Spiritual Pruning by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
Imagine plants could speak, as if in a J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis story. Then, as we pruned them in the spring, they would cry out in pain, begging for mercy. After all, the annual snipping, cutting and trimming seems a painful and cruel punishment for them.
Yet, at the end of it, those same plants would thank us for the agony we made them endure. Because, as painful as pruning may be, it benefits the plants greatly. It fosters their health, fruitfulness and beauty. After their complaining, the rose bushed would blush and thank us for getting rid of those old, ugly, useless branches, and cleaning them up a bit.
Our Lord uses the image of pruning to describe our heavenly Father’s work:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit” (In 15:1). As such, we should keep in mind those imaginary talking plants. They may serve as a good image of our souls.
If pruning brings some degree of suffering to a plant, it must also bring the same to us. But it also brings benefits. Perhaps if we understood the purpose of the Father’s pruning we will endure it more joyfully – and avail ourselves of it more often.
Our Father has, in short, the same purpose as any gardener: He prunes in order to produce spiritual health, fruitfulness and beauty. First, health. Pruning does away with the old, diseased and dead branches from a plant. God works the same in our souls. He seeks to remove the dead wood of sin and the diseased branches of vice so that our souls can enjoy greater health.
Second, fruitfulness. A gardener prunes to re-vitalize the plant, to encourage more growth and a greater yield of flowers or fruits. Our heavenly Father treats us in the same way. If a branch does bear fruit “he prunes (it) so that it bears more fruit.”
Now it seems like a cruel thing. If a branch – that is, a soul – bears fruit, why not let it be? Why submit it to the pain of pruning? Because our heavenly Father knows that only by this pruning do we grow more and produce more. Just as an athlete becomes flabby and soft without a challenge or workout, so also the soul atrophies unless the vine grower takes away a few branches.
Finally, beauty. Those nice, orderly, attractive bushes and trees – they only attain their beauty by way of pruning. If your boxwood, azalea or rose bush rebelled and refused to submit to a cut here and a snip there, then it would soon become just an over-gown, untamed plant. So also our souls need pruning in order to have that good order that makes them beautiful. Without the pruning they go wild.
How, then, do we allow the vine grower to accomplish this pruning of our souls? In general, we need only accept the crosses and sacrifices that God, in His providence, gives and asks of us. Those little difficulties and inconveniences we encounter every day are so many cuts and snips to prune us. When we bear them with patience and charity they encourage growth and we bear fruit.
Unlike plants, however, we can participate in this spiritual pruning and cutting out things ourselves. We know what we can do without – what possessions, activities or relationships have become as so much spiritual dead wood and need to be cut out of our lives. We should ask the divine Gardener to prune these things from us, so that we can grow as He desires. And then we ourselves, having asked His help, should cut them from ourselves so that we can attain greater health, fruitfulness and beauty.
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