Pruning the Vine: A Roman Catholic Woman Priest Reflects on Pruning
Today, for the fifth Sunday of Easter,(April 29,2018)Jesus teaches us that he is the vine and we, if we remain in him, and are doing what he asks-are the branches. We are an organic living part of the living Christ. He teaches us about vines and what they need to grow-pruning (John 15:1-8). I was a city kid. The most I knew about pruning trees or vines is that city backyards can be like jungles when no one cuts back the growth and the weeds. My friend Jean Tracy and I loved picking grapes off our Italian neighbors’ grape vines and looking for the sweet ones that seemed to hide among the overgrown vines. More than that we loved climbing the tall bending tree trunks with palm like fronds of pointy green leaves that once were weeds that are called the “Tree of Heaven”- or the tree that grows in Brooklyn. It’s almost nutty smell was intoxicating and my mother was certain that I would die falling from its high and lengthy arms. They grow anywhere, in gutters and in every crack and crevice-mainly where one would not want them to grow. We did love that “tree”. When I think of pruning these days I need only look around my house. I rarely take the time and energy to keep the beautiful and hearty bushes and flowers that are abundant in Florida neatly trimmed. When they are not trimmed the dead branches crowd out the life in the remaining ones.Below is what became of lovely flowers on the side of my house due to my neglect of pruning.
And here is Gaspare Randazzo a Good Shepherd member confirmed as an adult who is helping me prune what was once a pretty garden area. He is strong and up to the work and I am thankful to have his help. Like me, he also must occasionally work on pruning things in his life that choke out life and fruitful activity. His beautiful smile is a testimony to his hard work and success. Pastor Judy Beaumont had amidst her things a small calligraphy that reads: “If you meet someone who has no smile, give them one of yours”. How she lived that! We all remember her smile as lighting up the room and illuminating the darkness of despair that eats away at life. And we also remember the endless ways in which she showed her love in small and large ways. Our church member Judy Alves recalls the careful and caring way that each and every week Pastor B would count out a week’s worth of medications for a man who could not manage his own medications. He rarely said thank you or acknowledged her very tedious task-he’d just take the pills and go. When I mentioned my annoyance at this to her she responded:”He is probably doing the best he can”. I was gently pruned. Similarly, when she put in endless hours in Connecticut as the CEO of My Sister’s Place to deliver two new buildings to house the homeless and four programs to meet their varied needs,I encouraged her to rest and take time for herself and for our life together. I came to realize that she was doing the very best she could to grow the kingdom/kindom of God-and was again gently pruned. Love that produces justice is very hard work. With love we may prune one another, and with love, God prunes us.
Jesus tells us that God “takes away every branch that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:2). God’s pruning acknowledges that we ARE strong in Christ, and are already bearing fruit. But we can usually bear more fruit for the kingdom. The Epistle of John (I John 3:18-24) makes clear that fruit in our lives comes from loving “not in word or speech but in deed and truth”. We remain in Christ when we keep his commandments to” love one another just as he commanded us”. If we do not live a life of active love that leads to justice we are not bearing fruit.
And, even when we are bearing fruit for the kingdom we may need to cut back some things in order to produce even more fruit. I look at my own life. As I struggle with my own grief over losing Pastor Judy Beaumont, my beloved life and ministry partner for almost thirty years, I worry about what I have left to continue to build God’s kingdom on my own. It is a challenge. Grief can not be curtailed- one cries when the “Spirit says cry” and moans when the Spirit says moan-and on automatic pilot does the many things needed to continue life in a new way. But I can not stop building the kingdom- I have to build it even as I grieve. It is my call, it is my life in the living vine. I do not see loss and grief as a pruning from God but I do think it can have that effect. It can immobilize. I am writing again because it is part of my ministry. I am visiting the sick as I can and helping poor folks materially, emotionally and spiritually one by one so they can have abundant life. Yes, sometimes I am pushing myself hard to do this,and I don’t do nearly enough, but that is okay. It just needs to be done. I am very thankful for some of my Good Shepherd members and my friends who help me to do what needs to be done. God has provided and I am thankful. With God’s help in the coming weeks I will continue to counsel the young in need of jobs and support, comfort the Grandmother who has advanced cancer and be there for her and her family in person as they meet with the Doctor, and take the woman whose feet hurt so badly that she cannot walk for special shoes. It is little enough, but this I can still do. What more I can do will be apparent in time. God’s love is constant. Whatever prunes us so that we can bear more fruit is an expression of God’s love. Bring the pruning on!
The Psalm of the day (Psalm 22:26-27,28,30,31-32)says:
“I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the Lord.The lowly shall eat their fill…Let the coming generation be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice (God) has shown”. These two challenges have been the essence of our Good Shepherd ministry-to feed and house the hungry and poor and to teach and guide the young in the Way. I pray to do what I can do. I pray for the strength and guidance to continue bearing the fruits of love and justice for the kingdom so the kin-dom of God may reign on earth.
And I pray this prayer for you as well.
My friend Dr. Ruth Martin, African American elder in our community in Connecticut, sent this Peace Lily in Memoriam to Pastor Judy Beaumont in early February. Gaspare helped me to repot it about six weeks ago and with space to breathe and grow, and yes, a little pruning, it is now producing beautiful Peace lilies. May our lives be like this:
Amen and blessings,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Good Shepherd Ministries