5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Mark Gatto
Posted: May 1, 2021
My mother grew up on a farm with orchards. As a young boy I remember visiting my grandmother on that farm. We would sometimes assist in the fields. I was amazed to see them pruning the trees. They were removing sucker branches that would grow but not produce fruit. This would prevent the nutrients from being wasted on these branches. By pruning the branches they would assist the fruit that did grow to be larger and better quality.
Jesus uses the image of pruning in connection with our faith life and how God works in our lives. Just as a branch cut off from the tree will quickly dry up and die, so we need to remain connected to Jesus. Otherwise, our spiritual life and relationship with God will dry up and die. Being connected to Jesus requires being connected to the body of Christ, the Church. Remaining united to Jesus and remaining united to the Church go together.
Jesus says, “abide in me as I abide in you.” We are called to an intimate union. A deep abiding love. It is not a superficial or distant relationship. Within the church too we need to be connected in a communion, not simply individuals.
I heard a story once about a man in a small town who had stopped going to church. He said that he did not need to go to church, he could pray by himself. So, one day the pastor went to visit the man at his home. He knocked on the door and the man answered, surprised to see the pastor. But, he invited him in and the two men sat before a fireplace with coals burning.
The two men began to speak about many things, though the pastor never mentioned him not coming to church. After a while the two men sat there in silence watching the coals burning. Then the pastor stood up, picked up some tongs and reached in to the burning coals. He removed one of the coals from among the burning coals and placed it by itself on the shelf. Both men sat and watched as the lone coal quickly became cold and grey while the other coals continued to burn brightly.
In this particular moment we are living through, two questions come to mind for me in connection with this image of pruning and what happens to branches separated from the vine.
First, what pruning is needed in my life to allow my spiritual life to grow in a good and healthy way? What am I reading, what am I watching, how am I spending my time? Are they things that nurture my spiritual life? Do they bring goodness into my heart? Do they truly nurture me or do they harden my heart in some way? Are there sucker branches in my lifestyle that waste the nutrients of the spirit in ways that will produce no fruit? We need a good examination of conscience to honestly remove anything that is an obstacle to a holy, good and healthy life in Christ.
Second, how do I remain connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ? In practice, how do I remain connected to the body of Christ in the Church? As Catholics, one of the key ways is in our connection to a community of faith, usually a parish church. This is expressed most clearly in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Gathering with the church at Sunday Eucharist keeps us connected to the vine and keeps us spiritually alive.
But, in this Covid Pandemic time when many of us are unable to gather for Sunday Eucharist in our parish church, what does this mean? We need to creatively find ways to express and maintain our communion with the church. Some of you do this watching Mass on TV or through some other social media. Some of you make an effort to contact other parishioners you know to check in on them. Some of you keep a prayer list of people you pray for each day. Family, friends, and so on. This type of prayer not only keeps us in communion, but indirectly keeps those we pray for in connection with the true vine.
But, one thing we all can do is pray for the church, and in particular to pray for my own parish. For those of us who are members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, we just celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena this past week, on April 29. Below is a prayer by St. Catherine of Siena.
“Holy Spirit, come into my heart; draw it to Thee by Thy power, O my God, and grant me charity with filial fear. Preserve me, O beautiful love, from every evil thought; warm me, inflame me with Thy dear love, and every pain will seem light to me.”
All of us need to prune our lives so that our spiritual lives are nurtured and able to produce goodness and love and justice. All of us need to remain in communion with Jesus and the body of Christ in the Church. Abiding in Jesus, including being in communion with the church, allows us to remain nourished and alive in faith even in the moments that seem dry and dark.