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May 25, 2018

ON DIVINE PRUNING

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe
Swift Share!

 


When vines are left on their own in the wild, they tend to wander through the underbrush, grasping anything and everything in their way. They dissipate their precious, creative energies clinging to rocks, wild shrubs and tree trunks, and come harvest time what you get is tiny, usually not-so-tasty fruits. But for a well-groomed vine, the plants grow upright and strong, primed for bountiful yields of huge clusters of robust, tasty grapes. The difference is in the pruning!
Now, think of a body injury, when it is left to fester for a long time because we do not want to “reopen an old wound”, it remains a wound and leads to further deterioration, and susceptibility to infections. But when care is taken to have it cleansed, sutured or properly dressed, healing starts. The scars may remain, but the wound is healed. Further, consider a dysfunctional family with an abusive, violent or absentee parent. Children raised in such unfortunate circumstances are more predisposed to developmental issues and anti-social behaviour than children brought up in stable, loving and caring homes, under the watchful eyes of mum and dad. Again, it’s all about the pruning. When the pot is left unwatched on the stove, it’s only a matter of time before the food starts to burn and fill the atmosphere with a foul odour.
Today, Jesus stresses the need for us to be pruned by his Father, instead of growing like wild vines, without care or purpose. He uses the grapevine as a metaphor to convey an important spiritual truth. God our Father is the vine grower par excellence, the master cultivator of the human vineyard. Wanting the best for his vines, he enables each one to tap into the source of true life — an intimate, abiding relationship with his Son. Whoever abides in this connection will live in abundance and fruitfulness. Some vine branches are productive while others are not. The non-productive ones need to be carefully pruned so they can better utilize nutrients for the best produce possible. Similarly, for us, abiding in Jesus and bearing good fruits implies letting ourselves be pruned by the Father. It means trusting in Jesus and obeying his commands so that all that is not of him is pruned away.
Dear friends, we are either fruit-bearing or we are not – there is no middle point! Jesus promises us a bounteous harvest, provided we remain one with him in obedience to his gentle, but firm, pruning in our lives. Jesus unites himself to us so intimately that his very life flows through our veins, as he says in the Gospel today: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And where does a vine stop, and its branches begin? It is hard to tell since the same sap gives life to both the vine and its branches. Likewise, grace is God’s own divine life flowing through Christ and into us. We must make sure to stay united to the vine as otherwise, we will bear no fruit, but rather die and wither away. So, how do we stay united to the vine? The readings today provide four clues:
1. The First Reading talks about walking in the fear of the Lord; this is not the fear of punishment but rather the reverential (filial) love of God.
2. The Responsorial Psalm says: “I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the LORD”. We too must learn to keep not just our baptismal vows but also the everyday promises we make to the Lord and to our brothers and sisters.
3. The 2nd Reading is clear that those “who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them”. We must stay away from sin by keeping not just the 10 Commandments but also the precepts of the Church.
4. The Gospel reminds us that the Father cut off every unproductive branch but prunes the fruitful ones for more productivity. Thus, we must give up our sinful habits and unhealthy attachments, to be capable of bounteous fruits.
This pruning may involve painful, physical sufferings, like sickness, disease, financial insecurity, or old-age. It may be hidden, interior sufferings, like losing a loved one or suffering a breakdown in our relationship. Whenever God permits these kinds of sufferings, let our faith remind us that they are under his control. He is the vine-dresser. He knows how much pruning we can each handle, and he knows how to use that suffering to unite us more deeply with Christ, who suffered on the cross to redeem the world. In times of pain and hardship, God is begging us to trust in him more and more, to pray in the depths of our hearts that beautiful prayer that he himself taught us through his revelations to St Faustina of the Divine Mercy: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Accepting the Cross, not rebelling when God tries to prune us, is the secret of all the saints. As St Ignatius of Loyola puts it: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that he has great designs for you, and that he certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat him to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the Cross, which Christ used for his own sacrifice of boundless charity.”
Brothers and sisters, we can rest assured that the Lord’s pruning, in whatever form or shape it comes to us, will yield us a most desirable harvest: a life full of meaning and vigour, and exuding joy and enthusiasm, a life that changes this world for the better in as profound a way as Christ’s own life did, and a life whose meaning and impact overflow into eternity. Bearing such fruit makes life worth living; without it we are dry, dead branches good for nothing except the fire.
This week, let us thank God for making us sharers in the vine of Christ and let us pray for the courage to accept whatever pruning he gives to us.

 


 

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