Fr. Paul's Homily
Week magazine carried a story about a man who tried to be Tarzan at age 66. You see, Stefan wanted to spend the night drinking with his friends, but his wife, knowing his problem refused to allow him to do so by locking him into the bedroom! Not willing to accept defeat, he climbed out the window. A large vine hung from a tree near-by, but to reach the ground would require him to move from one vine, to another, to a third. Well, he missed number three vine, fell to the ground where he broke his arm, his leg and ankle! And this was while he was sober! Apparently, Stefan’s judgment wasn’t any good, drunk or sober!
Jesus takes us another direction today in the gospel when he refers to vines. We should not swing on them, but allow them to bear fruit. Let’s talk about the wisdom in Jesus words.
“I am the vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit and every one that does he prunes so that it might bear more fruit…I am the vine, you are the branches.”
So we are out there at the end of the limb, the only place where fruit can grow. Jesus is the large vine that connects with the earth and brings nutrients and water to the branches. Thus, connection to the vine is essential for the branches. God is the vine grower, the one who is in charge of the vineyard and who cares for the plants by pruning and cleaning. Now, what does it all mean?
First, pruning saves the energy and resources of the vine. A few years ago I visited a vineyard and the owner talked about the pruning of the vines. He said the seriousness of the pruning depended upon the quality of grapes that you want. If you want high volume, low quality, then little pruning is done. You will produce lots of grapes, but the flavor and taste will not be high. If you want high quality of grapes with richer character and sweetness, then you prune more. Thus, a vine, when it has fewer bunches of grapes to nurture, sends more of its resources to those grapes, and the quality goes up.
We all can find examples in our own lives where we waste our energy. God gives more time in retirement, and I end up spending most hours in front of the T.V. every day. God gives me a wonderful faith in him, but I waste it by worrying constantly for things I cannot control. God wants to help us but we are sometimes directing the energy down the wrong paths.
When I was vocation director years ago and worked with students in the seminary, I noticed some students could achieve a lot with limited time and resources. They did this by not wasting their time or resources, but concentrated their efforts where it was most needed. Other students seemed to spend a huge amount of time to accomplish small things. Even small tasks required days of planning and preparation. The energy output was much greater than the fruit.
We all have the task of looking into our lives and asking, “Where do I need to be pruned?” Might God be saying, “Your life could be so much more fruit, if you would only let go some things.”
Pruning doesn’t decrease life, it increases it!
Sometimes, pruning happens to us. In the parable that Jesus uses, God is the vine grower who prunes the branches. In other words, sometimes pruning is not self-initiated. It occurs through God working in the events of life.
Was there ever a time that you were asked to carry a cross that you would never have chosen, yet you find yourself today thankful that you had to carry it?
--maybe it was the loss of a job that really affected your self-confidence, but it lead to a much greater understanding and compassion for people who are unemployed.
--maybe it was a struggle that one of your kids went through and you suddenly knew just how much you really loved them.
--maybe it was a physical limitation that led to your unability to find a job, but you also found that you had more time to pray and to volunteer.
Sometimes pruning happens to us, for God is the true vinegrower, who brings us to fuller life in him.
Finally, what might the fruit look like? Best place to look would be in the Fruits of the Holy Spirit as listed in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. These fruit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (22-23). As branches, connected to the vine, Jesus Christ, we are called to bear fruit that is filled with love, joy and peace; filled with patience, kindness and goodness; topped off with faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. What a beautiful picture of what we can become.
Would it not be amazing if Holy Spirit Parish became known for these Fruits of the Spirit? How would it be if we walked into Target, forgetting to take off our nametag. A stranger walks up to us and says, “Holy Spirit? Oh yes, they have some of the kindest people I know!” Or maybe someone comes to a Sunday mass here, and leaves church saying, “I felt so much joy in this church this morning? I want to come back?”
You might smile as I say this, but all this is possible, if we are willing to stay on the vine of Christ and let the Father do some pruning. Are we willing to be more than we are right now? Am I willing to grow? At any age this is still the call from God.
As some of you know, I just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We saw some amazing things, most of which related to actual events in the life of Jesus. But the two times that touched people the most were the Holy Hour that we spent in the Garden of Gethsamane and a 30 minutes of reflection time when we could go down and sit on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was these quiet moments that touched hearts most deeply. This is “Staying connected to the vine.”
I am the vine, you are the branches and my Father is the vine grower.