Walking through the park I noticed a willow tree with its branches stretched down toward the water of the duck pond. I noticed that it didn’t have far to grow before it skimmed the surface and could take an everlasting sip to nourish itself as the spring temperatures soon give way to the heat of summer. Those vine-like branches dangling over the still water reminded me of St Teresa of Calcutta kneeling in her chapel where below the crucifix (in every chapel she established) were big black letters that read “I THIRST“. It was to remind the sisters in the her convent that whenever they ministered to any human being (especially the poorest of the poor, and the dying, the two populations that especially cried out to her heart) to remember that it is Christ in each and every soul, craving love and consolation, saying as he did from the cross, “I THIRST”. I snapped the picture of those viney branches because they looked so thirsty, and I was reminded of the picture I took that day when we reflected on this Sunday’s gospel, and thought about those souls in my life, the sick and elderly in particular, whose dignity is threatened by the world and therefore thirst, as Christ did, for love.
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 in 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.”
Inviting the Holy Spirit as always, we rely on his insights for meditation as a group (different people repeat a line of the gospel that seems to stand out to them and then explains noted by the bullet points; some are grouped together because of similarity or flow):
- because without me you can do nothing…When I am trying to accomplish things of my own strength I invariably fail, but “In Christ I can do all things” (Ph 4:13).
- Even when I am trying to do good things, I am still trying out of my own will. It is imperative that we trust in God and surrender to His will in order to be fruitful. Mother Teresa reminded us to “nestle (in God’s arms)…don’t wrestle” in order to bear fruit. Through spiritual direction it was revealed that even in something as beautiful as going to the chapel to pray I can be unfruitful if I do not have purity of intention (hiding from problems in life) but instead going in order to praise and worship and console Christ, relying on his grace, instead of just hiding from my troubles.
- Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and witherThis vision of a vine and branches is beautiful but we must keep in mind the purpose of our lives to serve God and that without Him we are nothing; this juxtaposed phrase shows us the need to do all we can to remain in Him
- You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to youGod has given us all that we need in Him and His word; we have been given what we need to do His will if we remain in Him.
- that you bear much fruit and become my disciplesWe must remember that we have seasons of bearing fruit; but in order to bear fruit we must also have seasons of “resting the soil of our lives”. Not all seasons will be one of harvesting fruit. Many different seasons go into making the branch bear fruit.
- Having a large family with many small children, one definitely feels the season of tending the soil and planting the seeds, as opposed to bearing fruit. It must be kept in mind that trying to do too many things outside of taking care of the family can be out of line with God’s will for me; that I am called to be at home for now, doing the most important work of raising my family. In our parish “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” program, we talk often about this passage of the vine and branches, but we also talk about the “sap”, which nourishes the vine and protects it. The “sap” is the Holy Spirit and it gives life to the branches.
- Trusting in God above all things; this passage is about trust. We can have good intentions and mean well, but we think our way is best and we forget that we are still trying to assert our own will. We must make sure that we are surrendering to whatever God has in store for us in His great wisdom. God’s plan is always the BEST plan.
- We are a planning society. It is always encouraged and expected that we plan our own schedules and our own day. It is counter-cultural to trust in God’s plan over our own. It is a great act of humility to know that it isn’t my way, but God’s way.
- In reading scripture one day, Matthew 24:32, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near”. Our branches are tender in humility, we are pliable and perhaps coming out of winter, or difficulties. When we are near Christ, we begin to bear fruit because “summer is near”; he is our summer, he is near to us. He is our hope.
An Elderly Sick Person Cares for her “Care Giver”
A member of our group had a friend whose grandmother “Rose” obtained an injury due to a fall and had to go for an X-ray. It turned out that the X-ray technician was a woman who used to work for Rose, and during the X-ray they were able to get caught up on each other’s lives. The X-ray tech shared that she was having a difficult time with her family. Her husband had been incarcerated and her adult children were making many poor choices in their own lives. Rose and her husband spent time listening intently to this former employee, consoling her and treating her with kindness and understanding. Later, the X-ray technician discovered that Rose had left her necklace behind and called to see if she could deliver it to them and spend some more time visiting. Having always been the kind of people who help others, they welcomed their former employee to their home and continued to support and listen to her in her time of difficulty. It seemed to be a God-appointed visit that Rose–even in her convalescence–could be of service to someone else.
