Spiritual Pruning

Spiritual Pruning

Here is an official invitation to get a spiritual tune-up.

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.

John 15:4

It is about daily life lived while being supernaturally grafted to Christ, the way a branch is naturally attached to its vine. Hence, we shall assess our spiritual condition in relation to Jesus as the Vine.

The worst-case scenario is the one of those among us who are barely alive, who are on “spiritual life-support.” This can happen for two reasons: either they have neglected their relationship with Christ for a long time, thus, away from him as the source of Life, they are enslaved by serious sins, or they are dying inside because they do not see any way out of a terrible, unbearable situation in which they have been living for too long.

Others are lukewarm. Jesus is important to them only to the extent that he might be convenient to grant them the favors they seek or because, for them, it is still nice and culturally acceptable to deport themselves as Catholics once a week, in a church setting, while the rest of the week is spent in secular pursuits.

Still others are self-absorbed. Their time, energies and interests are all channeled towards themselves: to promote themselves, to draw attention to themselves, to get people to like them and approve of them.

Then, there are those who have found a comfortable niche in the Church and they do not want any idea, any situation, any call, any challenge to alter their cushy life pattern.

Finally, we have those among us who are deeply convinced of their spiritual poverty. They are drawn to Jesus because he alone can cure them, can enlighten them, can set them on the right path and provide for them what they truly need for their daily life in view of eternal life. They are naturally filled with awe, and wonder, and sincere gratitude for all that the Lord gives them.

Evidently, those who are dying inside or are barely surviving because of their habitual poor choices, need to be spliced again to the Vine which is Christ through God’s Word, spiritual direction, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They need to be nurtured back to health through an honest and continuous effort to benefit from the channels of grace available in the Catholic Church. In some cases, they are so weak or isolated that they need someone from within the Community of faith to make the first important decisions for them to return to the Lord and to the Church. This is what happened with Saul (future St. Paul) who had to be introduced into the Community by Barnabas. (cf. Acts of the Apostles 9:27)

In all cases, the most crucial aspect of this spiritual tune-up is the pruning. It is always painful; yet necessary. Periodically, we must spend a fair amount of time to find out what the Father needs to prune from our life.

It could be enslavement to a shameful lifestyle; it could be duplicity of heart; it could be the breaking of a vicious cycle like wanting to be liked, accepted and sought after while doing all the things that drive people away from us (talking about ourselves, showing off, expecting gratitude at every turn, being overbearing or trying to elicit pity, and so on).

However, there is a foolish group that is convinced by a prevailing inner attitude, that they do not need any pruning. They are those who lack beneficial self-doubt and cannot bear living with a healthy sense of inadequacy. By beneficial self-doubt I mean the virtue of prudence combined with humility which enables us to accept the limits of our comprehension and grasping of things, especially things related to God and spiritual life. From the way these people talk and act, one can tell that there are areas in their lives which are completely settled, off limits, beyond any possibility of revision and reconsideration.

Let me give you a couple of examples so that it becomes a bit easier for us to see if we find ourselves in this deadly predicament due to lack of beneficial self-doubt.

It is the case of one unable to focus on anything else but the wrong done to him by someone. He tells everyone about it, and he places the world on hold until he gets satisfaction. His all-encompassing unhappiness is more tragic because he is heading for eternal damnation. (Cf. Matthew 18:35)  

Alas, a second case, also very common, is the one of those who are convinced that they have found the right way of living out their Catholicism and, thus, they filter automatically, without fail, the Word of God on which the Community is reflecting within the course of a particular liturgy, especially the Eucharist, if it challenges their stance.

I am certain that all of us acknowledge our urgent need for a spiritual tune-up with a genuine pruning, which could be from light to massive. Any pruning can be done only by remaining unreservedly and wholeheartedly in Jesus the way a branch draws all its life and energy from the vine of which it is an integral part.

In a few days’ time, we will be able to tell if the pruning we allowed the Father to do to us removed all that had to be cut away or whether additional pruning is necessary. We will assess that by the fruit of the Spirit that we will be able to bear: In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22)

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin