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Pruned by the Word

By 26 April, 2018January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries

Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 29-04-18 Fifth Sunday of Easter, Peru. (Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; Saint John 15:1-8)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a new definition of Himself. Last week He said I am the Shepherd, and now He declares I am the true vine. As could be expected, this provides a unique opportunity to understand and take advantage of our true relationship with Jesus: we are His branches, an integral part of Him.

►The first remark is that He has to prune us. This is the way He describes purification, not just as an ascetical effort we make, but an initiative of God. Therefore, we have to align our abnegation, our self-denial, with the purificative action of the Holy Spirit.

For example, if my dominant defect is some form of pride, perhaps I will make an honest effort in order to avoid imposing my judgments and desires. But oftentimes I will fail to appreciate the extent of the purificative strength of the emptiness, impotence and contrariety that the Holy Spirit wants to use to tame my ego. The practical conclusion is that I have to be more respectful and responsive to the plan of God. Do I believe that my suffering is only bad luck, an obstacle, a waiting time in my life? Do I think I can wait to more favorable winds to fully take action in my mission? Do I need to be in full mental, emotional and environmental control?

A young demon who came to Satan one day. He wanted to impress the devil with his ability to carry out the master’s will. I have a strategy that will keep Christians from following God, he said. I’ll convince them there is no God. Satan just smiled and wished the young demon success. A few days later, the demon returned dejected, his face downcast. I couldn’t get many Christians to believe there’s no God, he admitted. But then he brightened and added: However, I’ve got a better idea. I’ll convince them there’s no heaven! Again Satan smiled and sent the eager demon on his way. After another few days, the demon returned once more with defeat written all over him. I don’t understand it, he told the Evil One. What am I doing wrong? What’s the secret of subverting Christians? Satan, who had been waiting for that moment, put his arm around the young intern’s shoulders and explained: Son, you can’t succeed by trying to get them to deny the foundations of their faith. That’s much too obvious an approach, and they’ll reject it every time. I’ve been most successful over these many years by convincing them there’s no need to hurry in living out their faith. I simply keep getting them to wait.

The Holy Spirit will not only give you strength to go through difficult moments. More importantly, He will always make use of your mental aridity, your emotional vacillation and your emptiness to bring you closer to Him. Divine purification needs to be welcomed with intelligence, patience and careful meditation to be able to give fruits. This is John’s hopeful warning in the Second Reading: For God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. God has a plan for each of us and we need to allow God to reign in our lives as Mary did.

How can we be pruned by the Holy Spirit if not by letting His Word enter into our hearts? Jesus said to His disciples: You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. This does not mean they were perfect, but that what needed to be pruned at that point in their lives was cut off. Pruning is a lifelong process and often very painful, but it is always productive.

When I have even a vague feeling that I can do more for my neighbors or that I have to deepen my attention to the Gospel…this is a manifestation of the plan of God for me. These everyday intuitions prompted Saint Ignatius of Loyola to write his Prayer for Generosity:

Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your most Holy will.

►Secondly, He asks us to remain in Him. This has many implications and different compatible interpretations, but what is certain is that Jesus is asking for an intimacy with Him. This intimacy is not only measured by how many hours I spend in silent prayer; of course this is extremely important, but it has practical time limits. The canon, the constant of this intimacy is to take Christ into account in every part of my life: in the so called the good moments, as well as in my hours of grief, mistakes and failures. It is not just to remember Him, but rather to carry Him in my heart. This is why prayer has several dimensions, that are included in the Our Father; essentially: asking for forgiveness, giving thanks and asking God what is now His will for me and for my neighbors.

To remain in Him is to bring Him into the present moment of my life, allowing Him to walk beside me and to look at the people with His eyes. And this is a habit that grows and permeates all our activities.

This is reflected in the day-to-day experience of every human being. The German philosopher Schopenhauer said that There is a memory of the heart more precise and more tenacious than that of the mind. Whatever feeling or sentiment is uppermost in our thoughts has a very evocative, organizing, focusing, and staying power to profoundly touch and move us. Schopenhauer notes that even a weak memory always perfectly retains what is of value to the dominant passion: the beloved never forgets any favorable occurrence, the ambitious person nothing that serves his plans, the avaricious person never forgets the loss suffered, nor the proud man the insult made to his honor; the vain person each word of praise. This has been called the memory of the heart, which is more intimate than that of the mind. The memory does not only consist of a representation of conditions and circumstances, but a reviviscence of the affective state itself as such, that it is to say we feel it and do not merely remember it.

Yes; we have been given the necessary psychological and spiritual means to remain in Him and in communion with our fellowmen. This unity must be founded on our unity with the true vine. For this reason, at the beginning of the mass, we say: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.   The gathering of all our Christian communities is founded on our union with the Holy Trinity. Otherwise, as we see in the First Reading, fear, untruthfulness and misunderstandings make our unity short-lived and fragile.

There is a need for sincere and honest dialogue, just like the early Christians. Listening is the first and necessary step in breaking down resistance to be one. Until we hear each other out in charity and love, fear will blind us to the truth.

Pruning that which robs us is essential, but even more so is to stay continuously connected. Jesus just told the disciples that He is in the Father and we are in Him and He is in us. What does it mean to remain in Him? To be consistent in our relationship so that Christ can continue fully in us. For those of us who have come to love Him, we can think of nothing better than for Him to be fully in us.

Jesus is willing to bear it through your life and mine if we will just stay in Him. Jesus relied on the Father for everything. He did not act without the Father. (Jn 14:31) This is also our case. We were made to live in Him. That is the only way to produce spiritual fruit, so much so, that in Nazareth, Jesus could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mk 6:5-6). As has been said, prayer does not change God’s will, it implements it.

But the grim reality is that all too often we find ourselves disconnected from the vine. What is it that causes the disconnect? If our prayer is weak, the disconnect comes in three different ways:

When I want to go my own way, self-dependent. This is the attachment to my ego. The bonds of slavery that keep me tied to my judgements, desires or my thirst for happiness.

When I am dazzled by the lie that I am missing something, some fleshly desire, some type of satisfaction that is temporal. This is the attachment to the world.

When I try to serve two masters: God and my temperament. My short temper, my shyness, my lust or my vanity become an addiction and they will not return. I give with one hand and take away with the other. This is to be enslaved to my dominant defect.

This explains why we call Purificative Union to these three dimensions of our Ascetical Prayer.

When we are in Him and His words are in us, we are not asking to fulfill our lusts. (James 4:3) We desire what He desires and are praying His will into the earth. We wish what He wishes because His life is flowing through us, and that results in fruitfulness.

►Finally, what are the fruits Jesus is talking about?

Jesus chose his disciples and appointed them to go and bear fruit. There are two kinds of fruit. There is the fruit of inner character, described by Paul in his Letter to Galatians: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is also the apostolic fruit. A missionary disciple should make a difference in the working place, in the school and in the family.

Jesus said: Go and bear a fruit that will last. Only faith in Jesus, and, consequently, a fruitful life can satisfy us. The Samaritan woman was seeking love and appreciation and Jesus said to her: If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. This is why when we serve the poor, the suffering people and the sick, our ultimate goal is not just to feed them, give them material help or even heal them physically and emotionally, but to bring them closer to Jesus. With Him, We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2Cor 4:8-9).

The works that Christ has been able to produce through us by the Holy Spirit; this is the fruit that never wears out, never rots, never dies and never disappears.