5th Sunday of Easter, April 29th, 2018

Fr. Tim’s Corner

In “Living the Resurrection”—a book I read recently—Eugene Peterson writes:

It’s a curious thing but not uncommon for Christians to begin well and gradually get worse.  Instead of progressing like a pilgrim from strength to strength, we regress.  (p.57)

Often, “We lose our vitality” and “become dull” when it comes to the practice of faith; this life-long search for God.  We go through the motions “but our hearts are no longer in it.”  It sounds like a bad marriage with its imperceptible erosion. 

 This regression Peterson addresses does not happen overnight, nor is it sudden.  Oftentimes, we hardly notice it happening.  Yet before we realize the slippage, we are at a distance from God and our deepest self.  As Peterson puts it in this passage, “We are hobbled.  We become less.”

He notes that this can happen while simultaneously, becoming outwardly successful; our lives driven to make a name for ourselves.  This, unfortunately, happens to clergy and religious, too.    Yet, at the same time, “life is leaking out”.  Within, we seem less alive; dulled to what vitally matters and proffers us meaning.

What is the cause of such a crippled, diminished life?

Peterson suggests that, when this happens, “God and life have become disconnected.”  This brings us to today’s gospel and the organic nature of faith.  (John 15: 1-8)  Jesus says, “I am the true vine”, directing our attention to an essential in viticulture:  that a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine; nor the vine apart from the soil.  This intimate connection teaches us something about our relation with God and with ourselves.   It’s a vital metaphor for the spiritual life and Christian path:  “Remain in me as I remain in you” Jesus says to us today.

If we let this truth slip from consciousness, then “we become less”.  We wither; our lives disconnected from the vital presence of God.  Jesus’ pedagogy must have connected with those listening.  The people of Palestine were close to the soil and in touch with the knowledge of growth.  Jesus helps them see with greater awareness the intimate connection between organic life and life with God.  No wonder I often felt close to God as I worked the soil during monastic life; there in the garden.  In his Rule, I recall St. Benedict urging the monk ‘to treat garden tools of the monastery as you would vessels of the altar.’

Years ago, I read Carl Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.  Jung talks about his break with Freud who said belief in God is nothing more than ‘frustrated libido’.  Jung, however, believed in God and that to deny that spiritual side of within us all leads to neurosis. 

I’m afraid we live in rather neurotic times due to this disconnect Peterson mentions.  We “become less” when we forget how all life is rooted in a Mystery more vast than my own hobbled world; what Thomas Merton calls the “inner ground of Love.”  I recall favorite line from the 17th century Jesuit, Jean-Pierre de Caussade: “You make the root beneath the soil flourish, and you can make fruitful this darkness in which you keep me.”   To me, this is what Jesus himself learned, and that we must learn ourselves.  It’s so vital to any meaningful life.

Father Tim Clark, pastor


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