Pruning doesn’t peak my fun- meter! One of our former guardians (the Franciscan word for local superior) in Oakland, California 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 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 drinks 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 is himself the vine; those who believe in him are the branches. Great life pumps through the vine, the trunk, which cannot produce fruit (or roses) without it. 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 the risen Christ is an art form. And it requires pruning. We often teach each other. I wonder if the Parkland students moving through the country since their tragic shooting on Ash Wednesday aren’t showing us something about abundant “Pro-Life.” Paul, the Pharisee-turned-disciple of Christ” gives us an example. He came to know Jesus and his Father through a series of shattering 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, many weren’t convinced without some substantial proof that he now “remained” with them. What would be our proof?
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 over confidence, or other defects of character. 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, healing the losses. And then there is a meal to make your mouth water connected to it. But that is reflection for the coming week.
A gentle week,
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM