Readings: Gen 15:1-12,17-18; Ps 105; Mt 7:15-20
Do you remember that preacher, Harold Camping, who predicted the world would end on October 21, 2011. He collected all sorts of donations from supporters, and used much of the money to put up billboards across the country announcing his prediction. I recall seeing several along the interstate on one of our trips up north. Of course, as it turned out, he wasn’t a very adept prophet, and the fateful day came and went.
About the same time we began to hear rumblings from new-agers that centuries ago the Mayans had predicted the world would end on December 21, 2012. It seems that millions of people throughout the world had become convinced that these primitive folks apparently had some inside knowledge. Of course, that day came and went as well. The prophecy was grudgingly accepted as false and I suppose the true believers are now searching for the next false prophet.
Yes, our world is filled with false prophets and their followers, people so caught up in their fantasies that they’re unable to recognize the truth. But many not only reject the truth; they reject the source of all truth. They reject God Himself. And by doing so they can’t accept that humanity’s ultimate vocation is salvation, eternal life, the reason we were created in the first place.
In the Gospel passage we just heard from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us about false prophets, telling us we can recognize them by their fruits. How easy to listen to the words of the false prophet, all the while ignoring what those words yield.
False prophets abound, but fortunately we have the example of others, of those who yield good fruit. How blessed we’ve been with the saintly popes who have led the Church in recent years – with John Paul, Benedict and Francis.
But this has been true in every age of the Church. The Spirit seems always to raise up the saintly men and women most needed by the Church and the world. Whenever the Church faced a crisis, God supplied just the right person to handle it; people like Leo the Great, Catherine of Sienna, Francis Assisi, and two saints whose feasts we celebrated just last Saturday: Thomas More and John Fisher.
Both were executed by King Henry VIII because they refused to accept the king’s temporal authority over Christ’s universal Church. Who could be more relevant to our own times? Indeed, Pope John Paul II named Thomas More the patron saint of political leaders.
Our modern politicians would do well to emulate these two 16th-century martyrs, for each was both wise and virtuous. In wisdom each applied his intelligence toward the accomplishment of what was good, and in virtue each habitually chose the good, regardless of the consequences.
This, of course, demands courage, the sort of personal courage rare among politicians of any time and place, but increasingly rare today.
How sad that we live in a world where true wisdom and true virtue are more often ridiculed than praised. For too many, cleverness has supplanted wisdom and pragmatism has replaced virtue, and the intoxicating and corrupting influence of power becomes oh so apparent. Too many see no difference between good and bad fruit because they no longer recognize virtue, they do longer discriminate between good and evil.
Relativism has replaced truth, and like Pontius Pilate they can look into the eyes of their God and sneer, “What is truth?” Like Pilate, some trees are deceivingly and splendidly arrayed, but have no fruit…while others bear only bad fruit, because they have chosen their will over God’s.
The Church will provide today’s prophets, brothers and sisters, and we will recognize them by their fruits. The patron of our parish, St. Vincent de Paul, warned his brothers not to become those wolves in sheep‘s clothing that Jesus warned us about.
In Vincent’s words…
“They pride themselves on their inflated imaginations. They are satisfied with the sweet exchanges they have with God in prayer; they even talk about it like angels. But when they come away is there any question of working for God, of suffering, practicing mortification, teaching the poor, searching for the lost sheep, being pleased when they lack something, accepting sickness or some other misfortune? No, let us not deceive ourselves: our whole task consists in doing the Father’s will.”
And that, brothers and sisters, is our task as well.