spiritual life

vine and branches

Abide In Me!

vine and branches

5th Sunday of Easter

Fr. Mark Gatto

Posted: May 1, 2021

My mother grew up on a farm with orchards.  As a young boy I remember visiting my grandmother on that farm.  We would sometimes assist in the fields.  I was amazed to see them pruning the trees.  They were removing sucker branches that would grow but not produce fruit.  This would prevent the nutrients from being wasted on these branches.  By pruning the branches they would assist the fruit that did grow to be larger and better quality.

Jesus uses the image of pruning in connection with our faith life and how God works in our lives.  Just as a branch cut off from the tree will quickly dry up and die, so we need to remain connected to Jesus.  Otherwise, our spiritual life and relationship with God will dry up and die.  Being connected to Jesus requires being connected to the body of Christ, the Church.  Remaining united to Jesus and remaining united to the Church go together.

Jesus says, “abide in me as I abide in you.”  We are called to an intimate union.  A deep abiding love.  It is not a superficial or distant relationship.  Within the church too we need to be connected in a communion, not simply individuals.

I heard a story once about a man in a small town who had stopped going to church.  He said that he did not need to go to church, he could pray by himself.  So, one day the pastor went to visit the man at his home.  He knocked on the door and the man answered, surprised to see the pastor.  But, he invited him in and the two men sat before a fireplace with coals burning.

The two men began to speak about many things, though the pastor never mentioned him not coming to church.  After a while the two men sat there in silence watching the coals burning.  Then the pastor stood up, picked up some tongs and reached in to the burning coals.  He removed one of the coals from among the burning coals and placed it by itself on the shelf.  Both men sat and watched as the lone coal quickly became cold and grey while the other coals continued to burn brightly.

In this particular moment we are living through, two questions come to mind for me in connection with this image of pruning and what happens to branches separated from the vine.

First, what pruning is needed in my life to allow my spiritual life to grow in a good and healthy way?  What am I reading, what am I watching, how am I spending my time?  Are they things that nurture my spiritual life?  Do they bring goodness into my heart?  Do they truly nurture me or do they harden my heart in some way?  Are there sucker branches in my lifestyle that waste the nutrients of the spirit in ways that will produce no fruit?  We need a good examination of conscience to honestly remove anything that is an obstacle to a holy, good and healthy life in Christ.

Second, how do I remain connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ?  In practice, how do I remain connected to the body of Christ in the Church?  As Catholics, one of the key ways is in our connection to a community of faith, usually a parish church.  This is expressed most clearly in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Gathering with the church at Sunday Eucharist keeps us connected to the vine and keeps us spiritually alive.

But, in this Covid Pandemic time when many of us are unable to gather for Sunday Eucharist in our parish church, what does this mean?  We need to creatively find ways to express and maintain our communion with the church.  Some of you do this watching Mass on TV or through some other social media.  Some of you make an effort to contact other parishioners you know to check in on them.  Some of you keep a prayer list of people you pray for each day.  Family, friends, and so on.  This type of prayer not only keeps us in communion, but indirectly keeps those we pray for in connection with the true vine.

But, one thing we all can do is pray for the church, and in particular to pray for my own parish.  For those of us who are members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, we just celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena this past week, on April 29.  Below is a prayer by St. Catherine of Siena.

“Holy Spirit, come into my heart; draw it to Thee by Thy power, O my God, and grant me charity with filial fear. Preserve me, O beautiful love, from every evil thought; warm me, inflame me with Thy dear love, and every pain will seem light to me.”

All of us need to prune our lives so that our spiritual lives are nurtured and able to produce goodness and love and justice.  All of us need to remain in communion with Jesus and the body of Christ in the Church.  Abiding in Jesus, including being in communion with the church, allows us to remain nourished and alive in faith even in the moments that seem dry and dark.

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lasagna with basil

Spiritual Lessons From Cooking

lasagna with basil

7th Sunday In Ordinary Time

Deacon Tom Vert

Preached: February 23, 2020

What about some fresh basil?

Now the people here at the Corpus Christi site of St. Catherine’s know that food is an important part of my life and has been the subject of a few homilies over time.

However, it has been rare for me to discuss Carmela’s cooking ever, as it is so good!

But I would like to discuss her lasagna today (at a risk to my marriage!)

A quick background though, as my experience with Italian food really began when I started dating Carmela. Before that, I actually thought that Chef Boy-R-Dee was good pasta!

When I came into the Caliri family, it was as if a light bulb came on – fresh linguini, freshly made sauce, meatballs and of course lasagna!!

