May 6, 2012


I am the vine, you are the branches. – John 15: 5

   In the cinematic Godfather series, the Corleones are Catholics, baptizing their babies, having First Communions, & receiving honors from the Vatican. Yet they deal in extortion, drugs, & murder. In the movie The Sting, Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw, deals in bribery, extortion & murder, & he is a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus. In real life, it is said that Adolf Eichmann, after a day of murdering Jews at Auschwitz, would go home & tenderly play with his small son. Jack Abramoff, who cheated & bribed in the millions, attended Temple.

   What is happening here? Let’s look at the tale of Aldrich Ames, who pleaded guilty to giving up the CIA’s most precious secrets for money from the KGB. Ames was asked how he could do such a terrible deed, despite his sacred oath of loyalty to his country, knowing that he was jeopardizing the futures of his wife & son, & knowing that his deeds cost the lives of at least 11 people. The spy calmly responded, “I tend to put some of these things in separate boxes, & compartmentalize feelings & thoughts.”

   There it is. What these people have in common is that all of them seem to have two boxes in their lives & rationalize evil conduct because the two compartments don’t seem to be connected. They separate their lives into “church” & ‘world” & one has nothing to do with the other. They are under the judgment of today’s Gospel. In our Lord’s metaphor, they are cut off from the Vine & so, even when they look prosperous, they wither & die. The fictional Corleones & Lonnegans, the real-life Eichmanns & Ameses are dead men walking, acting as if they are not connected to the world & the community, or to the people they hurt.

   Jesus warns us against this: “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch & wither.” In short, stay connected & be mindful of the connection. Christians especially, who are reminded that they are a people of God, the mystical Body of Christ, should not have separate boxes in their lives, separating beliefs from actions, their church  going from their church living, their lives from the lives  of others.

   Therefore what you & I do & say here should be the same as what we do & say when we leave here. The unity of vine & Branches does not allow us to make compartments of our lives. A few years ago, the CEO of Baxter International, a medical supply company, cost his company $189 million. You’re probably thinking that like many crooked CEOs who have been in the news lately, Baxter’s Harry Kraemer must have done something unethical, but that’s not it at all.

   It was Kraemer’s honesty, his high sense of ethics & his refusal to separate his life from his work that caused him to make a monumental decision. Executives at Baxter International learned in 2001 that one of the products they manufactured, a filter for a kidney dialysis machine, may have been defective. Some dialysis patients using this filter had died of unexplained causes. Rather than covering up the situation, Kraemer recalled all the filters & instituted a vigorous investigation into the problem. This was what cost the company $189 million.

   Kraemer also recommended that his performance bonus for that year be cut, because this situation occurred under his leadership. To top it all off, he informed his competitors of the possible flaws in Baxter’s filters, so that they could benefit from the research his investigation turned up. You see, we are branches of Jesus, the Vine. We are supposed to reflect His values & His mission. This should be a part of our examination of conscience the next time we go to confession.  AMEN!