Lent 3 Sunday C

 Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration

In today’s gospel we will hear again the urgent call of the Christ to change our way of life, to repent, to begin a new relationship with God our Father. This repentance is part of his Good News as it begins the process of being his ministers building the New Creation. As we begin our Eucharist, let us recall our need to renew our lives and ask that this Eucharist will strengthen our resolve to lead renewed lives.
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Background:

It is interesting to note how much more Mark’s gospel about the fast and the temptation is when compared with the later Gospels. It is not unreasonable to think that the later gospels are theological embroidering on the older tradition. For St. Mark the theme of the story is the close link between the preparation in the desert and Jesus’ start of his preaching. 

He went forth to tell men and women that the kingdom of God’ love was near (only a few feet above a man’s head as Kerry woman once said)  only after he prepared himself by focusing his energies on the work that was ahead. 

So we who must also tell the world about this kingdom of love use Lent to focus our energies.
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Gospel notes

This passage is found only in Luke and the incidents (those killed by Pilate and the fall of the tower) are mentioned in no other ancient source. The passage shows the compassion of Jesus, but this compassion does not exclude the need for repentance. The message is that we humans do not know when the hour of judgment will come and must be ready — it appears to restate the words ‘you do not know the day nor the hour’ found in the other synoptic (Mk 13:32; Mt 24:36 and 25:13). The parable is then a parable of crisis: repentance is urgent and there is no time for procrastination.

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Michel de Verteuil
General Comments

Verses 1 to 5 are in two groups – 1 to 3 and then 4 to 5; they are practically identical, so that reading them together has a cumulative effect on us. Each is based on a tragic incident: Pilate murdering a group of Galileans as they were offering sacrifice in the temple, and a tower falling and killing eighteen people.

You can start your meditation by identifying a moment when you learnt of (or saw on television) a tragedy where there was violence and bloodshed. The tower was probably a religious building, so that both incidents took place in a religious setting. Then identify with the two possible responses: that of the people, and that taught by Jesus. Note the forceful way in which he rejects the first response. Ask yourself when you have experienced that kind of challenge to what was a natural and spontaneous response.

In verses 6 to 9 we have a parable. Interpret it with your feelings. Here again, start with a moment, a time when you or someone else, or a community, had a terrible feeling of uselessness; then identify with the two possible responses, that of the owner, on the one hand, and that of the one who looked after the vineyard, on the other. The designation of one as “owner” and the other as “looking after” is of course highly significant, and the parable is meant to evoke for us a moment of grace, when we experienced the love of God.

John Littleton:
Gospel Reflection

The call to repentance is at the heart of the Christian message and, because we are sinners, the season of Lent is the annual liturgical reminder about the need for ongoing repentance in our lives. Repentance requires humility and sincerity. It involves conversion (doing a complete U-turn), particularly away from sin and towards God’s mercy as we struggle with the temptations of this world.

In his preaching, Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to alert his disciples to the need for repentance. Like his other parables, this parable is as relevant today as it was when Jesus told it. The barren fig tree is an image of the unproductive Christian life. Such a life occurs when we ignore the teaching of Christ and his Church and, ultimately, will result in disaster. Understandably, there is an urgency to become repentant for our sins and to undergo conversion. Otherwise, we cannot hope to gain eternal life with God. In the words of Jesus, we will ‘perish’ like some of ‘the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices’ and ‘those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell’ (Luke 13:1-4).

The parable has several lessons. Among them is the reality of God’s infinite patience with us. God is just. But God is also merciful. His love for us is perfect and he gives us many chances to repent and change our lives — like the man caring for the vineyard who pleads for another chance for the fruitless fig tree. God never abandons us.

However, our chances are not endless because they cease when we die and, generally speaking, we do not know when death will happen. Our lives in this world are given to us by God so that, through them, we may prepare to be with him for eternity. Therefore, the Lenten message of repentance offers us an urgent ‘Wake up!’ call. Now is the time to examine our lives and begin to rid them of the various sinful attitudes and practices that prevent us from living in complete harmony with God.

There is no time like the present to do what is necessary to make the tree that is our life bear fruit. Instances of widespread sin in many of our lives include unjustified anger, bitterness and jealousy. Sometimes, too, we may be involved in gossip and slanderous conversation about other people. Or there may be physical violence and inappropriate sexual behaviour in our relationships.