Ever since I have enjoyed 30 years of great meals, but as I have been watching lots of cooking shows the past few years, I thought to myself – maybe improvements could be made to my wife’s cooking?  (I know, I know, a potentially bad decision).

So, one day I suggested – “what about some fresh basil?”, when she was making lasagna.  She looked at me suspiciously as if I didn’t like the current lasagna and I thought I might have to run, but she truly is amazing and said, “sure lets’ try it”!

We both agreed that the lasagna was one of the best we ever had, and the fresh herbs gave it that little bit more – making it almost perfect!

You may ask, “Deacon Tom, what does this have to do with the readings today”?

Well the readings today focus on what we might think is perfection: Jesus says, “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and in the first reading we hear “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”.

When you first hear this, if you are like me, it is very intimidating!  How can I be perfect?  Is it even achievable? Isn’t holiness for the saints only – those few amazing people in history – Christ can’t be talking about me, can he?

But let’s look a little closer at what Jesus actually told us.

The word that Christ uses in Hebrew is “Tamim” and in Greek is “telios”.  Both of these translate better as to be “whole” or “complete”, in a sense to be exactly what God created us to be.

How do we do this?  How do we become whole and complete?

If we take our lessons from cooking, we know that a whole and complete “perfect” dish, is due to 3 things: great fresh ingredients, a good method of preparing and cooking, and finally a group of family or friends to share it with.

In our spiritual life, the same 3 things apply: When we are first using the gifts and talents that God gave us, (the ingredients); secondly in the way he wants us to (with joy, love and patience as our preparation and cooking) and finally for the benefit of our “neighbours”, our community.

When this happens, then we are “whole” and “complete” – we are perfect as God wants us to be!

The readings today point us to this message.

In the first reading, we have the book of Leviticus, verses 1, 2 and 17, 18 – we skip over verse 3-16, which doesn’t mean they are not important, but actually means the church assumes that we have this already as our foundation.

Verse 3-16 are a restatement of the 10 commandments with some examples for the people and how to implement them in their lives.

The goal of the commandments isn’t to chastise us into a way of behaving, but instead to give us an ethical way of living that is best for our sake and for others.  Holiness and perfection are the goal of these commandments!

A reminder for all of us is that holiness  and perfection are God’s goal for us, in order for us to have a life that shines so brightly; so that others look and take notice and say “why are they so joyful, peaceful, kind” with a way of living that becomes a magnet for others to get closer to God themselves.

People will look as it says in the reading as to how “we love our neighbour as ourselves”, how we roll up our sleeves so to speak, to make the world a better place, to help the poor, push for justice, embrace peace and show patience – and they will see God himself working through us.

In the second reading, we hear the “how” on how we are to accomplish this.  We are to be humble and trust in God to help us, we are not on our own trying to make this spiritual meal!

I love how direct St. Paul is with the Corinthians and us when he says: “do not deceive yourselves; if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise”.

In other words, be humble and realize that self-reliance is not the way to live the Christian life.  Reliance on God through prayer and reliance on others who walk the journey of faith with you is the rock you will need as you strive for holiness and perfection!

In the gospel we hear Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, challenging the people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

In order to do this, he says, you have to behave differently than what is normally expected.

When Christ says “you have heard it said – an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” the people would have known this well as it was the Code of Hammurabi – the ancient Babylonian code of 282 rules written in 1750BC, and put on a stone pillar that stood for all to see. (It now sits in the Louvre in Paris, France for all to see).

This law was put in place because vengeance at the time was worse – life for an eye, etc., and these laws made it seem more reasonable, balanced and just.

However, Jesus says that retaliation has no place in the Christian life – he sets forth non-retaliation and non-violence as the standard.

Jesus asks us to “turn the other cheek”, to go two miles instead of one and even to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”.  It is a real challenge for us in these times, with a world that is in more contention than ever, we are called to bring peace and prayer – to build bridges instead of walls.

Jesus challenges us to the goal of perfection in the Christian life, not to be perfect all the time, but as St. Paul tells us later in the book of Corinthians “strive for the greater gifts!”

I love this word “strive” as it expresses a desire to struggle and reach and push ourselves, not to live comfortably, but always try with the Holy Spirit as our strength, to love God and love our neighbours a little more each day.

So, the homework for this week is twofold:

First – make a nice meal with your family, something you normally do, but think of maybe one thing you can do to tweak it and make it better.

And as you are cooking this meal, remember this challenge of holiness and perfection and ask yourself:   What about some fresh basil?

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