Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them – Matthew 7:15-20
A reoccurring thought that keeps coming to me time and time again is around the discernment of fruits as described in this passage in Matthew. My desire to know this is rooted in the following: with every Christian claiming to possess good fruit, how are we at all to discern what fruit is good and what fruit is bad?
The reason this absorbs my thoughts is that this is a big stumbling block to unity. Not only among Catholics but Christians as a whole. For, when any initiative is done in we always go back to this passage to determine if it is good. If the fruit is good, God has blessed our work and it is His will. If the fruit is bad then it is very clear that the Lord does not endorse this. I want to pose this question: What is our benchmark that we compare our good and bad fruit to?
It may seem silly to ask but it is really important. For instance, how is it possible for both Catholics and Protestants to claim they have good fruit when one is the true church started by Jesus Christ and the other is a heresy started by a man? We don’t even have to go this extreme and we can just look at new programs happening within the Catholic Church today. How do we know that the fruit produced is actually good? What is our metric to say whether it is good OR bad? I am very impressed at some Catholics who can say, without any hesitation, that because x happened at their parish, therefore good fruit. This “x” could be more parishioner engagement, more donations, better music, etc. But is this the same good fruit that our Lord speaks about?
My intent is not to over complicate a small matter. I truly believe this is a major stumbling block to unity as I mentioned above. If we all claim to have good fruit, and no one possess any bad fruit (or are unwilling to admit they have bad fruit), how on earth are we ever going to get to unity if we don’t have a common benchmark in order to evaluate good from evil fruit? Was the Protestant Revolution a good fruit? If you ask any Catholic, of course not (although some Catholics may sadly agree with Protestants). But the Protestants will tell you its the greatest fruit in the history of Christianity. Is it possible at all to have a fruit that is both good and bad at the same time? The answer is no.
My mind is absolutely blown that we can make such claims so confidently. I wrote a few posts back about the challenges of justice and mercy and how difficult it can be to execute justice on a very small matter because we are very challenged at seeing the completely picture. We therefore exercise judgment to the best of our ability but we know that the Lord will judge all perfectly for He knows all. While it may be possible to judge simple fruits as good or bad, because of our finite nature unless something drastic happens to us we will never be able to perfectly assess the more complicated fruit as either good or bad. So what is our approach then? How on earth are we able to fight back some of these challenges in society, in Christianity and the Catholic Church if we ourselves cannot evaluate good fruit from bad ones? In order to develop this benchmark, I believe the answer lies in the interior and Eucharistic life.
As we grow in interior holiness and strive for perfection, what happens internally is that we are becoming more unified with God. As one becomes more unified with God and becomes more like Christ and less like himself, our wills will be one with Gods. If our wills are one with God we will be able to SAFELY assess the fruit that is being borne by any effort. As one becomes more like Christ, I imagine our ability to assess fruit correctly also increases, similar to a percent increase. We need to approach it through this lens because when we live an interior life focused on Christ, when we submit our pride, our desire for glory, our work, and all our sins, we are removing the barriers between us and Christ and this will enable us to discern all fruits as either good or bad. Prior to all this, we really are taking the effort of discerning the fruits recklessly and if we are doing so under the veil of humility but are not humble at all, we are deceiving ourselves and will be utterly destroyed when we meet Jesus Christ.
Keep striving for perfection. This will enable you to build that benchmark internally so that you can discern safely. The way to God is narrow, straight and few find it. Be wise, listen to the saints and the Catholic Church and grow in unity with God. Our will and our hearts need to be united to His.
Blessed Mother, please pray that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we may not be deceived or led astray by false fruits.