home to a house in shambles, with no kitchen and new windows being put in, and he remained incredibly positive. He just seemed to be in total peace. He even would try to go out of his way for me and Leo (more on that later). I was so jealous of his peace and positive attitude; I’m supposed to be the positive one! 🙂

So what does this have to do with the fig tree? Well, how often do we receive something beautiful in the faith only to set it aside or keep it for ourselves? I think of my own life and education. I have a Masters degree in Theology from an awesome institution, as well as an undergraduate degree in Theology and minors in every liberal arts field you can imagine. I am blessed to have been raised in a great Catholic family and am surrounded by incredibly beautiful witnesses to the faith. I live in a Diocese that has resources EVERYWHERE and opportunities on practically every weekend to grow deeper in my relationship with the Lord.

And I don’t even take the time to pray.

Seriously, my prayer life stinks. It wasn’t like that when I first came out to Denver. When I started my studies at the Augustine Institute, I couldn’t wait to take everything I was learning and just give give give. I volunteered with youth groups, led bible studies, organized young adult community get-togethers, and prayed like crazy. I knew that everything I had received was a gift, and I would be foolish (and selfish) to not share all of this beautiful information with others. But then life happened: marriage, baby, house renovations, and I became lazy. I had all of this knowledge at my fingertips (God had cultivated and fertilized my life with everything I needed) and I am doing nothing (or so it seems some days). This of course is not to say raising a family is nothing; it’s my most important vocation. But I must do more. I know this, but I have forgotten it somewhere along the way. That’s in part one of the reasons for starting this blog; to share with others the daily tasks of my family AND to share the beautiful resources I have received in the faith over the years.

The beautiful message of the Gospel, however, is that God refuses to give up on us. When the gardener was ready to say buh-bye to the fig tree for not serving its purpose, God steps in. “Just one more year!” He pleads on our behalf. “I will do whatever it takes to see my daughter or son thrive!”

That’s what my husband showed me this past month. He did exactly what he was supposed to do: he took the great advice and wisdom of the Church (Father Crisman) and put it into practice. He produced beautiful fruit in my home: a more patient, loving, stable environment then the ungrateful one I had been sulking in for the past month. For that I was so so so grateful.

So how are you using what God has given you for Him and for others? Are you living with an attitude of gratitude?

On a beautiful ending point, one of the ways God continues to humble us with the gift of gratitude is with the gift of new life. So feast your eyes on one of the most beautiful little creatures in the whole wide world: my new nephew William!!!! 🙂

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Born March 3 just past three in the afternoon (let us remember that the number 3 is the sign of perfection and completion in Scripture, wahoo!), weighing in at 9 lbs 11 oz (all natural: Jacklyn is a superstar!). He’s beautiful and I can’t wait to meet him. How difficult it is to be away from family when a new life is brought into this world, but how wonderful it is to reflect on God’s never-ending love and generosity, bringing us another angel. Many blessings to you all! 🙂

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