Still Part of the Vine?
Last week I presided at the funeral rites of grand old lady; let’s call her April. April was a 92 year old widow who for the last few weeks of her life resided in one of the Nursing Homes in the parish. As a result she was not known to us, but when the call came through from the undertaker I was told that she was a catholic but long lapsed, and that she wanted to have a catholic funeral. Her only relatives were her cousins, her husband having died some 15 years ago, and they had no children themselves. I went round to see her cousin to get some background into the life of April and her family. Although not catholic themselves, they wished to honour April’s request to be buried with the Church’s prayer and tradition. As I was chatting with them about April and her life, it became apparent that although she had long abandoned church going, her life and that of her husband had been a loving one, centred on care and duty, which during the last years of April’s long life, had required no small amount of sacrifice and dedication by her cousins in looking after her. It seemed to me that this family had at its heart true Christian and gospel values. After a short illness, April went peacefully to God on the 10 of April, and may she rest in peace.
Why am I telling you this? Well our gospel this weekend speaks about the vine, and as I was thinking about the words of Jesus: I am the vine, you are the branches I began to think about April and her situation vis à vis her own lapsed faith. I began to wonder how typical she was of so many other people in our country and in our communities who, having drifted away from church going nevertheless still hold on in some small way to belief, so that, however tenuous, they sense a connection to a faith they once had.
As we know, the root of the vine can go deep into the earth, penetrating it in ways which are hidden and covered. I think that we could apply the very same analogy when we come to think about our country and its relationship to the Christian faith. The roots of our Christian heritage have indeed grown deep into the make up of our country’s psyche. These roots have penetrated it with a conscionable knowledge of what it means to live good and honourable lives, which at their heart display and practice a loving and generous disposition to goodness, honesty and truth. These realities are lived out each day by the vast majority of folk who without ostentation or show, continue to love and share the great gospel gifts which we have all been given. April and her family were I believe typical of this attitude, and we are grateful that it abounds still in our communities.
But the sad thing is that this tradition, this memory can be lost and our attachment to the vine, our being part of its living and breathing presence still has to be tendered and supported if this connection is not to wither. So the sacraments still need to be celebrated and received and our coming to church is the primary expression of our desire to ‘remain’ one with Jesus. Receiving his love, his example, his compassion is what feeds us and it is the task of each of us to make this known by sharing it with those for whom a public show of religion is simply restricted to birth, marriage and death. There are many reasons as to why people fall away from faith, but perhaps we should pray those words of the gospel: whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing, recognizing as we do that Jesus Christ remains, today, tomorrow and forever and meets all our needs.