I had a profound fear as a child that I would be found wanting, and be cut down, shunned, and removed from the society of the people I loved.
That fear resurfaces its ugly head in the Gospel this weekend:
“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?”
Having grown to better understand my value in the eyes of God, I am able to separate myself enough from the words to grasp their intention, especially regarding the fate of the people who hear Christ’s message and ignore it.
But it still leaves me wondering: am I good enough? Am I doing enough?
I have a constant anxiety that emptying my libations on the altar of my life, wearing myself down to oblivion, into Oblivion, will give no further fruit than that of the accursed fig tree. I fear, with chipped fingernails scratching at scarring scab, that I may fall onto my knees in the garden of the afterlife, battle-worn and numb, only to find that the depth of my sacrifice wasn’t fruitful after all–it accomplished nothing, helped nothing, saved nothing and no one.
How can I fight the fights of my life if I have no sense of what fruit my works will bear?
If I were to give in to this mentality (which is a daily temptation, if I’m completely honest), I would never get out of bed again. The very words I’m writing would be pointless. If I’m writing to no one, why bother? To hear the echo of my lonely thoughts in the chamber of my heart and soul? I hear them enough without needing to be reminded of them further.
Then I remember how often people I admire, pattern my thoughts after, and emulate, lived with a far greater darkness surrounding the fruit that their lives might bear in this world.
Joan of Arc went to the searing end of her martyrdom with only the comforts of her heavenly voices and what they’d promised. She had seen her dauphin crowned king, but she didn’t live to see France be rid of her enemy, or find freedom and victory after so many years of war.
Did she have any hint of the effect her life would have on the world? Did she see, as she was chained to her stake and kindling was piled around her, how many millions and billions of people would know her name? Did she understand how many people would be mystified by her life and the valor in her death, even when they didn’t share the faith that had taken her there?
Did it matter, I ask myself, if she saw these things coming from her life? She gave her all, and the fruits that grew from the swirling of her ashes in the soil cannot be denied.
Mother Teresa said it well: “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”
Joan of Arc was faithful, and the fruits of her life grow abundantly to this day.
And maybe that’s the heart of Christ’s message, at least as it can be understood by the average person trying daily to live in some accord with their livelihood. I know intention is not everything, but if your intention is to work yourself towards your goal, in whatever capacity you have been called, then you must be on some sort of path towards the Divine–even if it’s not the well-trodden path.
At the end of the day, the branches of your tree will bloom if you are on a path that gives life–and, goodness willing, the Gardener passing through the eaves of your branches will be pleased with the fruit that you bear, and let you spread your roots even further into the soil, to remain His forever.
Jennifer Riley is the co-blogger for The Shoeless Banshee. She’s an emotional writer, engulfing people in her tidal wave of life experiences and interpretations. She’s a bad Catholic, a good sinner, and a pernicious writer who tries to find who she is to herself and to God through her words.
Image credit: Joan of Arc’s Death at the Stake by Hermann Stilke (1843).