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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

In another five months, I will have been in this parish for a whole year, and

once again the grape harvest will (I presume) be taking place. At the moment

there are just a few buds beginning to develop and a few leaves emerging, but

in five months’ time there should be mature leaves and mature grapes.


I’m not too much of a gardener. In my last parish there wasn’t much of a

garden at all, although last year I did manage to pick some blackberries. I also

discovered a few years before that what I thought was a bay tree was actually a

Portuguese laurel, so not to put any of the leaves into my cooking, as they

actually contain cyanide!


Nature needs appropriate cultivation, and you need to know what you are

doing, and the same could be said of pruning. Pruning is supposed to help a

plant or tree by getting rid of dead wood and also helps to shape the plant or

bush into the required space; it can also help improve airflow and stop disease

from setting in. Isn’t the internet a wonderful resource? Pruning can also go

wrong, when people cut off too much, or maybe when blades are blunt and a

poor quality cut is made, which helps disease to set in. Some argue that it’s

better to let a plant or tree just grow in a natural way, but sometimes it’s much

better to re-size as you get much sturdier growth and better fruit. It seems that

Our Lord thinks pruning is a beneficial thing, otherwise He wouldn’t have used

it in today’s Gospel.


We all need pruning in different ways. Not as in the extreme exaggeration-to-

make-a-point example of if you hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Rather, the

pruning we tend to get is in the form of trials, temptations, difficulties and so

on. Thomas à Kempis, writing in his book The Imitation of Christ, said that

temptation is something that we all have to face. There is no monastic order so

holy, no monastery so hidden from the world, that its monks manage to avoid

temptation (see Book 1, number 13). For each of us, the course is different. He

says:


“Some are more severely tempted when they enter the monastery; others at the

end of their course. Yet others there are who seem to pass their whole lives in

melancholy. A certain number experience only mild temptation; for so it is

ordained by God’s wisdom and fairness, who ponders how men stand and what

they deserve, and provides all things in advance for the salvation of his

chosen.”


Obviously the same applies to those of us who aren’t monks as well. But it’s

through temptations that we make progress; to use a biblical example, it’s like

metal refined in the fire to get rid of all impurity. Christ does not want us to be

like dead branches. He also wants us not to be lukewarm; He wants us to be on

fire, to bear much fruit. But with progress, we also need humility, otherwise

pride can ruin everything. There was a priest called St John Vianney, who lived

in the south of France in the first half of the nineteenth century. He managed

not only to convert the whole of his small parish, but he had people travelling

from all over France and further afield to him for confession. In order to

prevent him getting big-headed about it, in his earlier life, God had led him

through various humiliating experiences, including being initially thrown out of

training for the priesthood, being told he was “too backward”. He had to be

really grounded in humility and the sense of his own littleness, to realise that

the good he went on to achieve was God’s work, not his own, or as Our Lord

said, “cut off from me you can do nothing”.


We can sometimes think that perhaps the saints had everything handed to them

on a plate, but it was because they battled with temptation that they got where

they did. Thomas à Kempis also wrote the following:


“In temptations and afflictions a man and his progress are tried; his merit is

more real, his virtue more manifest. For it is no great thing if a man is devout

and fervent as long as he carries no burden; but if in time of adversity he is

patient and forbearing, then we may hope that he will make great progress.”

(Book 1, number 13)


The same is true for us. Temptations and afflictions might be a right nuisance,

but there will be time to rest in heaven. It has been said that there are two

things certain in life: death and taxes, but we could also add two other things:

temptations and sufferings. In this matter, Padre Pio added an example from

his own time: he said that temptations were like soap added to laundry. It

might appear to soil the clothes, but the result is that it actually gets the clothes

clean, if we handle temptation appropriately, of course.


So there we have it: temptation can actually do us good. Who would have

thought a Catholic priest would tell you that? But only if resisted. Christ

wants us to bear much fruit, and for that, a little pruning is necessary.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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