Dead or Alive.

April 29th Sunday Readings.


Arbor day 1989, I come home from school with a runt-of-the-litter little sapling that I was determined to plant and grow in our yard. I had been convinced by a presentation at my elementary school that planting trees was the way to save the world. My mom was convinced this sad little sapling was going to die in the first week it was planted. It did not. 

Now the tree is so large that my parents have to regularly have it trimmed so that it doesn’t harm the house. It is a healthy, fully grown conifer. Why? Because it was connected to a good source of water and food. It was planted in good soil. 

Every single Arbor Day sapling my poor daughters have brought home has not been so lucky. Whether they rot in our fridge waiting to be planted or whither in the yard for lack of water, these poor things never make it. Why? They aren’t connected to a good source of water and food. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus explains that he is the vine and we are the branches. God the Father is the vine grower. The analogy that Jesus is making is so helpful for the spiritual life because it demonstrates clearly that being connected to Jesus Christ is a life or death reality. 

To be cut off from God doesn’t mean someone is a bad person. To be cut of from God is to be a dead person. 

Morality, right and wrong, isn’t some list of arbitrary rules that someone made up long ago that we have to reevaluate in each new generation. No, the purpose of leading a moral life is to be connected to the source of all life, Jesus Christ. The rules of the moral life don’t exist for their own sake. The rules exist to keep us connected to the source of life. One direction leads to life. One direction leads to death. 

The reality is that most who are away from God don’t have a defining moment they cut themselves off from God. Most people drift, slowly and painlessly, away from God. At some point they have forgotten what is like to even been connected with the source of life. At this point, sin and death feel normal. 

Yet, when we find ourselves disconnected from God and thus disconnected from his body, the Church, we may sense that something isn’t quite right. We may not notice it right away. We may not recognize it constantly, but in the small hours or when we are alone or when we are ambushed by a moment of unexpected silence, we can feel the withering, the drying out of our life. 

The good news is that we are never too far gone for God. The vine grower has the supernatural capacity to connect us again to the source of life and to fill us again with goodness, love, beauty, and grace. There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. God is willing to go the distance to give us life again. Not because we deserve it, but because of his unconditional love for us. 

Live it:
Go outside. Go find a tree and take 5 or more minutes in silence near it. Be reminded that just as it needs water, good soil, and sunlight, you need to be connected to God to live. Ask God to bring you close to him. 

The Good Word for May 3rd

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Every summer when I was a Boy Scout, my troop went to S-F Ranch Boy Scout Camp in southern Missouri. One summer, when I was an older scout, we decided to do the high adventure experience held on the unsettled half of the camp. No tents. No running water or electricity. No campsites.

Every night we had to set up camp, build a shelter, purify water, and rehydrate the food packets we carried. We learned a little bit about survival skills, though most of us would probably have freaked out if we really had needed to use them.

One thing I remember from my time in the “wild,” is how long people generally survive without food, water, and shelter. People can go three weeks without food. It isn’t pleasant, but survivable. Water is less; we can only survive about three days without water (though some have survived longer). The strange one is shelter; if the weather is bad then we need shelter fast, as soon as three hours.

In the gospel this week, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” He explains that branches only bear fruit when they remain connected to the vine. Why? The vine feeds the branches. The vine pulls water and nutrients from the ground and brings them to the branches. Without the vine, the branches not only don’t bear fruit, but they die and become waste that is burned.

Without Jesus Christ, we will spiritually die. Without remaining connected to Jesus, we won’t survive very long. But Jesus doesn’t just supply us with spiritual water or food or shelter. Jesus offers us the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. This spirit is like oxygen. While we would die within hours or days or weeks without shelter, water, and food, we die within minutes if we don’t have oxygen. The Holy Spirit is that breath of spiritual life that without, we die almost instantly.

Do you feel spiritual dead right now? I have to admit I feel like that more often than I should. It isn’t because God has abandoned us. It’s because we aren’t taking spiritual breaths, eating and drinking spiritual food. It is because we aren’t connected to the vine. To be connected we breath in the Holy Spirit, consume true food in the Eucharist, and drink deeply of the water that fully satisfies by reading scripture. May we be branches that bear much fruit!

Live It:
Take a deep breath. Then take 2nd deep breath, but this time pray this three-word prayer, “Come Holy Spirit.” Do this as many times as it takes.