What Western Christians Can Learn from the Fig Tree

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

Some think Lent is a time for fasting. I see it as a time of feasting.

I come to this conclusion based on the story of the fig tree in Luke 13. Three years without bearing fruit. What could be the problem? The owner figures that it is simply a dud and wants to cut it down. The vinedresser, a little more in touch with nature, comes to a different conclusion. Maybe all that is needed to turn things around is a bit of fertilizer.

As we look at Christians in America, we have to be honest. A full 82% of us say we are Christians. So where’s the fruit? We’re certainly feeding ourselves often enough, seeing that 70% per cent of Americans are overweight. Obviously what we’re consuming is not quite the right nourishment to produce the desired results.

So Lent is a time to examine our diet and make some changes. First, let’s cut out the junk food that bloats us. It could be the chips, fries, burgers, and cokes that drain our pocketbooks and make us lethargic. Or it could be too many hours of radio, TV, and social media which fill our heads with so much noise that we can’t sit still, quiet down and listen to God. Let’s turn it all off for a while.

Yes, this is fasting. But the goal is to save our appetite so that we can feast on other things such as the Word of God. When’s the last time you sat down and read an entire book of the bible, from start to finish (if not all in one sitting, over the course of a few days)? Exodus makes for a good Lenten read, since I Cor 10 tells us that Israel’s odyssey was for our sake, to provide an example. When was the last time you identified a short, poignant Bible text and memorized it, repeating it daily, even several times a day, meditating on it, applying it to various aspects of your life?

How about the Eucharist, the greatest nourishment of all? Lent is a great time to go more often, even daily. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass is like stimulating the appetite before the meal (aperitif) or taking time to digest it afterwards (digestif). Either way, adoration helps us derive more benefit from our Eucharistic feast.

Then there is the time we devote to entertainment. Could we not redirect some of those hours to entertainment that nourishes our spiritual life? Mel Gibson’s film on the Lord’s passion was released on Ash Wednesday for a reason. It was offered as a Lenten meditation to help us understand the shocking consequences of sin and the astounding Love that lays down his life for his friends. Watch this movie and invite someone to join you. If you fear the violence of The Passion of the Christ would be too much for you, rent Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and watch it with family and friends. If you prefer books, read the life of a saint or the powerful religious fiction of an author such as C.S. Lewis.

Finally, one of the most spiritual nourishing and energizing experiences of all is giving of ourselves. We call it almsgiving. It is in giving that we receive, says the Prayer of St. Francis. If we save money from fasting, let’s give it away. There are the corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry. Then there are the spiritual works of mercy, such as feeding the spiritually hungry, the millions of nominal Christians and unchurched people that starve to death for lack of the Word of God. Soup kitchens and evangelization ministries both need our support.

Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. Three inter-related fertilizers to help the barren fig tree bear fruit.  But keep in mind the owner’s directive – fertilize it for a year, and if we see no results, fetch the axe. So no more excuses. No more procrastinating. Let’s vow to make this Lent count. There may not be another.

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Sunday of the Third Week of Lent (Year C) –  Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11; First Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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