How do we measure our own spiritual and moral progress when it comes to integrating the Theology of the Body? The Gospel reading for this Sunday ends with a parable that is encouraging for those moments when we judge ourselves for not making the degree of progress we imagined. In the parable, a fig tree has not produced fruit in three years, and the owner of the orchard is ready to give up on it. But the gardener intervenes and asks for one last chance to invest in this fruitless tree in order to prevent it from being cut down and destroyed.
Being a priest gives me many opportunities to see people come alive when they first discover the Theology of the Body and strive to live it. It’s exciting to see the beauty of the truth captivate them. But when they realize that integrating this truth in their heart takes a long time, they can get discouraged and judge themselves for not progressing as fast as they think they should. If we dwell on the discouragement, we can identify with the fruitless fig tree and think about giving up.
But there is hope. God is always there, like the merciful gardener, to offer grace for our healing and redemption from our sins of the past and the present. God is slow to anger and rich in mercy (Ps 145:8). We can only experience what St. John Paul II calls “mature purity” by God’s grace combined with the virtue of temperance.
While on the journey toward greater purity of heart, mind and body, we need to be patient with ourselves and take courage that God greatly values our good will in being free from our sins and a experiencing a total transformation of heart. We must not give into discouragement when we do not experience the fullness of conversion immediately. St. John Paul II says, “Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness.”
Finally, the next time you take an account of your life and think there is no growth, remember that only God can see completely into the heart. It would be a subtle pride to think that if there was growth we would always be able to see it. God often chooses to hide fruit from us so that we would remain humble and trust entirely in HIS grace to bring about our total conversion.
Fr. Kevin McQuone was ordained in 2010 for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee and serves as the parochial vicar at St. Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, FL. He has attended several Theology of the Body Institute courses and currently teaches the Theology of the Body to middle schoolers