04 May 2010

Ask to be pruned

5th Week of Easter (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma


Doctors of western medicine have recently rediscovered the ancient practice of using maggots—fly larvae—in the treatment of gangrenous wounds. When introduced into the wound, the maggots will eat away the dead flesh, leaving behind healthy tissue. This nauseating procedure significantly reduces the chances of infection, which in turn reduces the chance that amputation will be necessary. What the surgeons are unable to accomplish with scalpels and anti-biotics, the maggots accomplish with their voracious appetites. Farmers perform a similar kind of surgery on their fruit trees and vines. Cutting back excessive growth, pruning unproductive branches, the tree's nutrients are used to full effect in producing healthier, more productive blossoms, giving the farmer a more abundant harvest. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to wound a tree in order to prod it into producing better fruit, or using carrion insects to heal an infected wound, the idea that living things can be improved with a little pruning is a proven, time-honored method of encouraging growth. Thinking for a moment on your relationship with God and His Church, what in your life can you afford to prune away?

Jesus tells his disciples that he is the true vine and his Father is the vine grower. We are the branches. Any branch from the vine that fails to produce good fruit will be prune away by the grower. Branches that produce good fruit will be pruned so that they might produce more and better fruit. Jesus says, “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you.” As baptized members of the Body, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and welcomed to the altar of sacrifice, we are among those who have already been pruned. We've heard the Word spoken, and we go out to speak that Word to others. We scatter the seeds of mercy and love and nurture the young shoots in the soil where they take root. At harvest, we reap the fruit of our labor and give thanks to God for His providence. And though we may bring in an abundant crop this year, we can always do better next year! So, what unproductive branches need pruning in your spiritual life? What is it that drains away vital nutrients, saps your strength, ruining the goodness of your good fruit?

We can always point to sin as a drain on our courage and perseverance. Wasting time and energy with disobedience not only wastes God's gifts, but it also encourage moral rot, spiritual decay. More specifically, we could point to inordinate attachments to soul-destroying passions—anger, revenge, bitter disappointment, hurt feels. Maybe your strength is drained away by self-made crisises, emergencies you yourself design to distract you from the hard work of ministry. Maybe you are plagued by a fear of risking your reputation; anxiety about how to use your gifts; or perhaps, you obsess about your past, re-living old sins and worrying about God's mercy. If so, it is time to ask the Vine Grower to prune these away, to cut them off so that you can use the vital food of His loving-care to produce more and better fruit. 

Jesus promises us that so long as we abide him, he will abide in us. That is a promise of boundless energy, unlimited food for our hard work: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” What is the best gift that we can ask for? Ask to be pruned, ask to have your unproductive attachments, your dead leaves and desiccated fruit, cut away. The surgery may hurt for a little while, but the harvest will be abundant!

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