I know of poor villages in India, whom our Parish Social Mission supports in bore wells projects, where hundreds of people have to walk some 3-5 kms and wait in long queues just to collect one bucket of water. Meanwhile for us in Singapore, we have no qualms taking long showers or leaving the tap running unnecessarily and wasting clean drinking water.
It is so easy to take the precious clean drinking water for granted when we have plentiful of them. Likewise, when God is so gracious to us and when His Love for us is infinitely patience, compassionate and unconditional, we have the tendency to take our faith in Jesus for granted and for many of us, only experience an awakening only when we face crises in our lives. It is like taking the precious gift of water for granted until we find ourselves stranded in a desert without water and dying of thirst.
In today’s Gospel of the “Vine and Branches,” where Jesus describes Himself as the “True Vine” and the disciples as the “branches,” one of the key phrases in the whole text of the Gospel of John 15:1-8, that we heard proclaimed, is Jesus’ affirmation of His disciples and us when He says, “You are pruned already, by means of the Word that I have spoken to you.”
By this Jesus is affirming and assuring us that we are truly His branches and that our relationship with Him as the “True Vine” is one that is experienced as “pruning”. If we reflect on the process of “pruning,” we can see how this is a painful process of cutting away of useless and dead branches. And that such “pruning” as Jesus says, is needed so that we can bear more fruits.
What does “bearing much fruits” in our relationship with Jesus the “True Vine” means? As the married vocation is the majority, it is more relevant to have the married vocation as my illustrations instead of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I have come across many true stories of how spouses like Mark and Mary (not their real names) have shown deep love for one another because of their faith in Jesus. Mark is very sick and dying. However, his main concern is not so much his own pain and illness, but what would happen to Mary his dear wife when he dies? This is not because Mark has no children to care for their mother, but how would his wife go on living without him, since they have been together for so many years of married life? Mary on the other hand, even though she is frail and feeble, prays fervently that God does not take her before her husband, and that she has the strength to continue to care for her husband.
When I come across such true stories of spousal love, I am deeply edified and I praise and thank God for them. Without doubt the spouses tell me that their deep love for one another over the many years of their lives is because their faith in Jesus sustains them and helps them to face the many challenges and trials in their married vocation. In the words of today’s Gospel, we can see that the deep love that Mark and Mary has for each other is because throughout their marriage, they have constantly been pruned by God. And, when they face the crises of separation through illness and death, their personal relationship in Jesus bears abundant fruits. And, they continue to have the strength to love one another to the end, and wait for God’s Providence and Love to unite them again in their next life in heaven and for all eternity.
On the other hand, we have also come across other true stories of spousal infidelity in their marriage. Let us call them Jack and Jane; not their real names. When Jack continues to commit adultery through his extra-marital relationships, Jane like all human persons is understandably devastated, deeply wounded and depressed. I have given my whole life for the family and now this has to happen to me; life is so unjust. Her constant question is, “How will the children grow up normally without their father?” Jane would then consult her friends, who are also in similar situations; in the process she gets even more confused, as all of them would advise her to file for a divorce. Jane would then seek counselling, but this does not find much help as her wounds are too deep and the process is taking too long.
Finally, Jane gets the divine inspiration and wisdom to hold on to her faith and believe that Jesus has not abandoned her in all her trials and that He will give her the strength and healing graces she needs. Jane tells me that in the crises of her life, what keeps her going is the time she spends in quite prayers and contemplation of the Gospel, in silent Eucharist Adoration, attending daily Mass and frequent Confessions. Over time, she now finds the Holy Spirit and her personal relationship with Jesus giving her the wisdom to transcend her pains and trials, and continue to live meaningfully and get on with life, with spiritual peace and strength in her from Jesus.
“Have you had a conversation or lively debate with people who do not bother much about God or how important it is to have God at the centre of our lives? They tell us that while they believe in a God, they do not bother too much about God because what matters in their lives is what happens in this world. And, whatever is going to happen to them after they die does not matter, because they say, they will be dead any way! A person who asserts such views are like asserting, “I am very thirsty and I need to drink this glass of water. However, when you want to engage and explain to him that what looks like a glass of water may actually be poison, he brushes you aside and goes ahead and drinks it; which eventually kills him because it was poison.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, “Are we conscious of how precious it is to have the gift of faith that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord?” Jesus in today’s Gospel assures us when He said, “you are pruned already.” Our daily challenges are to remain united to Jesus as our “True Vine” and develop a more personal relationship with Him. And this relationship with Jesus is not one that merely endures the pruning, but one that is meant to bear much fruits.
One of my Jesuit Scripture professor, Fr Neil Guillemette, says that Words of Christ that we hear Sunday after Sunday or even day after day when we attend daily Mass, act as a spiritual antiseptic, so to speak: they constantly challenge our sinfulness and our tendency towards selfishness . . . We face the harsh demands of the Gospel that admits of no mediocrity, no compromise and no half-measures . . . Just as some antiseptics cause pain when they are applied to a wound, so also, Christ’s teachings would often cause us pain . . . it prunes our egos that need to forgive others and love them including our enemies. /All these are great blessings because they act as spiritual antiseptics that prevent the spiritual infections of resentment, egoism, pride, envy, sloth and the like from setting in.
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us be reminded of how Mark and Mary were able to love each other so selflessly because of their deep faith. When they had to face the crises of illness and death, their faith in Jesus kept them going. Jane too continued to remain faithful to God regardless of how Jack her husband had destroyed her marriage and family through his adulterous living. Like Mark, Mary and Jane, we are each called to daily deepen and mature in our relationship with Jesus, the “True Vine.”
The truth is that even though we are “pruned already, we are each called to allow God our Father, the Vinedresser to continue to prune the useless and dead branches of our egos, pride and selfishness. This must continue; otherwise,our faith in Jesus will not mature and not bear fruit. So, are we willing to allow God our Father, the Vinedresser who wants to prune us, to continue to love us through His pruning?.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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