Lent is effectively an annual retreat when we assess the quality of our relationships with God and with other people. As individuals, we learn from our mistakes in the past and we resolve not to repeat them again. As a Church, we learn from the lessons of history and we remind ourselves that the Church, too, is always in need of renewal and purification. We look forward in hope to a better life: the eternal life offered us by the risen Lord at Easter.

There is no time for complacency. Instead, there is a definite call to conversion and repentance so that we will be free to choose eternity with God whenever the moment of death comes. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled into a false sense of security. Jesus teaches us that if we produce no fruits, we will be cut down. So, during Lent, we pray for the grace of true repentance. In addition, we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation by going to confession and resolving not to sin again.

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Homily Notes

1. During Lent the themes of repentance and reconciliation are very much part of the liturgy. These two themes are intimately intertwined: repentance is possible because God is offering us reconciliation, and being reconciled with God involves the commitment to a new style of life and building the new creation made available in Christ. The call to repent is the call to turn over a new leaf, to begin afresh; reconciliation is the fruit of this turning around and links the personal new beginning with the work of the whole body of Christ to establish the kingdom of peace and love.

2. What is brought out in today’s gospel is that the possibility of repentance is continually offered to us. But the actual act of turning is a painful process of evaluating our lifestyle, actions, and attitudes – a process far more painful that just the trip to the confessional.

3. In preaching today, the task is to locate the personal act of turning within the whole process of reconciliation inaugurated by Christ who reconciled the world to God through his suf­fering and death. Carrying on this process is the task of the whole body of Christians, our ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (cf 2 Cor 5:18). Reconciliation, at this level, is the establishment of new creation – and it links evangelisation, and work for peace and justice in the world. Thus, almsgiving has always been seen as a key element in personal penance. This larger process of reconciliation must also find a parallel at the individual level: a search for a greater personal integrity, a willingness to forgive wrongs done to us, and a willingness to renew our relationships with those around us.

Neither the larger process nor the individual process can be carried out alone; the Christian message is not one of individual salvation independent of the other humans and the community, nor is the church simply a movement for a better world.

4. These two themes have to be preached together, and equally both have to be present in communal celebrations of reconciliation during Lent.

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Scripture reflection

Lord, there is violence in many countries today:
we think of Iraq, Northern Ireland, Algeria, Sri Lanka, the Holy Land.
When we see scenes of violence in those countries on our television screens,
we naturally suppose that people there are greater sinners than we are.
Preserve us, Lord, from that kind of complacency;
send us some Jesus person to tell us that it is not so, by any means;
that we too do not respect those whose politics are different from ours;
we too have our racism and our religious intolerance,
and if we do not repent, we will perish as people in those countries are perishing.

Lord, even when we help others, we like to do it from a position of superiority.
We label them “those in need” or “poor sinners” or “those less fortunate than ourselves,”
as if they belong to a different breed of people.
Every once in a while, however, you pull us short:
• we find that we too are sinners;
• someone from a different faith corrects us;
• a person we thought we were helping turns out not to need our help at all.
We feel embarrassed and humiliated,
but that is Jesus reprimanding us because we supposed
that those we were helping were greater sinners than any of us,
whereas we were just as much in need of repentance as they were.

“The hour for action has sounded. At stake are the peace of the world and the future of civilization. It is time for all men and all peoples to face up to their responsibilities.”
Pope Paul VI – Populorum Progressio

Lord, we thank you that recent popes have been speaking with the voice of Jesus,
challenging us to stop looking at violence
as something that happens to individuals because of their sins,
and see it rather as something that has its roots in our civilization,
in particular in our lack of moral principles and our individualism;
and unless we repent, we will all perish.

 Lord, there was a time when we felt very vulnerable:
• one of our children had let us down;
• we were without a job;
• we realised that we were getting old.
We felt useless, as if someone had come to look at us looking for fruit,
and had found none;
as if we were merely taking up ground,
and the only thing we deserved was to be cut down and thrown away.
We thank you, Lord, that at such moments you send us friends,
not wishy-washy people who flatter us and pretend that we are without blame,
but real friends like Jesus:
they tell us that indeed we deserve to be cut down,
but that it is not too late, and we can still bear fruit in the future,
and they promise to care for us and help us so that we can make a new start.

Lord, there are people in authority
who look on members of their communities purely as producers,
and are impatient when they do not get results from them.
We find people like that in government, in the church,
and even among parents and teachers.
They are like landowners who have planted trees on their property
and when they come looking for fruit for three years and find none,
they get angry and want to cut down the trees as useless and only taking up ground.
But we thank you, Lord, for those who are different,
who are like you, who have a feel for people
and know that someone who has borne no fruit for many years
could still do so in the future;
they are always ready to try again with people,
trusting that with more care and attention they might bear fruit next year.

Lord, in the world today, when something doesn’t work,
we throw it away and get a new one.
We pray for those who work the land and who have learnt patience from it.
They know, for example, that trees are precious
and must not be cut down except as a very last resort,
so that they are always willing to take time to dig around them and manure them,
in case they might still be capable of bearing fruit;
in this way they are a parable of your love for us,
and of how you want us to treat one another.

Lord, when we think of nuclear war hanging over us,
we feel as if you have given humanity one more year,
to see if we will bear fruit and if not then we will be cut down.

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1. On not Wasting Space

The 19th century German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, is reputed to have said about the Irish vis-à-vis the Dutch: “If Ireland had been inhabited by the Dutch, it would be the bread-basket of Europe, while if Holland had been occupied by the Irish, it would long ago have been drowned by the sea.” It might be argued that the Irish have other gifts which enhance the quality of life, like sociability and humour, not as prominent among the Dutch, or indeed among Bismarck’s own compatriots. But when it comes to industriousness, one is forced to admit that Ireland leaves much to be desired. When I first travelled in Europe, I was instantly struck by the extensive cultivation of the land. There did not seem to be an inch of ground left fallow between Le Havre and Paris. Nothing but huge expanses of land growing maize, wheat, corn and other crops I could not identify. I later saw the same in Germany in places like the Ruhr valley, where factory smoke-towers stood out in large fields of corn, like ships in the ocean. Returning home, I was aware of our wild Irish countryside, large tracts of which seem untouched by human hand. It seems ironic that a people who fought so passionately for the land, should have neglected it so much.

All of which brings me to the parable of the barren fig tree. It is a parable of our lives. All of us have been given a patch of ground in the Lord’s vineyard, where we are expected to produce fruit. Each one’s patch is different, often yielding different fruit. Many choose to rear families. Some also run businesses or contribute to the running of them or work at different levels in institutions. Nowadays a large percentage is engaged in what are called the “caring professions,” working in education, medicine, the social services, religion, as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, priests and in similar fields. And if we are to bear fruit in our lives, the crop has to come largely from those fields.

It is a salutary thing to take stock of our little holdings and see what our returns are like. A farmer likes to take a stroll through his land on a summer’s evening, after the day’s work is done. And there, leaning up against a farmyard gate, he casts his eye over the growing crops and the grazing animals, thinking about what he has done and what remains to be done to ensure a good harvest. So it should be with us. We could take stock of the quality of our family life, of our involvement or lack of it in our community, of our commitment to our jobs and our colleagues, over and above the statutory requirement. We all find a niche for our selves in this world where we become entrenched. We feel we’ve earned our place. But we have to go on earning our place.

Otherwise, like the barren fig-tree, we are only “taking up the ground.” There are few of us, if we are humble enough, who would not admit that maybe someone else could do a better job than us. None of us is indispensable. Not even Bismarck, with his enormous contribution to the creation of Germany. Modern Germany would have come into being without him and possibly without such horrendous consequences to the Germans and the rest of the world. Like the barren fig tree, we are all given many chances to bear fruit. Let today’s gospel be one of them.

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2. But for the Grace of God

There was an old man who maintained his subscription to the daily newspaper even though he had virtually stopped reading. His neighbour asked him why he maintained a subscription to a newspaper he hardly ever read. This was his reply. “Every morning, before any other thing, I look up the obituary section of the newspaper to see if my name is there. If I don’t find my name there, I kneel down and thank God for the gift of another day.”

