3rd Sunday of Lent C

Sir, leave it another year

In today’s gospel, Christ teaches how God’s grace works slowly but surely. Our Lord does so by the parable of the fig tree that seemed unproductive, but was finally made to produce through tender loving care.

The parable was fiction. Father Turquetil’s conversion of the Eskimos was an even more amazing illustration of the workings of grace.

Arsene Turquetil was born near Lisieux, France, in 1876. He joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary order; and having been ordained a priest in 1899, he was dispatched to Canada’s far northeast to work among the natives. After twelve years with the Indians, he was sent to pioneer a mission among the Eskimos around Chesterfield Inlet, off upper Hudson Bay.

Father Arsene struggled five long years to win these non-Christians to the faith. They gathered to hear him but only in order to laugh at his message and mock his Mass.

When the bishop learned that his missionary could report not a single convert after five years, he ordered him to return to headquarters in order to receive another assignment.

Despite his failure thus far, Father Turquetil did not want to give up. “Give me one more year” he pleaded. “All right,” said the bishop, “if you insist, one more year. ”

This was around 1917. About that time the missionary received a letter from a friend back home telling how Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, a Lisieux girl, had since her death in 1897 been working many sorts of miracles. Father Arsene decided to ask her help with the Eskimos. His friend had sent a packet of dust from Therese’s tomb. So, the next time the Eskimos gathered to hear him, he had his lay brothers go around behind the natives secretly and drop a bit of the dust on the head of each of them.

It worked. The priest was able to baptize a baby shortly after. Then the head of the Eskimos suddenly came up and said, “I want to become a Christian.” The rest followed their leader’s example. It was a true miracle of grace, and it also helped achieve the canonization of St. Therese of Lisieux in 1925. When Turquetil, named bishop of his Eskimos in 1931, retired in 1943, there were only two non-Christians among the Eskimos of Chesterfield Inlet!

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q570: What is the connection between the burning bush and fig tree stories?

Think of yourself as a fig tree. Do you bear fruit? If you don’t, do you think you ought to be cut down and destroyed, since you are useless in terms of your purpose in life? If you think you have not been bearing fruit, consider this: what have you been using for fertilizer to enhance your life journey?

Underlying the parable that Jesus tells about the fig tree (Luke 13:1-9), we can see two major characteristics of our God. He is merciful, and he is just. God is merciful to us, since He has great patience and gives us another opportunity to turn our life around, to bear fruit. He is also a God of justice, because if we repeatedly refuse His invitation to bear fruit, then He will permit us to be destroyed by our own actions.

Our life-giving fertilizer consists of repentance, confession, and a firm commitment to change our life. This is, in effect, removing our sandals in the presence of our God as we admit our guilt and plead for his mercy. We then trust in God’s mercy, and ask Him for the grace we need to redirect our energies into more productive endeavors.

The connection with the Burning Bush in the first reading (Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15)? God’s patience with us is His burning, all-consuming but not-destroying love. He wants us to accept His freely-offered grace; He wants us to permit Him to transform our barren fig trees of selfishness and self-righteousness (like the religious leaders of his day) into images of his love that bears fruit for others.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! We are offered the choice between spiritual life and death, right now. Through the sacrament of penance and faith, we pass from death to life; our barren fig tree is restored to productive life and is brought to spiritual resurrection.

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Are You Saved?

Have you ever had someone ask you that? Some Christians believe that after an very moving religious experience, one’s salvation is pretty much assured. They answer that question with a resounding and confident “yes.” But we Catholics would be better advised to answer, “I’m in the process of being saved.” The liturgy stresses this ongoing nature of Christian conversion. Moses, in the awesome experience of the burning bush, the Israelites, in the passage through the Red Sea, and their eating of the manna and drinking of the water from the rock, had experienced God’s loving care. But St. Paul reminds us that many of them relapsed into their old ways and rejected God’s ways. Jesus too reminds us of the need for continuing repentance, since we know neither the day nor the hour of our end. The parable of the fig tree reminds us that God is patient, always ready to give us another chance but it also points out that we should not presume on his patience.

Lord God, our Father, open our eyes that we may look honestly at our relationship with you. Support us when we fall short in our efforts to cooperate with your grace . Give us the gift of repentance.

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