Our Lord loves fruitfulness. He loves it so much that he made it the first commandment of the Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22), a command he has re-echoed many times. In today’s Gospel, we are struck with the dual image of man’s need for repentance along with a fig tree that is not bearing fruit. We find in today’s reading: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit, but he found none” (Lk 13:6). This image of the fig tree is coupled with the exhortation: “If you do not repent, you will all perish!” (Lk 13:5) The Gospel is telling us that there is an intrinsic connection between repentance, that is, cutting off the branches that hinder the true growth of the plant, and the abundant fruitfulness that God desires. The greater the repentance, the greater the fruitfulness. The lack of true repentance, the lack of real fruit. At the end of the parable in today’s Gospel, the fig trees that don’t bear fruit are first given some time as a waiting period to see what will happen. If they continue to lack fruitfulness, they, too, will perish.
Motherhood essentially concerns fruitfulness. I do not only mean “procreation” in the strict sense, but the real “fruitfulness” of the blossoming of souls under her care. St. Edith Stein once wrote, “A woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” A woman, quite literally as well as figuratively, “makes room” in her body and her heart for others, especially her children. As mothers, we yearn to see our children flourish. We yearn for this spiritual fruitfulness for our own children as they grow up before our eyes.
The key Gospel insight today is that our own mission of being fruitful will depend essentially on repentance. A mother must always take stock of her own need to repent. We often tend to do this under pangs of mommy guilt: “I need to stop yelling at my kids. I need to get better organized to help my family. I need so much more patience than I actually have to do this well.” But trying to save ourselves by just willing to act differently in the future never works. It’s a form of Pelagianism – the idea that we can save ourselves through our own efforts. Self-reliance. It reads, “Once I do this, then things will be how I want them to be.” That is exactly like the fig tree that bothered Jesus so much – the one that appeared put together on the outside yet bore no fruit. When we look put-together on the outside by using self-reliance, trying to save ourselves just by willing it to happen, or by controlling the situation to our liking, or just by implementing the right structure to bring order to the chaos, we will not bear fruit. Using self-reliance, the same impatience emerges, followed by shame. True repentance, however, is not simply about recognizing what we’ve done wrong; it is about returning to a Person, and recognizing with tears of joy one’s total dependence on him. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II, a Christian must “hold fast to the very Person of Jesus” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 19). The real secret to fruitfulness is dependence on the Vine: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Today’s Gospel shows us that the key to fruitfulness is repentance. For a mother, true repentance means that she must take time in her day to experience anew the love of Christ. “Therefore, I will allure her now; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Hos 2:16). She must open her heart vulnerably before him with all its weaknesses and shame, and allow him to love her. After all, how can she be a mother of great spiritual fruitfulness if she is not first a bride of his own heart?
Take time today to be renewed by his love. Intimacy with Christ is the soul of her apostolate, and the true the source of her fruitfulness.