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The image of the tree and its fruitfulness features prominently this weekend. Sirach uses simple language to show how a tree’s care shows forth in its fruit. This phrase, “a tree’s care,” is important in this passage. If a tree is well taken care of, then it produces good and healthy fruits, otherwise, its fruit is messed up. Hence, the wise man declares, “so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.” Similarly, Jesus states in the gospel, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.” Before we go into what these expressions mean, let us remind ourselves that Lent is just three days away. Pope Francis challenged Christians in his 2021 Lenten Message, “Let us renew our faith, draw from the “living water” of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ.” Using the readings from this weekend can help us to ponder on what spiritual fruitfulness means and that the heart is the seat of conversion.

In the gospel, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Plain using familiar images. The blind cannot lead the blind, the disciple cannot be superior to the teacher, being preoccupied with the splinter in your neighbor’s while neglecting the plank in one’s own eyes are all signs of lack of proper cultivation of the heart. That is like a rotten tree wrongly believing it could bear good fruits. What is in your heart? Or put differently, what does your heart store? Are you aware that the behaviors you put up speak so much about the innermost part of your being?

Here is the truth, a spiritually blind person cannot help those entrusted into their care. Think about the times of the pandemic when so many people were searching for answers to spiritual, emotional, and physical problems. How little or great were the spiritual resources we stored up before the start of the pandemic? Maybe that was the reason why so many people were frustrated and stressed up. In the parishes, for instance, the spiritual needs of the parishioners became different. Pastoral demands and expectations seemed unmet. People were hungry for Jesus whereas they could not find satisfaction in most cases. Both priests and laypeople were almost scrambling. Many of us felt like we became the blind following blind church leaders. In families, many parents never anticipated being locked up in the house with their kids and spouses. Family dynamics changed. Schools placed responsibilities considered unconventional upon parents who inadvertently became automatic teachers to their kids. I have no doubt that most kids felt like blind people being led by blind parents at the time. So, the pandemic challenged us to evaluate what we stored in our hearts.

Imagine how you feel having sufficient quality food or groceries in your fridge. It creates a sense of relaxation to realize that you do not have to go shopping any soon. If for example, also, the food in your fridge gets spoilt, the fridge will produce an uncomfortable smell and the house can be messed up. The fridge is the storage for food inside your house and should preserve whatever is placed inside the fridge, yet the fridge can become a source of discomfort because it has food that is messed up. This poor analogy can be likened to the heart inside our bodies. Christ says to us, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil.” Does your heart store good or evil, positivity or negativity, forgiveness or malice, good humor or anger? What exactly does your heart store? Like the fridge, the job of the heart is not a one-time thing, else you cannot constantly feed your body. The heart should save enough spiritual food to sustain the soul just like in the pandemic. Your heart should not be a place for vexation, annoyance, exasperation, irritability, sadness, or envy. Jesus invites us to cultivate our hearts with goodness to produce goodness.

How do we cultivate our hearts? The saints come to mind here because they conformed their hearts to Christ through prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila was brilliant in her teaching on this. In one of her most important books, The Interior Castle, written out of obedience, Teresa compared the soul to a castle with seven rooms. She explained how to follow the spiritual path to the seventh room where one can experience the indescribable joy of union with God. But how can one begin this journey? We only have to follow the first of Teresa's many recommendations: “The door to enter this castle is prayer.” Through prayer we can store good things in our hearts by constantly asking God to fill us with his grace, to make us joyful, and peaceful. We cultivate our hearts by asking like Saint Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”

Back to the experience of the pandemic, can you imagine what it was like to deal with your children, your spouse, your relatives, and with the church? What was your language like at the time? Were you constantly anxious? Perhaps you need to start all over to reflect on what you store in your heart to keep your soul, spirit, and body properly nourished.

Remember what Jesus says to the disciples in a separate passage in the gospel, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mk. 7:20-23). We must cultivate our hearts to align with Jesus’ teachings. That is the way to holiness, peace, and justice. Talk to Jesus to open the eyes of your heart to think and talk like He would want you.

If we cultivate our hearts, there will be less hatred in families and in society. We will speak kindness. Our presence will convey compassion. Our giving will uplift others. If we cultivate our hearts, we will store treasures of joy. If we cultivate our hearts, we will become leaders with vision at home, in the schools, in government, and in the church. If we cultivate our hearts, we will be able to identify our own weaknesses, offer our struggles up to God, and then see clearly to provide support to those in need. And that’s the truth, a blind person cannot lead the blind. A blind teacher cannot lead her students. A blind parent cannot lead their children. A blind pastor cannot lead his church. A blind CEO cannot lead his company. It’s that simple. Cultivating our hearts will prepare us interiorly to produce good and pure fruits. Through prayer, let us ask Jesus to make our hearts meek and humble like his own. That way, we become the store of goodness giving out to the world calmness, joy, and peace in times of trouble.

Readings: 1st- Sir. 27:4-7; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:54-58; Gospel- Lk. 6:39-45

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