This week we hear of one of Christianity’s greatest converts – Saul of Tarsus, also known as Saint Paul. The visible witness and example of Christians living their faith, especially converts, is very powerful in the life of the Church. Christian is not a philosophical system (although it does contain patterns of belief), nor is it a purely moral system (although it does contain patterns of behavior). Rather, it is a relationship with a person –Jesus Christ – and it is that relationship that is transformative. Rarely do people tackle difficult challenges alone and for no particular purpose. Instead, we generally tackle the difficulties of life for other people and with the help of other people. Jesus reminds us of this relational dimension of the faith when he uses the image of the branch and the vines. To quote one of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Jacques Philippe, “Christ does not say, ‘Apart from me, you can do little,’ but rather, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’” To achieve success we must depend upon God’s grace – and thank God this is true. If we were able to achieve success on purely our own abilities we would quickly become insufferably arrogant. Jesus also reminds us that the process of achieving success involves some suffering and sacrifice – some “pruning of the vine.” Someone once asked Michelangelo how he was able to create the Pietà – his great masterpiece rending Mary and Jesus out of a solid block of Carrera marble. He responded, “I look at the block of stone and remove the parts that do not belong to the statue.” It’s not always a process off adding what is missing; Sometimes, it is a process of removing what ought not be there. Paul processed outstanding qualities, including an intense zeal for God. The Lord did not need to give Paul zeal, but instead needed to orient that zeal in the proper direction. We each possess talents and weaknesses. The talents are to be used to build up the portion of God’s creation entrusted to our care and the weaknesses keep us humble and able to remember that it is always God’s strength and grace that sustains us. Like Paul, we are also branches on the same vine. If we allow him, God will prune what is not helpful so that our energies may be directed toward producing the fruit of Grace in the world.
With prayers and best wishes,
(Our Lady of the Presentation Parish)