Generosity is the “Fertiliser” for life … that produces our “fruits” of happiness
Often, when we talk about the fruits or gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are referring to the good characteristics or virtues or skills that we have, and should use, for the good of others.
Perhaps we can feel annoyed with God about that because it feels a bit demanding! Especially so, today, as we drift into a new society where the individual is more important than the community; and we prefer to hear emotionally pleasing information rather than the real truth.
What we forget is that the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit are “vehicles” or pathways for us to create happiness in our lives. We can, therefore, fall into pathways of self-interest simply because it seems like the right thing to do: after all, everyone else is doing it, right?
Our Gospel uses the analogy of a tree: and, when we do a bit of research, we can see it’s a great analogy. The Gospel stresses that the tree had not produced fruit for three years; this is code for: sufficient time and opportunity has been given!
However, God gives another one year, and in the Responsorial Psalm we declared that “The Lord is Kind and Merciful”. We are given multiple chances to ‘get life right’ and try again. However, the narrative in today’s readings indicate that, sometimes, there’s a time limit.
It’s not because God has lost patience, but that we live in a physical reality that has limits. eg. if we eat fatty foods, never exercise and drink too much, we might die of heart-attack.
Likewise in our relationships, we are not dealing with forever forgiving human-beings. We need to change negative behaviour or we might be rejected and get ‘kicked-out’.
As I discussed the Gospel with my 91 year old Aunty, she gave some good feedback: their son’s mango tree was not producing fruit until she told him to put fertiliser on it (called THRIVE): one year later it was overloaded with beautiful fruit.
One small change can make a huge difference.
My Aunty talked about the number of young people who are frequently sickly: even her other son does not eat many fruits, whereas 40% of her food cost is for fruit. She’s still strong at 91.
My Aunty also shared how many people live cooped up in their homes living in fear: she opens windows and doors every morning to ‘clear the air’. Simple things, but do we do them?
The advice given in the Gospel was to dig and manure around the tree. From this comes the question: where should we put the manure or fertiliser?
My research shows that fertiliser should be placed AWAY from the tree trunk, toward the end of the branches. This is a good symbol for us: when we do things that mainly benefit us, we don’t really fertilise the tree so it can produce fruit.
We “fertilise” ourselves, better, by focusing on helping other people in our circle.
The full circle around the tree is symbolic of our entire lives: that which we can see and that which might be in shadow. It reminds us of the importance of community in our lives to help us see what is in our ‘shadow side’. The more we can fertilise our entire life, the more fruits of happiness will be produced.
My Aunty further talked about her daughter’s apricot tree that slowly reduced fruit production until my Uncle pruned the dead branches off – she said he over did it! – but the tree immediately started producing a lot of apricots.
Do we need pruning in our lives? Are we trying to do too much? Are there ‘issues’ in our lives which we need to cut off: what was done TO US, and what we might have done TO OTHERS (betrayal, failure, abuse?). Dead branches are like a flat tyre on the car: even with three good tyres, just one flat tyre can halt the journey, or slow it down, or even over-heat the bearing.
In case it’s useful, always prune everything off below the grafting point on a tree. This is also a lesson for us: the grafting point on us – the tree – could be the moment we marry, the moment we commit ourselves to something (religious life): we need to starting cutting off many of the branches below the grafting point, but not all our branches need pruning.
Finally, I came across interesting research that showed how a fruit tree can be combined with a vegetable patch under the branches. The idea is to get a variety of herbs and less well know vegetables planted around the tree to create an eco-system where each part helps the whole.
The good news is that even a little generosity increases our happiness by more than what we’ve sacrificed. This Lent, let’s continue to ask: what can I give back to this community from which I’ve received so much? One small change can make a huge difference.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI