This article was previously published at the Lepanto Institute site.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
For the last three Sundays I had to endure the homilies of a certain deacon. But I correct myself: I had to endure three times the same homily by the same deacon. He quickly dispatched the scripture readings by mentioning them briefly and then moved on to its repetitive theme, which I paraphrase here: changes are coming and we must accept them, we don’t want to continue thinking like the Catholics of the first millennium, times have changed and the church (my lowercase intentional) must adapt.
I don’t think the Church will adapt to the changes being announced. I think the Church, the pusillus grex, the little flock, will resist them or flee. We in the real Church don’t drink the devil’s Kool-Aid.
Some other pearls from the now thrice repeated homily: “the dogma of the Church cannot change, but the interpretation of the dogma has to change to adapt to changing times, we cannot continue thinking like the Catholics of one-thousand years ago.”
I won’t even dignify that piece of theological flatulence with a rebuttal. Dogmas are divinely revealed truths not open to any interpretation. “Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary” is not something that leaves you thinking, “what does that really mean?” According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “A dogma therefore implies a twofold relation: to Divine revelation and to the authoritative teaching of the Church.” None of those elements need to “adapt” to changing times: stat Crux dum volvitur orbis.
Perhaps I was the only person carefully listening to the venom being spilled by that man. How awful it is, I thought, to come to the house of God looking for bread and be given a stone. (Matthew 7: 7-11)
It is obvious to me that the Catholic flock is hungry for truth. As Modernists make inroads in the visible Church, truth becomes less and less abundant. The flock is taken to barren places where there is no nourishment. That is a sure sign that the judgment of the shepherds is imminent.
Jesus curses the fig tree
O dear! Am I going to be run out of town on a rail after this one!
Our first Pope told us: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” (2 Peter 2:21) Christ’s actions as presented in the Gospel, even the most minute gestures, have a prophetic value. What Christ lived in the world, the Church will live as well, because we are his Body projected on to history to live his redemptive suffering. With that in mind, compare the words of St. Paul with the exposition of our ‘illuminated’ deacon:
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me. (Colossians 1:24-29)
As I endured that long barrage of nonsense passing for a homily, I remembered the day when Jesus felt hungry for some food, just as we now feel hungry for the good spiritual nourishment that used to come from the house of God:
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. 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 heard it. (Mark 11:12-14)
We have visited this passage before. The fig tree has the appearance of fruitfulness but not the fruits. Christ does not find there what he is rightly looking for and therefore, he curses the fruitless tree. That fruitless tree represents the false church of these days: it looks like, and has all the trappings of the Catholic Church but it is all mere appearance. That church can only feed the faithful with empty platitudes borrowed from the latest fads taken from the vain philosophies of this world.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:1-2)
Zacchaeus on the sycamore tree
I often compare the cursing of the tree with its counterpoint, the blessing of Zacchaeus, who climbed up a tree to watch as Jesus was passing by. Zacchaeus was short in stature, and he was held in very low esteem in his community because he was a tax collector. Zacchaeus is the kind of man Jesus is hoping to convert. In a marvelous hidden parable, Zacchaeus appears in the Gospel coming down from a tree, responding to our Lord’s call. He who was apparently a sinner, had converted and was now ripe for salvation. That is the exact opposite of the religious leaders of unfaithful Jerusalem, who were outwardly righteous but would not let Jesus call them to his flock.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ (Luke 19:1-10)
Jesus cleanses the temple
Just as the house of Zacchaeus was blessed with God’s visit, the time came to the house of God to be inspected. It was a very unexpected and nearly invisible visit. The cleansing began at once:
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19)
Zacchaeus repented of his avarice and returned his ill-gotten gains to the people. The religious leaders were doing the exact opposite: they were fleecing the people of God in God’s own house. Their punishment came swiftly and unexpectedly.
In our days we will also see a cleansing of the house of God but I guess it is going to be much more terrifying for the wrongdoers. That is because many, many souls have been lost through scandal and spiritual neglect.
The lesson from the withered fig tree
Now the disciples see the cursed tree. The teaching is not obscure at all. We must have faith that God will take good care of us if we only ask in faith.
In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’ (Mark 11:20-26)
Nothing has changed since the days those words were pronounced. We must make peace with all men before we pray to the Father. But pray we must, and ask that the house of God be cleansed. Although it seems that the powers of evil have taken control of the Church, that has happened only because God permitted it. We can pray and ask that God remembers his people. We can pray that the mountain of troubles and shameful scandal be taken up and thrown into the sea. We are not authorized to judge but we can pray for judgment, always rejoicing like Habakkuk even if all seems to be going badly. (Habakkuk 3:17-18) Trust and joy in the midst of trouble are sure signs of faith. Our pleas for justice will be heard if we keep trusting that God will listen to our prayers. The more impossible our petition is, the more glory it will bring to God when it comes to pass. Do not worry, do not despair, just pray. This awful darkness will not last forever. “In times like these, it is helpful to remember that there have always been times like these.” (Paul Harvey, Radio Broadcaster)
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ (Luke 12:32)