SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 COR 10:14-22; LK 6:43-49  ]

How do you measure your spiritual progress?  Is it through a deep prayer experience or spiritual manifestations in prayer? Or is it through your involvement in Church activities?  Nay, whilst all these could be indicative of spiritual progress, they may not always be the case.  In fact, giving too much value to such external manifestations might put our spiritual life in jeopardy, as it might lead us to pay more attention to the externals rather than the purification of the heart.

This indeed was the warning of St Paul when he wrote about the dangers of idolatry and the need to “keep clear of idolatry.”  To worship idols in whatever form is to worship nothing.  In Greek, an idol is an image or representation.  It can only mean a phantom.  To worship idols is to be in communion with the demons because they, too, worship themselves and hence live in utter frustration and unhappiness.  Thus St Paul said, “You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons.”

So if we want to be sure that we are making spiritual progress, we must examine the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.  This is the sure way of knowing whether we are living the life of Christ.  Jesus teaches us in the gospel, “There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles.”

The reason for Jesus choosing the figs and grapes over thorns and brambles is because the Fig tree symbolizes fertility, peace and riches.  Grapes, on the other hand, symbolize joy, since from grapes we get wine, whereas thorns and brambles are used for fuel.  Accordingly, to bear figs and grapes means to bear the fruits of peace and joy in our lives; and to produce only thorns and brambles would symbolize a person destined to be destroyed, or the need to be purified by fire.

Holiness is therefore to be gauged by our attitudes and actions towards God and our fellowmen. The soundness of a person, just like a fruit, is manifested when we are free from decadence and disease.   To bear good fruit requires us to keep ourselves pure and holy, walking in the grace of God, especially in our relationships and lifestyle.  To bear good fruit is to live a righteous, moral and upright life, growing in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity; and moral virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice and temperance.

Most of all, the true worth of who we are and where we stand in our spiritual life is evident not when things are going well with us, but when we are put to the test.  In the gospel, Jesus warns us to be ready in times of crisis.  Will our house be ready to withstand the flood waters of the river bearing down on it? In other words, what kind of spiritual foundation is our life built on that can withstand the vicissitudes of life and the trials that come from righteous living?

So if we desire to produce the fruits of peace and joy, then we must begin to sow the good seeds of love in our hearts.  That is what Jesus said, “A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.”  Yes, the heart refers to the seat of emotion, feelings and the will.  It can also refer to the mind of the person.  The heart therefore is the place where we store our habits, values and character, and where we experience the presence and love of God.

How can we store the goodness of God in our hearts if not by listening to the words of Jesus first?  Hear again the warning of Jesus when He said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?  Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them – I will show you what he is like. He is like the man who when he built his house dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house but could not shake it, it was so well built. But the one who listens and does nothing is like the man who built his house on soil, with no foundations: as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!”

So let us build our house on the sure foundation which is Christ Himself, for He is the Rock of the Church, the cornerstone.  We must turn to Jesus and to His Church for guidance, direction and spiritual nourishment.  Indeed, in the Church we hear Christ speaking to us in the liturgy.  In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus and remain in communion with Him, and through the Eucharist, the grace of the Spirit flows to us. Through the Word of God and the sacraments, we are renewed in love and grace.

But we must also remain in communion with the Church, which St Paul’s first letter to Timothy says is “the Church of the living God, which upholds the truth and keeps it safe.” St Irenaeus tells us that where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there also is the Church and every grace.  We must therefore listen to the guidance given to us through the teaching of the Magisterium, and be nurtured by the Church our Holy Mother.  The faith of Peter, the rock on which the Church was established, is the same faith of the Church preserved over the centuries by which we are saved.  To remain in the truth requires that we share the same faith, worship and doctrines held by the Church.

Finally, having listened to the Word, we must act on it.  Not to act on what we have heard and believed is to deceive ourselves.  St James warned us that to listen to the Word and not obey it is tantamount to deceiving ourselves.  “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (cf James 1:22-25). In a similar vein, St Paul gives the criteria for discernment of a life of the Spirit through the manifestations of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Gal 5:22)

Indeed, let us prove our sincerity to the Lord by putting His Word into practice.  It is said, “If we sow an act, we reap a habit.  Sow a habit and we reap a character. Sow a character and we reap a destiny.”  So too, our Christian character, like fruits, takes time to grow in maturity.  Christian holiness does not happen overnight.  Virtues take time to be nurtured, but they can be formed only through repeated good habits and actions. Yes, let us pray that we will always act according to the gospel, so that the virtues or good habits we cultivate will ensure that we have a strong Christ-like character that will see us through the challenges of daily life on earth and to heaven.  Otherwise, listening to the Word, coming to Church, Sunday after Sunday, without acting on what the Lord speaks to us through the scripture readings and the homily, will not help us build anything but ruins.  How tragic to receive the Word of God in vain!  How unfortunate it is to build our house on sand instead of on Christ the Rock of our salvation!

So what is your spiritual foundation built on?  Is it on rock, which means putting into practice the faith you have received, or on sand, which is to live a nominal, casual and ritualistic faith?  Of course, to even refuse to listen to the Word means that nothing is built!  How great will be the fall of that man who refuses to listen!  How tragic will his life be, not just on earth but hereafter!

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore