“I am the true grapevine,
and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit,
and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit
so they will produce even more.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you.
For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.
Those who remain in me, and I in them,
will produce much fruit.
For apart from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is thrown away like a useless branch and withers.
Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.”
– John 15:1-2;4-6 (NLT)
(Today’s reflection is rather longer than the usual,
but it makes for easy yet very inspiring reading.
It has been lifted from a commentary on John 15:1-8,
by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household.]
In His teaching,
Jesus often begins with things that are familiar to those listening to Him,
things that everyone can see.
This time He speaks to us with the image of the vine and the branches.
Jesus sets forth two situations.
The first is negative: The branch is dry, it bears no fruit,
and so it is cut off and thrown away.
The second is positive: The branch is living and healthy,
and so it is pruned.
This contrast already tells us
that pruning is not a hostile act to the branch.
The gardener expects much from it;
he knows it can bear fruit;
he has confidence in it.
The same happens on the spiritual plane.
God intervenes in our lives with the cross (instead of the pruning scissors).
It does not mean He is irritated with us
but, in fact, quite the opposite.
But, why does the gardener prune the branch
and make the vine “weep,” as they say?
For a very simple reason:
If it is not pruned, the strength of the vine is wasted;
it will perhaps bear more bunches than it should,
with the consequence that not all will ripen
and the rating of the wine will therefore be lower.
If the vine remains a long time without being pruned,
it is ruined.
It is the same with us – with our lives, spiritual and otherwise.
To live is to choose,
and we can choose what to keep
and what to deny ourselves from,
even if it hurts.
One must have the courage to make choices,
and to, at times, put some secondary interests to one side
and concentrate on the primary.
We need to prune ourselves!
This is even truer in the spiritual life.
Holiness is like a sculpture.
Leonardo da Vinci defined sculpture as “the art of removing.”
Only sculpture consists of removing,
of taking away the pieces of marble that are in excess,
so that the figure can emerge that one has in mind.
Christian perfection is also obtained like this,
by removing and making useless pieces fall off,
namely, desires, ambitions, schemes, carnal tendencies
that disperse us and ruin our peace,
and often that of others.
God also looks at us and sees us this way:
as shapeless blocks of stone or marble.
He then takes His chisel, which is the Cross,
and begins to work on us.
He takes the pruning shears, and begins to prune us.
We must, however, not worry ourselves
thinking of what terrible crosses He may send us!
Normally, He does not add anything
to what life presents us in terms of suffering, effort, tribulations…
He permits all these to serve for our purification,
and He helps us not to waste the opportunities.
Prune me, Lord God;
strengthen me; console me and help me bear the pain
as You bring the best out of me.