A mere ten minutes from my front door in South New Jersey lies a vineyard. Despite the absence of the climate that holds forth in France, Italy, and California, it flourishes. When I drive by it, I can catch a glimpse of those long straight lines of bushes. Often enough, I think of those immortal words of Christ that we hear this weekend about
the vine and its branches. As the Master of metaphor, Our Lord speaks here of an intimacy between God and ourselves, the likes of which none of the pagan religions popular at the time could match
Our Lord offers us an easy concept to grasp, even if our only connection to a vineyard is tasty liquid bottled and bound for our table. We know from any shrub how connected the parts are. When heavy snow bears down on a branch and bends it low, it may snap. When its green growth fades to a baleful brown, we know it’s time for pruning.
In a way, we’re just the same. At times we have bent to the pressure of temptation and broken away. Maybe we’ve “changed colors,” from a red-blooded loyalty to Christ to the pallid yellow of denying Him. Most often, this last springs from our desire to show others that we Catholics are just like everybody else, which often enough we should not be.
What is consoling is the basic fact that the love energy in this relationship comes from God. He takes the first step. The vine prior exists before any branches. All that we really have to do is respond as best we can, staying fully at- tuned to His will and ways.
Even if we have little or no connection with a vineyard, we have to admit that they are high maintenance items. That plenty of hard work is involved in their care and production. Just so has the whole enterprise of being a good Chris- tian been from the beginning. The resurrection of Our Lord that certified His teaching and promises spurs us on. We know that if we want to live forever, staying well-connected to the divine Vine, we occasionally have to prune away from ourselves any notion that we’re doing just fine as we are, with no need for improvement. The very shape of a cross speaks to this, for it is an “I” with a slash through it. Only then will we be fit to be missionary disciples as Christ calls us to be.
One snowy morning at 5:00 am, a missionary candidate rang the bell at the rectory of the bishop’s missionary board member. Ushered into the office, he sat three hours past his appointment time waiting for his interview. At 8:00 am, the priest examiner finally appeared and began his questioning.
“Can you spell?”
Rather mystified, the candidate answered, “Yes, Father.”
“All right, spell ‘baker’.”
“Fine. Now, do you know anything about numbers?” the priest examiner continued. “Yes, Father, I know something.”
“Please add two plus two.”
“Four” replied the candidate.
“That’s fine,” said the priest. “I believe you have passed. I’ll tell the board tomorrow.
At the bishop’s board meeting, the priest examiner reported on the interview. “He has all the qualifications for a fine missionary. First, I tested him on self-denial, making him arrive at the rectory at five in the morning. He left a warm bed on a snowy morning without any complaint. Second, I tested him on promptness. He arrived on time. Third, I examined him on patience. I made him wait three hours to see me. Fourth, I tested him on temper. He failed to show any anger or aggravation. Fifth, I tried his humility by asking him questions that a seven year old child could answer, and he showed no indignation. So, you see, I believe the candidate meets the requirements. He will make the fine missionary that we need.” God love you and give you His peace.
Spirit-given abilities are needed, but Spirit-produced fruit is more significant. God love you, and give you His peace.