Later in the week Rose got worse. One of her family members posted her condition, requesting prayers on Facebook, and the X-ray technician who had gratefully spent time sharing her troubles with Rose, noticed the posting and description of her friend’s symptoms. She then proceeded to contact Rose and told her that she needed to request an abdominal CT scan because she knew it was needed to identify the illness. It turned out to be exactly the diagnostic tool that pin-pointed the source of the illness and got Rose the treatment she needed.
In light of this story, we all felt the sense of justice at hand. First of all that the patient who was needing the treatment was reaching out to help console the one treating her (the technician), and even though she was feeling unwell, invited her over to listen and offer further emotional support and kindness. Also, that the technician went beyond her job to help support and show reciprocity to Rose, who had been so genuinely kind and supportive to her, despite her own situation.
We discussed the way our culture seems to undervalue the “little ones” of the world; those who cannot defend themselves, or seem to be unable to work or manage their own affairs because they are infirm or elderly (and yes, even the unborn), and example of such cases as this week’s news of Alfie Evans, and the so-called “eradication” of Down’s Syndrome Children in Iceland. We discussed the way the “world” seems to cast aside someone who seems to need help or care, even though down to every last breath we take (by way of God’s hand, not our own) we are carrying out the fullness of God’s plan for our life and His salvation for us. Especially in the elderly and sick, those in situations of great humility and dependence on others, we often see the greatest grace and wisdom through the lessons of God’s value of the human person and what we can glean from that as human beings created by a loving God, to whom we are infinitely valuable.
We look to Christ in his treatment of every person and the way he summons us out of a sense of victimization to participate in this world in a way that he himself walked; that is, to be fully human in all its difficulties and messiness. It is in this messiness that we truly find our deepest dependence on God and a sense of love for others that does not benefit ourselves, but is altogether selfless. We are called to rise and be healed in Jesus’ name (Mk 2:11, Mt 17:7, Mk 10:49, Jn 5:7, Acts 9:6, Acts 9:34, Acts 22:16, Mt 8, Mk 5:29, etc.) and put forth as much of our own will as we can muster in times of difficulty. (Noted from scripture are the stories of the woman with the hemorrhage, the man whose friends lower him down from the ceiling on a mat, and the man who had been laying near the river hoping to be carried into his healing).
When looking at ideas for behaviors that inspire us how to act, we discussed the companionship of Rose and her husband in this case, how they accompanied this technician in her difficult family situation by listening, welcoming her to visit and gave her their own time, even when it wasn’t convenient for them. We look at the x-ray technician as well, who went out of her way to reciprocate the kindness she was shone and reached out to be of help to those who had helped her. It was also considered that on Pope Francis’ Instagram account this week, he posted about the beauty and need of intercessory prayer (praying for others).
JUSTICE is the virtue which we feel was exemplified in this case (Constant, firm will to give what is due to God and to our neighbor); elements of justice that drew our attention in particular were Kindness, Care, Love of Neighbor, Compassion, Courtesy, Respect, Goodness, Understanding.
HOW WE SHOULD ACT in light of the example of justice shown by Rose and the x-ray technician in this case: Our “apostolic action” for this week is to go to a nursing home or assisted-living facility, to attend one of the daily masses that are held there, or even just to visit with the residents, or any other elderly person who may need companionship or care.
HOW WE WILL PRAY: Our spiritual resolution (how this case leads us to pray) is to pray an act of trust to Jesus (“Jesus, I trust in you”) often for others who we know need our prayers, and then to add their name to our prayer as well, for example,
“Jesus, I trust in you. I pray for (specific name of person and what they need)”.