Autumn Olive (thorn in my flesh)

Up on the mountain we have a thorny bush that grows faster than church gossip. It is the kind of plant that spreads quickly and chokes out all the good vegetation in its path. Their leafy branch shadows the ground and suppresses growth from everything else. Its thorny undergrowth inflicts wounds on those that oppose its path or try to uproot its branches. This wicked bush or weed has many names; Autumn Olive, Japanese Silverberry, and Spreading Oleaster are just a few, and it is akin to the Russian Olive as well. It is even considered to be a noxious plant by the USDA. And every time I try removing one of these wild unwanted plants, besides the thorns digging into my flesh I usually find a blood-sucking tick hanging on to my skin as well!

 

It seems as though this unwanted plant flourishes and the beautiful lush plantings we have made seem to struggle. And then there are the deer that leave the wild olive alone while they buffet-line the flowers and bushes we have planted. Needless to say, it is with great effort and sacrifice that we will hopefully conquer our landscaping up on the mountain and yet the thorny olive will continue to reestablish itself every chance it gets!

 

It takes a tremendous effort to be a good gardener or landscaper. With the battle we wage against rocks, tree roots and that ornery Autumn Olive we find ourselves downtrodden at times! And on our journey to salvation, it also requires a tremendous effort and at times we feel a bit whipped as well. You and I are the workers here in the vineyard of our Lord. We are to remove thorny, noxious weeds of hatred, selfishness and self-righteousness from choking the fruitful life out of His vineyard. The vineyard requires a lot of loving care from willing workers to produce salvific fruit!

 

We all connected in love by the Cornerstone of the vineyard which is Christ, and every Sunday we here the clear-cut method we have been given to care for His precious harvest: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Mt 5.2–12; cf. Lk 6.20–26)

 

And each and every day we repeat that process against all obstacles, weather, varmints or thorny bushes! St. Anatoly of Optina writes: “Wherever God is — there is peace. And the opposite is self-evident: where there is envy, hostility, impatience, self-love — there is the devil. Wherever the devil is — there, everything is ruinous, proud and hostile.” + St. Anatoly of Optina, quoted from Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina. Loving each other through action and remembering: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that everyone who believeth in Him should not perish, but may have everlasting life.” [Jn. 3:16] May our work in His vineyard be fruitful and blessed!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8-26-2018

IF ONLY

If Only, I had all the health and material things a man could want, would I make time to know a merciful God or would I place all my hope for eternity on things that rot? If only I could win the lottery and assure my family a comfortable mostly effortless life as well as taking care of as many hurting people as my surplus would allow, would I be at peace, would I come to know true joy? If only we could eliminate all physical and mental suffering, would we still have a need to seek the great Physician to heal our soul or would we allow the evil serpent to separate us once again?

 

And if only everyone was cured, would we completely deny sin from bringing back all forms of illness and suffering to mankind, would we? If only I could hear the voice of God or place my fingers in His pierced side, maybe then I would work harder, sin less and trust Him more! If only I was as loveable to everyone as my dog thinks I am could I bring more people

 to Christ? If Only I would stop dreaming my life away and buckle down on the here and now, after all we all are always one second closer to our Earthly death! How can I change the “If Only” into graciously accepting the gifts I have and long for changing the illness I continue to feed my soul? After all, He has given me more than I need!

Today we bless the transfigured fruit that grew from the vine with the nutrients from the Creator. The fruit lay in the sun and ripened to perfection, just as we “If Only’s” are supposed to change by being nurtured in the traditions and scriptures of the Creator and perfectly ripened by bathing in His Son. On the Feast of Transfiguration we do not bless the rotten or diseased fruits culled by the farmer and left to decay back in the orchard. We Christians are to cull our disease of sin and restore our soul back to health before our earthly harvest time nears. St. Anthony the Great wrote: “If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.” + St. Anthony the Great, “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: One Hundred and Seventy Texts,” Text 45, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)

 

Back on the farm, Granddad Rufus would always say you had to make hay when the sun was shining, and for us Christians, the Son is always shining!! No excuses, no more “If Only’s” just get busy! St. John of Kronstadt said: “Do not help the Devil to spread his kingdom. Hallow the name of your Heavenly Father by your actions; help Him to spread His Kingdom on earth, for we are laborers together with God.”’ (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ) Glory to Thee!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8-19-18