The grace to obediently fulfill Christ’s command
September 26th, 2016
By Sister Maria Catherine, OP
Of what use is a mulberry tree planted in the sea? What is the significance of such an arbitrary example? Why doesn’t Jesus say he will give his disciples increased faith? They have asked for it, after all. Jesus’ example of the mulberry tree followed by a story about a persevering but unenterprising servant, seems puzzling. Instead Jesus illustrates the effects of faith.
Jesus demonstrates in the analogy of the mulberry tree that faith possesses a certainty that changes the created order. Faith, which can appear so abstract and incorporeal to us, can be just as real as what is concrete, i.e., asking a tree to plant itself where it cannot survive. In writing about this passage Augustine says that faith pertains to things that men and women believe but cannot see. St. John Chrysostom also says “the least part of faith can do great things.” Faith begins with believing, rather than logic.
Jesus quickly follows this illustration with the story about the servant who is obedient to the impulse of duty that faith demands. This excellent servant keenly grasps that the virtue of faith prompts a twofold humility: performing actions with faith should not be a source of pride, and it is only through grace that one is able to complete one’s duty, at all. Faith means waiting obediently for what one needs, and pursuing the duties of state without the certainty of what one wants. Jesus levels an implicit accusation when he says, “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” So we ask ourselves, do we wait for someone to pat us on the back because we’ve done an act of charity? Or do we silently allow the seed of that fruit to return to the soil of our souls and nourish other virtuous acts? Even better: Do we offer this to Our Lady so that she can dispense with the grace as she sees fit (being the Mediatrix)? Jesus is demanding: He can ask his servants to give more, and often does ask them to give more, even when they expect to be able to rest. Faith gives us the grace to obediently fulfill Christ’s command however taxing.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man” (CCC 26). As Jesus indicates above, man’s response to God moves more than just mulberry trees. God made man to be like God and to do greater things beyond what man is naturally capable of.
In my next examination of conscience (many holy saints recommend doing this once a day), I should ask myself, how have I responded to God’s revelation of himself today? Where is Jesus asking me to live creative fidelity rooted in the virtue of faith?
Sister Maria is a perpetually professed member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
From September 29, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.