Imagine today’s gospel as giving us a rare glimpse into the obituary section of a Jerusalem daily newspaper one day in the lifetime of Jesus. That particular day, the story of the dead took up not only the obituary section but the front page headlines as well: “Bloodbath in the Temple, Pilate Slaughters Suspected Galilean Terrorists,” “Tower of Siloam Collapses, 18 People Feared Dead.”

What was the common reaction of the religious people of Jerusalem to such news of human disaster and misfortune? About the Galileans they probably said, “Serves them right. They were probably terrorists.” About those crushed to death they would say, “Well, that is an act of God. God knows why those eighteen deserve to die at this time, in this manner.” And they would flip the page for more interesting news, such as the survivor in the previous day’s gladiators in the arena.

The people who broke the news to Jesus conveyed it with the same “serves-them-right” attitude. Jesus could not contain himself in the face of such ignorance and self-justification. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did” (Lk 13:2-5).

In the face of a natural disaster or personal misfortune befalling other people, it is wrong to suppose that they must have done something to deserve it which those who are free from the disaster did not do. The right disposition is to realise that it could happen to anybody, and that if it does not happen to us at this time, it is because of God’s mercy and love and not because we have deserved it. Back in sixteenth century England the Reverend John Bradford was asked what he thought of the criminals who were being led to public execution, and his reply was: “But for the grace of God, there goes John Bradford.” We can see the same attitude in our old man who reads the obituary column everyday. He knows that but for the grace of God his name would be there on that page.

The attitude: “but for the grace of God, there go I” helps us make the best of the opportunity God gives us in prolonging our lives from day to day, from week to week, from year to year. We realise that, like the barren fig tree, the extra time has been given to us for a purpose, as a chance to bear fruit. The misfortunes of the less fortunate are not an occasion to stand in judgment over them but an invitation to humble repentance, knowing that “unless you repent, you will all perish just as they” (v. 5). Next time we hear about earthquakes and plane crashes in the news, let us realise that it could happen to anybody, and that if we have been spared such disasters it is so that we might repent and bear fruit worthy of repentance.

Today, we thank God for the “gardeners” who mediate and intercede for us before God. We know that Jesus is the Great Gardener who intercedes and mediates for us. In practice, however, Jesus fulfills this role through women and men who function as members of Christ’s body. The gardeners in our lives who have helped us to move from barrenness to fruitfulness include our parents, teachers, pastors, friends, and even our enemies who have motivated us by their bitter criticism which more often than not turns out to be true. We thank God for them, we thank God for giving us another opportunity this Lent, and we promise to make the best use of this season of grace to repent more and to bear more fruit in our lives.

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3. In "Commandments" a film released   a couple of years ago the protagonist Seth Warner (Aiden Quinn) feels that God has broken the Covenant in this mornings first reading. He is a contemporary Job. His pregnant wife has drowned, his home has been destroyed in a tornado (which spared all the other houses on the block), he has lost his job, lightning struck him (and his dog). 

 Since God has broken his promises, Seth feels it’s appropriate for him to strike back by breaking his end of the Covenant. He systematically breaks all the commandments to show God what he thinks of Him. His final violation is of the Commandment thou shalt not kill. His method of breaking that injunction is spectacular: he throws himself off a lighthouse in the midst of a hurricane. God’s response is equally spectacular.

The next morning a crowd of people walking down the beach discover a dead whale. They slit it open and out of the whale’s belly there comes water, fish, and Seth Warner, very much alive. God has responded to his hatred with the Sign of Jonah. Moral (if one is needed): God always triumphs, one way or another, our hatred with his love.

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4. A man borrowed a book from an acquaintance.

As he read through it, he was intrigued to find parts of the book underlined with the letters YBH written in the margin. When he returned the book to the owner, he asked what the YBH meant. The owner replied that the underlined paragraphs were sections of the book that he basically agreed with. They gave him hints on how to improve himself and pointed out truths that he wished to incorporate into his life. However, the letters YBH stood for "Yes, but how?"

Those three letters could be writ on the margins of ours souls: "I ought to know how to take better care of myself, but how?" "I know I ought to spend more time in scripture reading and prayer, but how?" "I know I ought to be more sensitive to others, more loving of my spouse, more understanding of the weaknesses of others, but how?" These are all good qualities and we know that, but how can we acquire them? As Christian people we know the kind of life we ought to live, and most of us have the best of intentions to do so, but how? We are afraid because we know where the road paved with only good intentions leads!

