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There are many parts of Scripture that operate on many levels.

That's how you know men alone couldn't have written it.

In this regard, it's always intriguing to contemplate the passage from Scripture about how "by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16). We've approached this before. But let's go in more depth:

What exactly are fruits?

How do we discern them?

Perhaps we start out basic:

If someone brings you a grapefruit, you know it's from what? A grapefruit tree. Simple.


If they bring you an apple, you know it's from an apple tree.

Correct also?

A peach is from: a peach tree, of course.  Easy.

We know what kind of a tree it is by what it yields.

The same is true in other things.

The same is true of you and me.

We judge people and ourselves by what fruits we produce, and whether we even produce fruit!  It's the bottom standard. Bad fruits include something that causes anxiety, confusion, obsession, perplexity, stress, pride, and distances us from God and each other (division). By the fruit of her womb -- peace, obedience, salvation -- did we judge the great Blessed Virgin.

Thus, step one: Look not so much at the tree, but at the end result. And let us add: the lasting result. (What are the long-term effects?) Inspect others and also be introspective.

Bottom line, to repeat: looking at the tree alone won't solve the issue for you.

Nor will the mirror.

For a tree can have flowers, can be decorative, can afford shade, can exude an exquisite aroma (beautiful leaves, radiating in springtime), be cosmetically pleasing, and yet -- as far as edible fruit -- produce little (or nothing). A gorgeous tree, an impressively massive and verdant one, can yield fruit that's bitter: in some cases, poisonous. Inedible. No nourishment. A negative.

Superficial first impressions don't always tell the story. What produces more fruit, a grand weeping willow -- a huge oak, a tall poplar, a towering redwood, so very impressive at first sight -- or a little old berry tree?

The answer again is obvious.

To bear fruit, we must be connected to God, we must have His life force within us, we must unleash it, we must be humble (not perfumed) for fruit comes from our deepest essence of authenticity. A telephone pole is wood, but can it yield an apple, a pear, a cherry? It is dead. It has no essence. There is no life force.

(Does anything -- besides flame -- sprout from firewood?)

(Remember: fire destroys what does not bear fruit.)

A fruit comes from our essence, which is our living connection with Him. "Approach me, you who desire me, and take your fill of my fruits" (Ecclesiastes 24:19. "I am like a vine putting out graceful shoots, my blossoms are sweeter than honey" (Ecclesiastes 24:17). From Him came the Eucharist. He bore witness to the Truth. Truth and wisdom are fruits.

And taking it a step further, we can say that even when there is fruit, we have to make sure it's good fruit, right fruit, what we want and need to "eat."

We have to be "fruit inspectors," looking at an apple or pear or peach from all angles.

Is the fruit ripe? Is it fresh? Or is it bruised and over-ripe? If there is fruit that is rotten it attracts flies (even if you can't see it), which can be metaphors for unclean spirits. (Is it genetically modified?)

We must be humble to discern, the Pope recently preached.

Humility bears fruit and also discerns it.

When we inspect fruit, we feel it. We look closer. We spend more time before we act (spend), and before we eat. So ask in life, when encountering something new, something enticing: how is it to the touch? How does it make you feel, before you head for the checkout counter? Where does it lead you?

Real fruits and vegetables heal. They bolster. They do not take. They give. They are balm (inside and out). They certainly do no harm. A good fruit grants vitamins and energy (not the wrong kind of sugar). Good fruits draw from the earth and elevate the minerals. When you are procuring a fruit, ask yourself if there is unnecessary danger, if you have to negotiate needles and nettles that may harm you, if you have to balance precariously on a thin limb to reach it.  

Good fruits don't lead you astray.

Is it something that will nourish -- or just something that tastes good, that gives us a "rush," a temporary lift, that perhaps entices with promises that are empty?

If it is something you lust for, climb down; turn the other way; pray first; for you are ready to fall off a limb.

And if you want to preserve your salvation, check the fruits that are coming (or not coming) from you. Inspect yourself. Produce good fruit the rest of your life -- nothing bitter, yet also no candy. Start now. You have time. As far as others, be vigilant.

It is a challenge as we "shop" in the produce department, in the "supermarket of life": finding the right stuff and spiritually as well as physically eating healthy. "Those who find me find life, and win favor from the Lord" (Proverbs 8:35).

There is no life to be found in the greedy.

In inspecting fruit, we must turn each over and peer closely and ask: is there a negative side? Is there a soft spot? Does it have "side effects"? Does the doctor I am seeing really love and heal (or just make money)?

Does what looks shiny harbor decay (is it a deception)?

Don't take a tree at surface value. Forget the icons of our unfruitful society. Recall always: it was "fruit" given by the Deceiver that brought about the fall of two forerunners named Eve and Adam.

And remember that what is not so glamorous is often what is healthful (Jesus, in a manger, or on a Cross). What does not titillate often gives life and life more abundantly.

[resources: New: A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary]

[See also: Michael Brown retreat, Boston area, 4/25  and Announcing a retreat in Vancouver, Canada ]

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