The Fig Tree

A preacher pointed out the irony: as the cycle of seasons plunges us into frigid darkness, the Church presents us with our Lord’s parable of the fig tree: “When the branch thereof is now tender, and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh” (Mt. 24:32).

Is this wanton cruelty on the part of our spiritual Mother, reminding us of delights that, excepting jet setters, we must forego for months to come?

St. Gregory the Great suggests otherwise. In context, he notes, the figure of the fig tree marks the transition between a period of fearful darkness—the demise of this world—and the second coming of the Son of Man.

As November draws to a close, we begin to anticipate in our very bones the joy we will feel next spring, if it comes, at the sight of little leaves bursting from the bows.

By contrast, most of us are inclined to regard the signs of Christ’s coming with “distress,” “withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world” as it falls apart before our eyes (Lk. 21:25-26).

Instead, our Lord teaches us to regard the collapse of the world as an occasion for joy—a sign that our “redemption is at hand” (Lk. 28).

The death of the world is likened to the fruiting of a fig because, as St. Gregory puts it, “the fruit of the world is its ruin: it grows only to fall.”

“He who does not rejoice at the approach of the end of the world affirms himself as the friend of the world, and is thereby convicted of being the enemy of God.”

Advent is a time to remember that the world in which we live is—inevitably, and deservingly—in the process of passing away.

In our particular circumstances, this may be easier to see than ever. How we are to respond, on the other hand, remains a spiritual challenge.

Even as it opens our eyes to the perishability of the world, Advent is a time of longing preparation for a day of great rejoicing. As long as we are given another Christmas to celebrate on earth, this longing is partially fulfilled, only to be renewed and intensified by the cycles of darkness to which we are subject here below.

Our most earnest preparations, in the coming days, must therefore be for the day when that summer comes which will dispel every season of darkness once and for all.

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