This morning we hear Jesus' parable of the fig tree, telling us to repent and bear good fruit. We know what the Christian life requires of us and yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we also know how far short we fall. So the question that confronts us this morning is: "Yes, but how?"

It's a dilemma that has confronted God's people throughout the ages. Even Saint Paul found himself trapped. In Romans 7 Paul writes: It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God's will so far as my new (redeemed Christian) nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind, I want to be God's willing servant, but instead I find myself enslaved to sin. So you see how it is; my new life (the redeemed life in Christ) tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me (my sinful human self) loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in! Who will free me from this slavery to sin? Thank God! It has already been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free!

"Repent," Jesus says. "Acknowledge your sinfulness." That's the first step in beginning to live the Christian life. None of us is without fault. And yet how difficult it is for us to admit that. We know better than to openly admit our wrongs. If we want to get ahead in this world and be accepted by others, it's generally better to conceal our shortcomings and put on a good front for others… 
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5. In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl,

a reporter asked Ray Lewis, star player of the Baltimore Ravens, "How does it feel to be a Super Bowl Champion?" He responded "When God is for you, who can be against you?"

Excuse me? God had a favorite team? You mean God liked one Harbaugh brother over the other?  

Candidate Richard Mourdock in his losing attempt to win a Senate seat in Indiana, said this: “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."

 Excuse me? If something happens, then God intends it to happen? Sandy Hook Elementary? Hurricane Sandy? God willed these things to happen?

Where do these professed Christians get this stuff? Where do they learn their theology? Learn their bad theology? If there is any greater evidence of the failure of Sunday school, it is the theology that gets expressed in the wake of a tragedy. What Christians say right after a disaster is disastrous and downright embarrassing.

The most horrible things are said about God when people try to say the nicest things about Him…
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 6. Our Chaotic Life

 This notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England: "We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next." 
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 7. Becoming What We Are

 Somerset Maugham said it best in his autobiography, Summing Up, "I knew that I had no lyrical quality, a small vocabulary, little gift of metaphor. The original and striking simile never occurred to me. Poetic flights...were beyond my powers. On the other hand, I had an acute power of observation, and it seemed to me that I could see a great many things that other people missed. I could put down in clear terms what I saw...I knew that I should never write as well as I could wish, but I thought, with pains, that I could arrive at writing as well as my natural defects allowed." Somerset Maugham discovered the secret of genius.

The point is that life does not ask us to become what we are not. The fig tree was only required to produce figs. No more. You and I are asked only to accomplish what our natural gifts allow, but we are asked to accomplish just that.  

King Duncan
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 8. Using Up the Ground
 Soil was at a premium in Israel. It was not unusual for a vineyard owner to give a little bit of his soil up for a fruit tree but the tree took up the best soil, the deepest soil, and required the most water. A fig tree doesn’t grow fruit until three years after planting. The owner in this story, had given the tree “due season” to bear fruit and yet the tree bore no fruit. It took up valuable space and resources. The owner questioned why the tree was allowed to “even use up ground.”

God had given the Israelites the choicest ground. Their land possessed everything necessary to make themselves a great nation, indeed, a light to all nations. They were strategically positioned to send the fruit of God north and south, east and west; but instead, in-fighting continued to make them a worthless fruit tree.

Everyone one of us and all of our churches will have to answer (from God’s perspective) this same question; “Why does it even use up the ground?” 

(Jerry Goebel, Why Does HE Even Use up the Ground?)
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9. Becoming Christian

 Garrison Keillor warns us, "You can become a Christian by going to church just as about easily as you can become an automobile by sleeping in a garage." What we're speaking of is the danger of presumed spiritual security. Our parable says that we're not called just to be here. It is a clear warning against a fruitless existence in the light of God's grace given to us.

Wiley Stephens, Missing Is Not Final
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10. Suffering and Repentance

Trevor Beeson stood at the high altar of Westminster Abbey to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, Catharine, to Anthony, aged twenty-three. Nine months later he stood before the same altar for Anthony's funeral, who was killed when his car ran into a wall in East London. Four months later, Trevor returned to the altar beside the coffin of his friend and hero Earl Mountbatten, who died when his fishing boat was blown to pieces by Irish terrorist. Reflecting on the experience, he said he could not blame God for these senseless tragedies. He wrote: 

I should find it impossible to believe in, and worship, a God who arranged for the great servants of the community to be blown up on their holidays and who deliberately turned a young man's car into a brick wall…This is not the God of love whose ways are revealed in the Bible and supremely in the life of Jesus Christ.

Beeson found two insights that helped him to cope with his tragedy and to look beyond it: "The first is that, although God is not responsible for causing tragedy, he is not a detached observer of our suffering. On the contrary, he is immersed in it with us, sharing to the full our particular grief and pain. This is the fundamental significance of the cross."

Second, although we naturally ask, "Why did it happen?" Beeson discovered that the more important question is "What are we going to make of it?"; "Every tragedy contains within it the seeds of resurrection." This is, after all, the whole point of our pilgrimage through Lent, to Good Friday, and Easter morning.

Are those who experience innocent suffering worse than anyone else? Of course not. It can happen to any of us.

But is there a connection between innocent suffering and human action? Of course there is, and unless we change our way of living, we may all experience the same suffering. 

What does Jesus offer us when we experience this kind of suffering? The power of God to hold us firm, to give us strength, and to see us through.

John K. Bergland editor
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11. Not Nearly as Big a Man

 It seems that the University of Tennessee coach bought a bolt of cloth thinking he would have a suit made out of it. He took the material to his tailor in Knoxville where the tailor measured him, examined the bolt of cloth, did some computations on a piece of paper, and said, "I'm sorry, coach, there just isn't enough material in this bolt to make a suit for you." The coach was disappointed, but he threw the bolt of cloth in the trunk of his car, wondering what he was going to do with it.

A couple of weeks later he was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama -- the home of the Crimson Tide -- arch enemies of the Vols. He was on his way to the coast for a vacation. Driving down the main street in Tuscaloosa, he noticed a tailor shop, which reminded him that he had that bolt of cloth in the trunk. He stopped, thinking he would give it a try. He told the tailor he had bought this bolt of cloth and wondered if he could do anything with it. The tailor measured him, measured the bolt of cloth, did some computations. Finally he said, "Coach, I can make you a suit out of this bolt. What's more, I can make you an extra pair of pants. And if you really want it, I can give you a vest out of this, too." The coach was dumbfounded. "I don't understand," he said. "My tailor in Knoxville told me he couldn't even make one suit out of this bolt of cloth." The tailor said, "Coach, here in Tuscaloosa, you are not nearly as big a man as you are in Knoxville."

I tell the story to make the point that things are not always what they seem. Our Scripture lesson -- the parable of the fig tree -- is clearly a parable of judgment. But at the very heart of it is a marvelous word of grace.

Maxie Dunnam
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12. He Has One More Move

