I would guess that most of you enjoy gardening in one sort of another – you either enjoy the physical act of gardening, from seeding and planting to eventual growth and enjoy what your effort have brought you. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you enjoy what gardening has wrought when you see beautiful flowers, or are at peace when you walk through a beautiful grove of trees, or on a hike when you see the resplendent beauty of nature. God’s creation can often be stunning in its perspective and sometimes overwhelming in its abundance.
Today’s readings deal with gardening of a different sort. We hear a metaphor in the Gospel of God, our Father as the vine grower and Jesus as the vine master. Jesus reminds us that, it was through his life and resurrection, that we have life eternal and that as long as we believe in him, we remain true branches bearing much fruit.
This parable is both a challenge and a comfort. So let’s start with the easy part – the comfort. The promise of the Risen Christ is twofold – that whoever, whatever and wherever we are, He is with us – always guiding, always offering comfort, always ready to give the peace that we seek in our daily lives. And at the end of our lives, always ready to welcome us home.
The challenge is that we must remain focused in our daily lives on the source of eternal life. It’s not something we take for granted. It’s a process – if I may borrow a phrase from the industrial word – of continuous improvement. And that phrase should be not be that unfamiliar to us. All of us throughout our lives are mindful of our physical bodies – we go (or went) to the gym, we took Pilates classes, we ran, we walked, we watched our calories, we took vitamins – be they natural or synthetic – we did those things that would keep us healthy and as free of the ageing process as nature would allow.
But I wonder if we put as much attention to our spiritual growth as we did the way we looked or whether we were thinking about the spiritual growth r that each of us is commended to maintain. In truth, I doubt it for all of us. Because tending to the growth of our spiritual self is more than coming to Mass to be nourished by God’s word and by God’s body. Tending to the growth of our spiritual self is a rigorous, ongoing process that continues through every waking hour of our lives. Look at all the religious orders that have been founded, examine the rules and the manner in which they live. Their lives are centered on God. Their lives are dedicated to God. Their lives become a constant prayer because they bring the word of God alive in all that they do. And if you have had the pleasure of having a religious order brother, priest or nun as a relative or friend, you know that they continually exude a peace and a calm that is so contrary to our dally world.
But what about us? Well, you say, it’s a lot harder. I have my business, my good works, my social activities, my retirement activities my this or my that and they all take so much time. That’s true. They do. But the issue we face is that we don’t give equal time for God that we should. Or, even in retirement, when we have the time to give to God, we can’t find that time to stop. Yet, the Lord reminds us in no uncertain times, that “anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.” That’s pretty stern language. That’s a pretty dire warning. Does that bother you? Does that concern you? Will those words affect your life as you leave this church? They should. They sure worry me.
So what do we do? What is this continuous improvement to our spiritual lives that is demanded? First and foremost, it is a continuous process. It isn’t like an hour at the gym or three hours on the golf course or a one hour hike. It’s living your life where you are conscious of every moment and evaluating that moment as to whether it is bringing glory to God. Does that sound difficult amidst a busy life? It really isn’t once you get into the routine of practicing it. You know about practice — we do that with the sports we play, we learn the fundamentals, we practice them, and then we put them into action. So too with our spiritual life. It begins with our day. It starts by dedicating that day to Him, by acknowledging that we are his children, and that all that we have is a gift from him – dedication, acknowledgement and thanksgiving. Let me repeat that. Dedication, acknowledgement and thanksgiving. DAT. And that is done with formal prayer or informal conversation, but the key is that it is done every day as you begin your day.
Now we move out into our world with its myriad of responsibilities and activities. Now comes the true test, as we go through the day, there has to be, there must be a quiet, conscious recognition that He lives within us. Since he lives with us then our words and our actions should portray that. No never mind portray, if called to the test, then no one ne of our words and actions should be offensive to the Christ that lives within us. We need to constantly strive to be that Christ. We need to evaluate everything we do against the standards of whether it is pleasing or offensive to God. When we grow angry, when we have that spousal argument, when we turn our back on our neighbor’s needs, when we hoard our gold and refuse to recognize that we are all a family of God, we betray and offend the Christ within.
There is nothing in this passing, material world that is as important as the love of Christ and his promise of eternal life. Doesn’t that promise take away the sting of death for the living as well as those about to pass? If you accept that premise then when you leave this Church today, you will re-dedicate your life to your own spiritual order — I don’t care what you call it – The Order of Barbara, or Luis, or Ken or Dona. But it is a conscious recognition that today you embark on a special spiritual journey – one that is rededicated to bringing the Christ within you alive in all that you say and do.
And know I am going to borrow something from Father Tom – whom I do not know—but the Boyds do — I am going to ask you to turn to the person to your right or left or nearest to you and repeat these words – The Christ Within Me Salutes The Christ Within You.
God bless and enjoy the new life you have chosen to embark on.