Fifth Sunday of Easter

GOSPEL John 15:10
Jesus said to his disciples:

'I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away
- he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
an,d you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.'

‘I am the vine and you are the branches

This time of the year we celebrate Confirmation ceremonies all over the country. As a school chaplain preparing children each year, I must say I am always enriched by the experience and learn more about the beauty and importance of the sacrament and am reminded of, and challenged in particular by, the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, trustfulness, self-control – see St Paul : 1 Corinthians 12:4-13).  I must ask myself to what extent they are evident in my attitudes, actions and conversations on a daily basis.

In the Gospel today – we are the fruit bearers and not only the fruit! We must, as branches, know our place in the growth process in God's Kingdom, the Church.
One of the surprising things about this beautiful passage is the necessity of pruning. Pruning is a seemingly drastic and needless procedure that is damaging to the integrity of the plant, but the vinedresser is experienced and caring in his attention to detail. Much more fruit will result in the long-term, but the effects are in the short term seemingly catastrophic. The plant, however, exists to produce fruit over the long term and not in a single season. Gardeners and horticulturalists will tell you that pruning not only gives shape to a plant or tree, but also RENEWED VIGOUR and growth.

The pruning is the work of the Father-vinedresser. We are pruned as a result of producing first-fruits. The Father sees our potential to bear fruit, and what happens is that all the good we presently possess or our progress to date - all our capacity - is cut out from under us. Suffering is a pruning of our gains. Often this entails the bruising of our pride, our ego, our seeming self-sufficiency, and the temptation to believe that the good that we have thus far accomplished is the result of our own efforts (alone) , that gets in the way of the harvest. It  must be shorn, to remind us who is at work here and whose work we are doing and who ultimately is in control. We are not the centre of activity, even though our role is indispensable.

We are pruned firstly by means of the Word, a double edged sword. The Word of God, especially the words of our Lord Jesus Himself, must take greater priority as the source of our meditation and inspiration - and by implication, effectiveness.
Pruning of our efforts takes many forms, resulting in a seeming fruitlessness lasts for a time follows immediately after pruning to remind us who it is who is the source of all fruitfulness – and it is not us.  Christ is the source of the flow of spiritual life in us and others.

The metaphor of the flow of sap between the vine and the branches is worth a closer look. That nourishing sap in plants must run through veins in branches containing vessels known as xylem for carrying water principally, and phloem for carrying food nutrients. These vessels also carry mineral salts and hormones respectively, to nourish the branches and leaves and then the fruit in due course.

The sap comes from the vine, and it is us alignment with the centre that causes unimpeded free-flow of the necessary water and nutrients for the fruit and ourselves. The fruit then flourishes only in the measure that the branch does its job effectively in being a conduit from the vine to the fruit at the tips. The fruitfulness from the vine - Christ - is dear to the Father/vinedresser, but it is a patient work of art to produce fruit (us and others) for the harvest. The water can correspond to the grace of our baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit, and the nutrients correspond to the frequent, even daily, reception of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist as well as the nourishment we receive from the Word of God and prayer.  This is what the Lord Jesus means when He wants us ‘to make your home in Me’. The water can also correspond to the water from Christ’s side, the flow of sanctifying and actual grace and the growth in divine love if we are to have any life in us. We cannot, after all, give to others what we do not possess ourselves. We cannot be convincing if we lack conviction.

Life in general and the mission of the Church specifically is not only about us, though we have an indispensable place, as ‘apart from Me you can do nothing.’ We have a role in a higher plan that is beyond our control. We cannot attempt to usurp our role or take the place of the vinedresser or the vine for that matter.
The Lord wants us to bear fruit, fruit that will last. That fruit is the souls of others oriented toward God through repentance as well as an increase in charity and a sense of mission to witness, both in them and us. The fruit is meant to last – forever. The fruit is also ourselves – and in our own lives we must produce the fruits of repentance, charitable works, as well as righting wrongs, correcting injustices, reparation for our neglects, a fuller application of our talents and resourcefulness in the service of others, examination of conscience, mental prayer, charity in speech, and forgiveness of hurts.

Our pruning, the work of God, is ongoing – and necessary. More long-term fruitfulness is to be gained by proper careful pruning. In the end, abundantly more fruit will be harvested but we have to sacrifice ourselves – stripped of what was important to us, pruned back for new and more abundant growth. Let us trust God that He knows what He is doing with us, even though the pruning can be a quite painful, and sometimes public, stripping as well as being deeply personal to each of us.

Contradiction, anger, temptations, criticism, and humiliation – all these forms of suffering puncture our resilient weed of pride which bounces back for more again and again for more of the same.  We have to be re-shaped to be effective in God’s designs. We must also learn to prune ourselves in self-denial, by humility, acceptance of duty, willingness to ask others’ pardon and be prepared to admit that we are wrong and face the consequences to our pride.

Let us then all accept with painful peaceful surrender and resignation the implications of this pruning in the many forms of suffering, sometimes self-inflicted, we experience on a daily basis. It is for the Kingdom, for souls and ultimately God’s greater glory – fruit that will last.

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