A story is told of former world chess champion Bobby Fischer when he was a young boy. His mother took him to a museum, and he happened upon a painting that caught his eye. It depicted a bedraggled, exhausted older man slumped over a chessboard. Few of his pieces were left on the board, and he was conceding the game. On the other side of the board was his fresh and snappy opponent, Satan. The painting was entitled Checkmate. Already a chess prodigy, young Bobby Fischer stood looking at the painting for a long time. His mother soon tired of it and moved around the remainder of the gallery, finally returning to find Bobby still entranced by that painting. "Come now, Bobby, we have to go." Bobby Fischer did not stop staring, thinking…
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14.  Natural tragedies:
We experienced devastating natural tragedies in the form of earthquakes in Haiti and Chile in 2010 and as Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. in 2005.  The earthquake in Chile at 3:34 AM on February 27th measured 8.8 on the Richter scale, killed 279 people, damaged 500,000 homes in six cities and caused an 8.5’ tsunami which flooded nearby islands and coastal areas.  The earthquake in Haiti at 4:53 PM on January 12th was less strong but more devastating. It killed 230,000 people, injured 300,000 and left a million people homeless, destroying 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings. Hurricane Katrina of  August 2005 was the costliest hurricane and the largest natural disaster up to 2010 in the history of the United States. At least 1,836 people lost their lives in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods.  It caused severe destruction along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas, much of it due to the storm surge. The most severe loss of life and property damage occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana. The hurricane flooded 80% of the city and large tracts of neighboring parishes for weeks.  It caused damages totaling  $100 billion, eclipsing many times the damage caused  by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (Adapted from Wikipedia).  Citing two tragic local incidents in today’s gospel, Jesus exhorts the Jews to repent of their sins and reform their lives so that they may not face the greatest tragedy of eternal damnation.  Such tragedies also illustrate our inability to understand why a merciful God allows such tragic events to occur. Are they His means of disciplining His children? (T.Kadavil)
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15. One more chance:
Just before Christmas in 1985, our country was shocked by an air crash in Newfoundland, Canada. That crash killed more than 200 American soldiers on their way home for the Christmas holidays. A few months later in 1986, we were stunned again by another national tragedy when the space shuttle Challenger exploded only 74 seconds after lift-off. Seven astronauts were killed in that catastrophe. Today’s gospel gives us two other examples of disasters that occurred in Christ’s lifetime. One of the incidents was the ruthless murder of some Galileans while they were in the middle of their Temple sacrifices. The victims were probably political agitators and this was Pilate’s way of silencing them. The other incident was a construction accident which happened near the Temple during the building of a water aqueduct. Apparently it was a project hated by the Jews because Temple funds were stolen by Pilate to finance it. These two incidents are brought up because the Jews presumed that those who were killed were being punished by God for their sins. But Jesus denies this. Instead, he asserts that what really destroys life is our unwillingness to repent and change our lives. Jesus says, not once, but twice by way of emphasis: “Unless you repent, you will perish as they did” (Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds).
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16. The Mission
is a 1986 film which tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit priest who went into the South American jungle to convert the enslaved natives who had been subjected to the cruelty of Portuguese colonials.  One of the most telling scenes in this film occurs when Captain Mendoza, who had killed his brother in a fit of rage, is seen climbing a mountain with a backpack on his shoulders as an act of penance for his past sins.  The backpack, which contained all the weapons of his former life as a slave merchant, was so heavy that he could not climb higher unless he gave up the back pack.  He was relieved of it when one of the natives, whom he had formerly taken into slavery, forgave him and cut the rope of the backpack with a sharp knife.  Thus, he saved Mendoza's life, instead of taking vengeance.  The backpack represents sin.  We cannot carry our "packs" of sin with us.  Until we repent, are forgiven and let them go, "we cannot climb to where God needs us.” This scene in the movie illustrates today’s readings, which tell us of a merciful God who wants  sinners to repent and who uses natural calamities and tragedies in life as loving warnings to awaken His children. (T.Kadavil)
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17. Pastor’s temptation and policeman’s forgiveness:
In a large city, a priest parked his car in a no-parking zone because he couldn't find a metered space.  He put a note under the windshield wiper that read: "I have circled the block 100 times.  If I don't park here, I'll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses."  When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: "I've circled this block for 10 years.  If I don't give you a ticket, I'll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation." (T.Kadavil)
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18. Restitution with a hook to IRS:
Nicky Gumbel tells us of a man who sent a check to the government for back taxes with a note attached that said: “I felt so guilty for cheating on my taxes I had to send you this check.  If I don’t feel any better, I’ll send you the rest.”  (T.Kadavil)
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19. Procrastinators’ Club: J. Pellegrino

Bear Fruit Now! 

Today, I’m going to start by talking about procrastination.  Actually, I was going to talk about this last week, but I put it off.  Some people are world class procrastinators.  They even have their own club.  The club hasn’t met yet, but they are planning on it.
            Let’s start with a somewhat typical family dialogue.
            Mom: “Did you finish your science project yet?”
            Frank: “It’s not due for another two weeks, Mom.”
            Mom: “Have you finished it yet?”
            Frank: “I’ve got another week, Mom.”
            Mom: “Don’t tell me you haven’t even started the science project yet.  Isn’t it due this Friday?”
            Frank: “It’s OK, Mom.  I always work better under pressure.”
            Frank: “Excuse me, Mr. Crabapple.  Can I get an extension on my science project?  I had the flu yesterday.”

            And so the drama of procrastination plays out.  And Teens, if you think you are the only ones who procrastinate, ask your parents if they finished their taxes yet, or when they finished them last year.  On second thought, don’t.....life will be a lot easier for you.

            When we procrastinate, we put pressure on ourselves to complete a task at the last minute.  We are also assuming that nothing will happen to prevent our finishing, or even starting our work.

            Life, though, often throws monkey wrenches into our plans.  As a result, we often never get around to it. 

            That is what happened in the case of the two events Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel.  Eighteen people were killed when a tower in Siloam fell on them.  A large number of people from Gallilee, we don’t know how many, were killed by Pilate’s soldiers during a temple service.  All had plans for their lives.  All of their lives came to a sudden end with their plans unfulfilled. 

            Jesus’ mentions these tragedies as an introduction to his parable about procrastination.  The farmer has a fig tree that hasn’t born any fruit for three years.  He was going to cut it down, but the gardener convinced him to give it a little more time, one more year.  If at the end of another year, it still hasn’t accomplished its purpose, born fruit, then it will be cut down.
             We are the fig trees.  We have been planted in the Kingdom of God to bear fruit for the King.  We are being warned that we have to make the best use of the time we have. 

            Augustine of Hippo was a world class procrastinator, at least when it came to the spiritual life.  He knew he should change his life, reject his immoral lifestyle and embrace Christianity, but he kept putting it off.  Through the prayers of his mother, St. Monica,  Augustine finally did become a fervent Christian, but he would lament in his autobiography, the Confessions, that he wasted so much time, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!”  Matt Maher does a wonderful job framing Augustine’s lament in his song, Alive Again. Augustine looked at his life and realized that he could have done so much more for the Kingdom of God, and would have been so much happier in his life, if he had not wasted so much time, if he had not procrastinated.

            How about you? How about me?  How are we bearing fruit for the Lord right now?  You might say, “Well, I’m just a student in high school.  I’m preparing for the future.”  Yes, in the future you may be gifted with children to lead to the Lord.  Yes, in the future you may enter a career like a nurse or doctor or social worker or priest which directly serves the Lord through His people.  Yes, as an adult you may become very active in various charities, reaching out to those who need help and serving His Presence in the sick, the poor, the hurting, etc.  But those are all in the future.  What if the future does not come?  Towers fall.  Tragedies happen.  What are you, what are we doing to serve the Lord right now?  How are we bearing fruit for His Kingdom today and tomorrow? 

            You might say, “I’m a busy working mother or father.  I intend on giving time for the Lord when I retire.  Yes, I probably should have brought the kids to help at that homeless shelter, but time is limited.  Charity will have to come later.”  But, maybe later will never come.  Maybe the grace to get into action is for right here, right now. 

            Everyone things there will be plenty of time to do wonderful things for the Lord when they retire.  Ask the seniors.  Seniors, ask yourselves: Do you have the ability and the energy to do all the good you always hoped you would do?  Do you regret the times you could have gone into action but “tabled” working for the Lord? 

            We cannot put off being kind to people.  Do we do that?  Do we think that “I’m in a bad mood today.  I’ll be nice tomorrow? If so we are not bearing fruit.  Do we look at that person who is all alone, the social misfit, and try to bring her or him into our group?  Or do we say, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll talk to him, spend some time with her?” If we put it off we are not bearing fruit.  
            Do we realize that others depend on us for our prayers?  You are here, in Church,  right now, asking God to watch over your families, your friends, and all those in need.  You are bearing fruit even as we speak.
             I am certain that we are all doing our best to live as committed Catholics.  We are trying to be moral people.  We all have acquaintances who may have few moral guidelines in their lives.  These people see that we do control ourselves, and yet, we are happier than those who are out of control. Maybe now, maybe sometime in the future, the Holy Spirit will jar their memories and they think about our happiness and then decide to live moral lives. And we will be bearing fruit. 

            Life is wonderful.  Life is precious.  Life is also short.  We have got to make the best use of every day that we are granted.  We are each the fig tree in the parable.  The Father owns the vineyard, the Son is the gardener giving us the ability to grow.  The Spirit is the gifts that we have which will attract others.  But we have free will.  It is up to us to chose to bear fruit for the Lord. 
            As we look at our lives during Lent, we ask ourselves: Are we bearing fruit?