In 1521, St. Ignatius of Loyola had a powerful conversion that turned him from a life of worldly dissipation to becoming one of the greatest saints in the Church. The key moment for him came when he was recovering from an injury sustained in the battle of Pamplona. While forced to lay in bed all day he began to read about the life of Jesus and the saints. He wondered if maybe he could do the things they did. Yet, he still loved to dream of battle and romantic conquests. Gradually, he became aware that the thoughts of God brought him a lasting joy whereas the other thoughts brought only momentary pleasure. He then asked the question that would change his life forever, “Why?” This led him to an understanding of the workings of both the good and evil spirits and the writing of his rules for discernment of spirits that continue to bless the Church to this day.
A similar experience happens to Moses in our first reading today. He too becomes aware of something very important. In the movie “The 10 Commandments” Joshua is with Moses but sees nothing special, just “a bush that burns.” Moses, however, not only notices the bush in the first place, but is aware that there is something special about this bush. While burning, it is not consumed. He too asks the question, “Why?” This question is at the heart of all knowledge and learning. The official seal of the University of Kansas actually depicts this famous meeting between God and Moses at the burning bush encircled with the words of Moses which serve as the university’s motto: Videbo visionem hanc magnam, quare non comburatur rubus…”I will see this great vision, why the bush is not burned.”
For both Ignatius and Moses, becoming aware and asking “Why?” ultimately led them to an encounter with the living God. The same can be true for us. How aware are we of the workings of the spirit in our lives? Sadly, we seldom take time for this awareness. Instead, we often try to avoid thinking too much about why we do what we do or feel a certain way. Instead, we try to remain constantly distracted through TV, music, Internet, or a host of other sources of “entertainment.” Often the real reasons behind what we do or how we feel are too painful and so we try to ignore them. Lent is a great time to strip away some of these distractions and allow ourselves to be a little uncomfortable with some silence and to be aware of things that we had maybe been avoiding.
The story of the fig tree in the Gospel shows us what happens if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening in our spiritual life; we will be fruitless and barren. The gardener has the perfect example for us. He realizes that maybe the tree is not producing fruit because no one has paid enough attention to it. He decides to cultivate the soil and fertilize it. That is the great call to us this Lent, to begin paying attention and become aware, to live deliberately. If we do this, as was the case for Ignatius and Moses, we will soon find ourselves in a beautiful and new encounter with God. Yet, the lesson of the fig tree is also that time is limited and results are exected. Don’t put off making the changes you know you need to make. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”