Last spring at the rectory I decided to plant rose bushes. It was my first time experimenting with planting roses, and this is the first time having to prune them in the spring. In the spring, you must cut them down all the way to six inches to the ground. It was a painful thing for me to do because there were some really nice branches going up and almost blossoming, but I know the rules. So, I followed the rules and cut them back. Now I wait for the new branches to grow and to produce fruit to produce these buds that will blossom into beautiful roses. It was difficult for me to cut them down because I just did not want to lose anything. I know that you have to cut them back so that you will have brand new branches, and you will have much better fruit by doing that.
In the Gospel today, Jesus talks about this pruning. He talks about the initial pruning. The initial cutting back. The initial cutting back that happens to us is in Baptism. In Baptism, all of the dead branches are cut off of you. You were made totally new to be the most fruitful that you could be. I think it is good for us to know that. First of all, Jesus says. “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” We are not one of the branches that are going to be plucked off because we are already pruned in Baptism. We are part of that good new plant. But He does warn that if we do not remain in Him, we will wither and die. So, if we become cut off from Him, or broken off from Him, or infested with sin in some way, then we will wither and die. We are at this point now in our life where we are baptized, but there is still the potential for us to come off of the plant. Jesus says that if we are separated from the vine, we will wither and die and be cast in the fire.
I think we are experiencing this new birth after what has become the end of the pandemic, but we have a lot of people that have been cut off. A lot of people have not been coming to church. As we are starting to get the opportunity to come back, it is going to be interesting to see who comes back. Will everybody come back? Will it be just a smaller group and a smaller plant to begin with? What is so amazing that you faithful are here right now, and you do not have to be. You are dispensed from Mass because of the virus, and you still choose to be here. It is very clear that you are not cut off. You are a part of that vine and the branches.
Jesus repeats it again, and He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Without Me you can do nothing.” We live in this weird time where the Christian message has gotten all over the world, and everybody knows it. Everybody knows that through Jesus Christ and the sacraments there is salvation. But what is really odd and difficult is that a lot of people believe in salvation without Jesus Christ. People know now that God is a good God, and they believe that He will save them. There is this strange understanding that we can be saved without Jesus. He says so very clearly, “Unless you remain in Me, you can do nothing.” There is no salvation without Jesus. There is no salvation without being connected to the vine. After this pandemic comes to an end, a lot of our work will be gathering people back. We will be helping them come back once more to the vine because a lot of people think that they are fine as separate branches. They believe God can save, but they do not need this. I do not need the Mass. I do not need the Eucharist. I do not need the sacraments. But we do. Without Him we are going to wither and die. We have this whole notion of hell and being separated from Him. But if we do become separated from Him, the branches will be thrown in the fire.
He gives us this final encouragement, “If you remain in me, you will bear much fruit and anything you ask of the Father will be done for you. The Father is going to be glorified. The Father wants to do these things for you.” He wants to work miracles through you, and by that, He will be glorified.
As we continue on with our lives after the pandemic, it is good for us to know, first of all, that we have already been pruned. God is not going to take any part of us that is holy and good. He is not going to rip off any part of us that is good and bearing fruit. Secondly, though, we need to realize that we have to stay connected to the vine. We have to stay connected to Jesus. We have to stay connected to the sacraments – the Eucharist, to Confession, to Reconciliation. Ultimately, this will lead us to eternal life.
The early church, which we heard about in the first reading, began and was flourishing – and then it was being persecuted. They were being murdered. They were being martyred, and yet, we heard that it was a time of peace within the church. Everybody in the church was at peace because they are so secure in God’s will even though lives are being lost. Even though martyrdom is happening. The Church is at peace, and it is thriving. It is because they are so connected to Jesus. He wants that same church today. He wants a thriving church. He wants the church to be at peace. He wants a church that is so connected to Him that there is so much fruit – and miracles will abound.
I just ask you to think about that in your life. Are you asking God to do wonderful things in your life? Are you praying over people? Are you healing people? Are you working miracles in your life? Is that fruit evident because if it is not, maybe we are not connected enough? Maybe we are not in total union with Him. Maybe there is some sin in our lives that we are allowing that keeps us from being so close to Him. Without it, He can work miracles through us.
Know that you are pruned completely of all the sin. All the weeds have been cut away. All you have to do now is flourish by remaining connected to the vine. Ask the Father for anything, and it will be done for you.