(A little change begins with today’s Daily Reflection. I would propose A Pondering with which to begin these Reflections. They are not meant to begin a dialogue with me, rather a little prodding and dialoguing within your own self.)
Spirituality is actually living with the tensions caused by our Theology; that is, what we believe.
Christian Spirituality is a living with the upward call of Jesus to our downwardly self-centered natures. Jesus put His followers in such tensions almost every time He spoke. Paul knew it well when writing about the good he would want to do, he does not, and what he would rather not do, he does.
The problem is that our culture always wants to know “How do you spell relief?” Fidelity to these tensions is how we spell “belief” especially in how Jesus spells it in sharing with us His Eucharistic Presence.
Movements containing new ideas and identities can be found frightening by those who fear what is new. The “Way” was such a threatening group. They believed that their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, Who had been crucified, was risen. This movement was gaining followers and miraculous events had been occurring through their preaching.
Saul was a righteous and zealous man who seemed disturbed by this “Way”. He was very well known to the point of his being notorious. He had been trying to halt the movement of these “Christ-Way” people. He in turn was arrested by his being knocked to the earth and spoken to by this very Risen Christ. His resulting conversion was personal, but he had some mending to do.
What we hear in our First Reading today is his knocking on the door of official entrance into the company of disciples. The original group was not so sure that Saul, now known as Paul, was to be trusted, because of his past. Barnabas becomes his Confirmation sponsor and speaks up on Paul’s behalf. Paul, by his actions, had proved that His faith in Jesus was real.
The “way” was growing in faith and in numbers. Paul was an instrument of that spreading as he went off from Jerusalem to tell of the consolations of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Resurrection.
The Gospel we hear today is from the famous verses taken from the heart of John’s presenting Jesus giving His last discourse to His apostles. We hear one more of the “I am” statements, characteristic of John’s presentation of Jesus. As with the other “I am” references, Jesus is telling His listeners who they are as well. He also gives an image of His Father. There is much identifying then in today’s readings. Paul finds out who he is and we find out a bit of who we are.
The image of “vine”, “vine grower”, and “branch” is a tactile as well as visual aid. We are the receivers of life and the producers of “fruit” as long as we remain in Him Who has remained in us. “Fruit” is the product of His penetrating our earthliness. What we do will flower from remaining faithful to who we are. We are more than what we do, of course, but doing is more than a revelation of ourselves.
The “Grower” is pictured as the One Who trims away those who have refused their identity as branches; perhaps they want to be the “vine” themselves. By their choices they are cut away and lost to the process of bringing life and nourishment through Christ, into this world. The Trimmer is seen to prune the branches so that even more fruit may grow. I do not like hearing this, because I do not like being shaped up.
I am a jogger and I try to eat properly and that is hard enough. Being trimmed, corrected, advised, admonished, told how to do things differently from my usual and proper way, these are troublesome. It is very hard to hear them, even from good friends, but from the “Untrimmed Trimmer” well, they still hurt.
Paul was grafted onto and into the Vine. By Baptism, we too have become grounded in Jesus as well. Paul had to live with his earthliness, his past, his violence. Many of the great saints have had to live beyond their histories. The community had to receive Paul who had been a block to the “Way” and then instead of being in the way, he was on the “Way”. He learned of the redemptive mission of Jesus, not like the other disciples, at the feet of Jesus. Paul became a disciple by learning, by getting knocked off his own feet by the Trimmer’s pruning voice.
We learn from our mistakes - well kind of. We learn and grow from them if we allow ourselves to be met by, no not Jesus, not first, but by ourselves first. We first come to sense that our lives are not fruitful, the way Jesus encourages life to be. All kinds of things grow on vines: grapes of course, but peas, tomatoes, watermelons, zucchini, and flowers as well. If I envy the ivy and disown myself as a pumpkin, then I shrivel and die. Being apart from Jesus means not being a part of Jesus as Vine. Apart from Jesus usually results in our not being the branch the Trimmer planted on this earth at this time. Jesus had to meet Saul in order that Saul could meet himself, his truth. From this learning experience, Paul became an Apostle, that is, one who is sent. His fruitfulness blossomed after he accepted who he was. The original disciples had to accept him as well, because of his having become alive in the Spirit and his own truth.
“I will praise You Lord, in the assembly of Your people.” Ps. 22
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