Not the most appealing word. Sounds puckery! But really it means to be “cut back, clipped off, or grafted to someone else’s trunk. It is not the easiest concept to get one’s hands around. Yet life clips our wings sometimes and regrafts us to a more accurate vision of human thriving. The sound of the pruning shears does is not very pleasant, in fact, it sounds quite stark, threatening and painful. Keep that vinedresser from my door! Perhaps the vinedresser isn’t the one to blame when we have to make one of those painful readjustments in our lives. When we realize we have made wrong decisions, the changes we must make, though necessary and fruitful, can be difficult.
I celebrated a Penance service for first communion kids a few years back in San Francisco’s Mission District where we had a parish. It was a busy Spring. Some major time management issues plagued me. More responsibilities and not enough me. I did not have a homily and only ten minutes to get to church for the First Penance. The Gospel was this reading from John about the vine and branches. Miracle…There on side of church were thick vines. Weeds really. I grabbed a piece of vine and ripped it away as I walked into church. “What’s wrong with this?” I said to start my homily. A little boy shouted back. “It’s dead!
Today’s Gospel is part of the larger conversation Jesus is having with his disciples at the last supper, his Farewell Discourse.” In that intimate setting he expressed some of his deepest hopes. Here we see the last of his “I AM” statements as he draws the image of himself as the vine, his followers as the branches, and God as the gardener with pruning shears in hand. Jesus is trying to encourage his followers to “remain in him” to stay connected and to bear fruit. The alternative would mean to be cut away. Dead. Our little hero at the Penance service had it correct.
The season is Easter, after Christ’s resurrection. But these readings take us back to the table when Jesus shares a meal with his disciples, speaks his departing words to them and then is snatched away and killed. Frequently in John, Jesus describes himself in, “I am..,” terms. Today he says, “I am the true vine…I am the vine….”When we reflect on the images, he uses to identify himself, we learn more and more about who Jesus is in our lives. Now we are reminded that life from God flows through Jesus to all those connected to him, the “true vine.” If we are to have a life that bears fruit within us and our world then, Jesus advises, we must “remain” in him. Much to learn. Although we have been at home a lot these past months working on it.
US Trappist monk, Thomas Merton’s infamous prayer notes this faith ache as troubles run circles in the head. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
A gentle week,
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM