“By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew17:16).The other day I was listening to an episode of a Catholic podcast, “Catholic in a Small Town.” The co-hostess, Katherine, had a difficult time finding a good movie or TV show to watch with her family. She noticed that many movies and shows were stories replete with narcissistic, depressing characters, which did not interest her.
Katherine’s observation got me thinking. Although not necessarily bad, I noticed that much of the common entertainment story fare is not quite good either. Many characters and stories are about unhappy people, leading pointless lives of comedic misery ad nauseam. These stories are definitely lacking portrayals of the true happiness that comes from living a grace-filled holy life in Christ.
This quote from the Bible came to my mind: “By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 17:16-18).
So after some reflection instead of looking for “good fruit” from “bad trees” of impoverished stories and characters, I went searching elsewhere for some “good trees.” I found a classic book, “Fabiola,” written by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman.
“Fabiola” is a story of the Christian martyrs during persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 300s A.D. The story begins in a Christian household with the return of Pancratius (St. Pancras), the 14-year-old son of a Christian martyr, eager to share the events of his school day with his saintly mother Lucina. He won his school’s declamation contest about the subject “…the real philosopher should be ever ready to die for truth.”
Inspired by his Christian faith, Pancratius heartily read his declamation using the words “Christian” instead of “philosopher” and “faith” instead of “truth,” revealing that he was a Christian at great risk to himself and his mother since the Roman Empire savagely persecuted and martyred Christians.
One of Pancratius’ classmates, Corvinus, who was the class brute, accosted and challenged Pancratius to a fight in the school yard for making Corvinus look dimwitted in class. Pancratius responded saying that he had never consciously wronged any of his fellow classmates, “…I part from you, as I have lived with you, in peace.” Corvinus answered with a cruel blow to Pancratius’ face.
Pancratius resisted the temptation of the rising tide of anger and violence in his heart. He continued recounting his story to his mother saying, “My good angel conquered the demon at my side. I thought of my blessed Lord in the house of Caiphas, surrounded by scoffing enemies, and struck ignominiously on the cheek, yet meek and forgiving. Could I wish to be otherwise? I stretched forth my hand to Corvinus, and said, ‘May God forgive you, as I freely and fully do; and may He bless you abundantly.’”
Lucina told her son that she tirelessly cultivated and eagerly prayed for the blossoming of Christian virtue in her son. She saw her son’s lively Christian faith, indifference to worldly things, and kindheartedness to the poor. She rejoiced that he decisively demonstrated his Christian faith and was the true inheritor of his martyred father’s holy gifts.
This book hit the sweet spot of “good fruit” for which I am looking. After reading the first several pages, I did not want to put it down. We are hungering for the “good fruit” our Lord wills for us. At the same time, we long by God’s grace to be “good trees” bearing good fruit as holy families and faithful disciples of our Lord. I can’t wait to finish reading “Fabiola.” Have you had some “good fruit” lately?
Father Eric Tolentino is Pastor of Annunciation BVM, Catasauqua.