I grew up in the College Park section of Orlando. It has been around for a while. The first resident, John Ericsson, built his home in 1880. In the 1920s there was a huge upswing in new homes and many of the neighborhoods east of Edgewater Drive were constructed. The area west of Edgewater was built in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. College Park was the home to people as diverse as astronaut John Young and beat-generation writer Jack Kerouac. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when I was growing up there, everybody knew folks; you certainly knew everyone on your street and one or two streets in each direction. You could mostly walk up and down the street in the early evening and meet and greet most folks. They were on the porch when the afternoon humidity had lifted and you could catch a bit of coolness from the evening breeze. Then some darn fool went and made air conditioning popular.
The houses that folks planted are mostly still there – a few have been knocked down and replaced by McMansions – but the majority are still there. They have been pruned, remodeled, reshaped for new generations of families. For the most part the porches are gone. So are the people – at least you do not see them out and about. Makes me wonder if neighbors know their neighbors, if the “pruning” of the houses is causing the neighborhood to wither. Maybe neighborhood is just geography and little more.
At the house I grew up in, the magnolia and oak trees we planted are still there – and so are the rose bushes. They have been pruned and are still bearing their own particular kind of fruits and blossoms. My folks had the green thumb, but such things always remained a mystery to me. Flowers especially. I am always amazed how long fresh-cut flowers will last when cared for – but in the end they wilt and fade. But when pruned, planted, repotted – all those horticultural mysteries – when they remain “on the vine” they continue to blossom, bloom and bear fruit.
Pruning was the one art that most mystified me. My mom would prune the bushes and it was not a pretty picture. Sometimes it looked so ravaged that it was hard to believe it would ever bear fruit or flower again. But mom knew the mystery: cutting away the dead growth – whether of a single plant or from the whole garden – it was the only way for new life to happen. Maybe my old neighborhood in Orlando is that way – don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful neighborhood, but maybe it is just in that stage when the pruning is just complete and before the point where new life begins. Or maybe it is just geography.
I suspect the same is true of a church community and the individual parishioners and households. I can certainly tell you the geographical boundaries of Sacred Heart – and you are not going to find a more beautiful church in these here parts. I wonder what a parishioner of by-gone days would say about us? “Some darn fool air-conditioned the church!” How would they look at us as parishioners – would our individual lives gives evidence that we are firmly grafted onto the Lord Jesus, that we are bearing fruit – that we are faithful, loving, charitable people filled with hope; that we do these things in deed and truth – and not simply word and speech. Would they know that each one of us was a Christian without asking?
I think it is the same kind of question for us as a parish community. Is there a front porch and is the welcome light on. Do we just take care of our own? Or rather do we take care of others, whether they are Catholic or not – and we do it because we are Catholic and the grafting is so deeply intertwined in our being that it is just what we do. The magnolias, oaks and roses of our parish – tended and cared for – continue to blossom because we are grafted into the Lord Jesus Christ.
Or is it time to prune – to cut away the dead growth in order to make way for new life. New ways, means avenues, new times, new places – new I don’t know what. Do our lives – individually and collectively help us remain in Christ? Do we feel connected like branches to a vine? Like beloved to the divine Lover? Do we feel connected? Do we feel connected?
What if the answer is: I feel the connection to Jesus, I love to come receive the Eucharist, to be quieted in prayer, but as far as the other folks here…. well, …not so much.
What if the answer is: I feel the connection to my friends – I like the friars – it just a nice place to come on Sundays … but you know, sometimes the Mass takes too long, and that pastor… why he just goes on and on forever. And if I can’t make it to Mass, well…. God understands – there is a lot going on.
What if the answer is: why are they always on about stewardship and ministry, as though that is the measure of how we are connected. How many times has that new pastor asked about people being EMs at Tampa General, or helping the Lost and Found ministry, joining the choir,…. I don’t do those things. You know what they need to start? We need a men’s prayer and spirituality group. I could get connected to that.
What if the answer is…. Well…. the examples could go on and on. I bet you’ve even thought of a few yourself. All of those answer – and more – what do they say about us – individually and communally – as the branches and the vine? Do our deeds and truth give glory to the Father? Or do they call the heavenly vine grower to want to pull out the pruning shears and cut away the dead wood that new life might flourish. Me? I got some fruit …. But I need some pruning here and there. How about you?
When it comes to this parish, the people gathered here, the Lord Jesus, the mission of the Church, and more. Are you bearing fruit? What parts need pruning. Are you connected? Are you connected to the divine life of our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy church – his holy people? Are you connected?