Plants are clever things aren’t they? They are always active and yet we can’t see them move. So the image of Jesus as a Vine today, (John 15:1-8) with us as the Branches, reminds us that God is actually an active force in the world today- in us – and in everything that he has created. This is one of the reasons why I sometimes use sport as a great example of God at work, where someone uses their body actively in the best way they can to achieve excellence in their chosen field. But our bodies are actually still on the move even when we are not moving, as the heart pumps away and the other parts of the body do their work. The brain too is never still, for sleep experts tell us that it is active, in a different but essential way, even when we are asleep.
We Christians then must never think that by being still we are closer to God. Stillness – times of prayer – are important of course, and we can at such times get glimpses of inspiration. I heard a neuro-scientist last week saying that creative thoughts in us humans are more likely to come when we are relaxing our mind than when we are thinking very hard. But activity is also an equally important way in which God works in us and speaks to us and through us.
Take Mary as an example as we remember her in this month of May. God speaks to her when she is told that she will have this special baby, and almost immediately rather than sitting still and thinking about it she is off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who lives some 60 miles away – 3 days walking! When we hear of Our Lady later in the Bible she is busy encouraging her son to begin his work at the Wedding Feast, and then, of course we hear of her again standing at the foot of the Cross.
That last event can seem to be a moment of stillness but really it isn’t that at all. Mel Gibson’s Film of The Passion of Christ shows Mary in a very interesting way. As Jesus carries his cross and falls to the ground, Mary remembers the way she would run to him if he fell and hurt himself as a little boy, and Mel Gibson shows Mary running behind the crowd trying to find a moment when she can come forward and comfort her son in his suffering. Another film, by Pasolini, shows Mary moving in distress and agony as she watches him dying on the cross. Both films show us a young active woman filled with the Holy Spirit, and show us how we too need to be active in our response to God. Finally we hear of Mary with the disciples in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit comes on them.. and what do they do? Sit there in contemplation? No! They open the doors and run outside to pray and speak of the glory of God whatever the consequences!
No wonder that St John in his Letter that we heard today (1 John 3:18-24) reminds us that “Love is not just to be words or mere talk, but something real and active.” That’s precisely why the Mass is called the Mass from the same root as the word “mission”. So Mass ends, not with an encouragement to sit around and contemplate, but to “Go forth”, and put God’s love into practice.
This is why I get a bit irritated with people who say they haven’t got anything to confess. How can that be when there is so much for us to do, and so much that we fail to get done? How dreadful that we think of “sins” as bad things we do, and fail to see that often our worst sins are when we have not done some of the things we should have been doing to bring God’s love in one way or another to our little part of God’s world.
Yes, we are the branches, not the Vine, but this means, as Jesus says, that we are meant to bear fruit. But note that our activity must be focussed. That’s what pruning does to a branch, stopping us proliferating all sorts of different activities and encouraging us to concentrate on a few. So being active for God does not mean going into overdrive because, as I said at the beginning, the activity of a plant is slow and steady, not visible to the naked eye. So surely, as branches of the Vine, we should be the same.