It’s that time of year, and one of the favorites for our family. Now almost every day one or all of us are out fighting through the briar patches for wild raspberries. We also call these delicious morsels “Grace-berries” because they just appear like magic on our land! We did nothing to cause them to happen — especially nothing to deserve them! In fact, the less we do to clear away the brambles, the seemingly more plumb and luscious they become every year!
The Analogy of Faith
Now, one could use this analogy as an encouragement for sloth. But thank God for our Church, which gives us guidelines and boundaries for our musings, whether it’s interpreting the true meaning of Scripture or gleaning lessons from berry picking.
Among other things, the Catechism teaches that we are to “be attentive to the analogy of faith” which means “the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation” (CCC, 114).
The problem with sola Scriptura, and all other forms of non-Catholic Christianity, is that individuals believe they have the freedom and “Spirit guided” ability to glean whatever “truth” they can find in whatever source God seemingly drops into their lives. Such is one of the causes of the present “soup” in which we find ourselves (cf. blog posts below).
The Catechism teaches that Grace is “the free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become his adopted children” (CCC, pg. 881). His grace is freely given, and undeserved, yet for a purpose which requires our response, our acceptance, and our willful actualization. Grace can be squandered — as can our freely given, undeserved wild raspberries, which, likewise, are given for a purpose and require our response, acceptance, and willful actualization.
Some years we were unable to pick any berries. They all turned lusciously black and juicy, but, other than those enjoyed by our welcome guests, the birds, and our less than welcome guests, the bugs, they rotted, hardened, and remained as visual reminders of squandered grace.
Now we’ve learned from experience that picking the berries as soon as they turn black allows the plant’s nutrition to flow more freely to the remaining berries, initiating more growth. Sometimes it seems like just turning around causes more berries to turn ripe! As long as it’s berry season, we can return to the same plants day after day and find new ripe “Grace-berries”.
Growing by grace in holiness is like that: acting on grace to eradicate sin and vice initiates the growth of virtue; ignoring or failing to act on grace opens the door to vice and squelches virtue. Jesus seems to have had a similar analogy in mind when He taught His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him — and this we do through receiving and acting on the graces we receive through the sacraments:
Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:2, 4-6)
“Suffering Produces Endurance” (Rom 5:3) as well as Welts!
First, invariably the largest, most luscious berries are deep within the brambles, and those prickly picker branches hurt! The way they attack, you’d think there were little demons in those bushes. The minute I stretch deep into a bush to pluck two or three of the little fruits, two or three pickers literally wrap themselves around my back, locking me in until rescuers arrive. I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m sure that God must have added the prickly pickers after the fall of Adam and Eve.
Those little thorns are reminiscent of St. Paul’s teaching in Romans that, though we’re heirs of Christ, this privilege comes “if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:17). As it is with harvesting bramble berries, so it is in our spiritual lives as well: The greatest blessings always come with suffering, or as Jesus said in the previous quote, through being “pruned.”
Bring Forth Fruit with Patience (Lk 8:15)
Second, the greatest blessings always require patience, as it says in Psalm 37: “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; … those who wait for the Lord shall possess the land” (Ps 37: 7, 9). Those who pick berries in a hurry, who just want to get it done so they can move on to something else, will invariably have three times the number of picker pricks and a third the number of good berries. Or more likely, no berries at all, since they usually get spilled while running home. (Just ask my youngest son.)
If we relax and take the time to delight carefully in the God-given privilege and beauty found in picking each berry (or any other task He gives us), the overall experience is always more rewarding. This too is the advice of the psalmist: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4).
Thorns in the Flesh
Third, we must never be so sure that we’ve picked the bushes clean. Whenever my family and I begin picking, we generally pick the easy-to-reach berries first. Then with these collected, we could easily declare that our work is done. But from experience we know there’s more. So we fight the good fight into and through the shoulder-high bramble patch, only to discover dozens of new luscious berries taunting us in plain view. From the other direction, they were hidden behind leaves, but now from a new angle they are blatantly manifest.
So it is with sin and bad habits. We must not stop after we’ve cleansed ourselves of the easily obvious sins, but dig deeper and look at ourselves from a fresh angle — from the perspective of our suffering Savior as St. Paul did (see Phil 3:7–16) — and then we’ll see that none of us have yet reached perfection.
Finally, as I worked my way back in and through those dense bushes last night, my foot hit something hard, and nearly sent me cartwheeling down the hill into the creek. When I pushed the weeds and thorns aside to see what it was, I found an old overgrown granite foundation stone that I had discovered years before and which I had long intended to get help to move. Instead, I put it off and had forgotten all about it.
Sin is that way, of course, and the more we put it off, the more overgrown it becomes, until it becomes just another part of our lives, our character. To truly eradicate it, so that it doesn’t become a stumbling block for everything else in our lives, we need help, and for this, Jesus gave us His Church, to whom He gave the power of this eradication:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)
The grace we need to change our lives comes to us through His Church, through His Sacraments, and this requires that we fight through the briars of doubt and discouragement, and self-sufficiency, and go to where this grace is readily available for the healing of our souls.
I will lift up the chalice of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. (Ps 116: 13)