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Pruning & Growth

One of our former guardians (the Franciscan word for local superior) in Oakland, CA. loved roses. Generations of them had been planted throughout the spacious buildings of 1500 34th Ave. Once a year they had to be pruned - an ugly job in my opinion. I would rather have had a root canal. But the result was a rose garden that was the toast of East Oakland. Visitors to our friary were awe struck by their beauty and its lovely perfume at the peak of their season. So our friar guardian would try to motivate the brothers for the weeks leading up to the great clipping. It would require careful cutting and digging around each plant with his secret ingredient-- cow manure. Not my idea of a good time! The guardian had to supervise his reluctant friar team. The clipping had to be done just right or it would kill the rose bush. He would boss us around and bark his orders all day, but the really good part came afterwards. Toward evening he would bring out the booze and begin a meal. It made every thorn and angry bark worth it. Could he cook? The payoff for each spring pruning day was a meal to leave one breathless. Pruning was always connected to a banquet. I guess it is the Franciscan way of doing things. And we took it right from the Master.

John’s Gospel talks about pruning this weekend to uncover another aspect of the resurrection mystery. The risen Christ instructs his disciples about their relationship with him and with his Father. Jesus is himself the vine; those who believe in him are the branches. The vine, the trunk, cannot produce fruit (or roses). It is the branches, we Jesus’ followers, who bear the fruit. But the branches are only able to do that because of the life they receive from the vine: “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit [of good works] on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).

I think ‘remaining” in Christ is an art form. And it requires pruning. Paul, the Pharisee-turned-disciple of Christ” gives us an example. He came to know Jesus and his Father through a series of extraordinary experiences. Still called Saul in the early Acts of the Apostles, he tries to become part of the community of Jerusalem disciples. Despite his dramatic conversion story from the road to Damascus, they’re weren’t convinced without some substantial proof that he now “remained” with them.

The Risen Lord evidently saw in Saul a unique partner for the spread of the Gospel. But it would require knocking Saul off his high horse and removing his vision to get his attention. That was the beginning of a lifetime of “pruning” for Saul. He would be pruned of his arrogance, his violence, his self-will and whatever stood between him and the message of Christ. “Remaining” required him to proclaim Christ by word and example. The risen one supplied all that Paul lacked. As noted in this weekend’s first reading, Paul’s pruning, included mending fences with other disciples. He had to acknowledge his sins and faults and become one with the community of believers. Later on he would also have to face rejection from many who would not accept the message

Pruning is part and parcel of a full and fruitful life in Christ. Like Paul, we may carry the dead wood of missed opportunities, barren branches of self-will and arrogance, or many other faults. These need to be stripped away so that we can bear good fruit for the reign of God. If pruning sounds difficult, even harsh, we have the assurance that God is working in and through us. And there is a meal to make your mouth water connected to it. The Eucharist is just a hint of the banquet planned with each of us as the guest of honor. Congrats to our First communicants, confirmadi and teachers this weekend.

A gentle week.

Fr. Michael

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