When vines are left on their own in the wild, they tend to wander through the bushes, clutching anything they touch. They spend their creative energies clinging to rocks, wild shrubs, and tree trunks. When harvest time comes, such vines can only produce tiny and not-so-tasty fruits. But for a well-groomed vine, the plants grow strong and upright, primed for a bountiful harvest of huge clusters of robust, tasty grapes. The difference is in the pruning!
The same can be said of a bodily injury that, when left to fester for a long time without treatment, can cause further deterioration and susceptibility to infections. But when care is taken to have it cleansed, sutured, or properly dressed, healing is achieved. The scars may remain, but the injury is gone. We can also consider a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic, abusive, violent, or absentee parent. The 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 family situations. Again, it is all about pruning.
In today’s liturgy, Jesus stresses the need for pruning by his Father, instead of us growing wild without care or purpose. He uses the grapevine as a metaphor to convey an important spiritual truth. God the Father is the model vine grower, the master cultivator of the human vineyard. Always desiring the best for his vines, he enables each one to tap into the source of true life through an intimate and 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 the nutrients and be primed for the best harvest possible. Similarly, when we let the Father prune us through an abiding relationship with Jesus, we acquire the capacity to bear good spiritual fruits. When we trust in Jesus and obey his commands, 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. In the Gospel today, he tells us: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” But where does a vine stop, and the branches begin? It is hard to tell since the same sap gives life to both the vine and the branches. Likewise, it is the same grace of God and the divine life that flows through Christ 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:
- 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.
- 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 our brothers and sisters.
- 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.
- The Gospel reminds us that the Father cuts 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 oldage. 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 reminds us that everything is under his control. He is the vine-dresser. He knows how much pruning we can each handle, and he knows how to use our sufferings to unite us more deeply with Christ, who suffered on the cross to redeem the world. In times of pain and hardship, God wants us to trust in him more and more, to pray in the depths of our hearts that beautiful prayer that he 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 share in the vine of Christ, and let us pray for the courage to accept whatever pruning the Lord gives to us.