Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"My Father is the Vinedresser"

Today's Gospel allows us another chance to re-visit the Gospel we heard on Sunday (Jn 15:1-8) and thus we may felicitously look at another interpretation of the sacred text. Often when this 'parable' comes up there is a tendency to focus on what the Lord promises us if we abide and remain in Him; there is also perhaps some anxiety about whether one is firmly grafted onto Christ and thus bearing fruit for the Lord. But in our preoccupation with ourselves (once again!) and with the True Vine, we may inadvertently forget the One who has planted the Vine and controls its growth and fruitfulness. Hans Urs von Balthasar, writing in 'You Have Words of Eternal Life', considers the Father's role as the Vinedresser in the extract below:

"In the parable of the vineyard the Son merely carries the fruit. He does not bear the blame when certain vines connected to him, the trunk, bear no fruit. He is not the one who cuts off these non-productive branches, so that they dry up and are thrown into the fire. He leaves that task to the Father. Since he is our advocate with the Father, he might correspond more closely to the farmer in Luke (13:6-9) who begs a reprieve for the unproductive fig tree. 'Lord, let it alone for this year yet. I will cultivate and fertilize the ground around it, and thus it may yet bear fruit. If not, then you can have it chopped down.' Everything that belongs to the Son also belongs to the Father; therefore, he sees to it that the Son's fruitfulness reaches its full potential: 'Every branch of me that brings forth no fruit is cut off, and every branch that bears fruit he prunes so that it produces more' (Jn 15:2).

... The pruned branches should know that it is the Father who goes to work on them 'in order that they might bear more fruit'. God, not they, decide what is expected of them, for God certainly can 'begin judgment with the house of God' (1 Pet 4:17) so that the harvest might be as plentiful as possible. From the Old Testament we know that God can make use of an iron broom as harsh as that of Assyria or Babylonia, and thus persecutions of the Church in the New Covenant may likewise represent God's grace, no matter how cruelly they may rage. Such may be the only way to carve a committed and constructive minority out of a lazy and indolent majority. To resort to such measures is God's responsibility alone, and we neither wish for nor resist them. God alone can judge whether a small number of well-pruned vines will produce more fruit than a large number of ancient and half-impotent vines.

It may also be better to leave the purifying of the Church of Christ to the Father and his efficacious methods than to hack around at her with human and all-too-human means. To be sure, the Church always needs to be reformed (Ecclesia semper reformanda), but she needs to remember how much and in what ways she has lost the fruitfulness she received from God (not from herself), in the process looking back to the unique Lord who has given her precise instructions in the Gospel regarding fruit bearing. His example shows the degree to which one should accommodate oneself to human conceptions. The ambiguous reception of Jesus' parables makes this clear: he told parables so that people might understand yet also to expose clearly his listeners' basic lack of comprehension. In this respect the parables are not so different from the law: God sets forth his gracious requirements, yet at the same time it becomes obvious that men are unwilling to live in accord with them. If the Church's efforts to cleanse and prune herself by means of a council can produce such contradictory results, no one should be surprised that God's more radical measures are more far reaching and, in ways obscure to us, more effective.

A fruitful tree, according to Augustine's imagery, has its roots in heaven and grows with its foliage hanging down towards the earth. The source of fecundity is hidden in God and cannot be grasped; her earthly produce for a heavenly harvest is God's concern. He pours out his Spirit into human hearts copiously enough (Rom 5:5) to ensure his harvest in ways that he alone knows."

Balthasar's reflection has a rather hard-hitting and sobering note, partially because he wrote in the wake of the unheavals of the Second Vatican Council. However, his reminder of the Father's work which is known to Him alone is essential. It is all too easy for one to be caught up in the bureaucratization of the Church, mired in committees and plans or struggling to maintain property, presence and old structures. And yet Balthasar's thoughts are a reminder that we need to learn to rely entirely on God's grace and to be used by Him for His purposes; and often these are unknown to us. As such, this kind of trust in divine providence is a sign of the fruit of faith.

May the Lord grant us such faith which comes from His Holy Spirit.

The stained glass above is from the former Dominican Priory church at Hawkesyard and is a detail of the Annunciation window.


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