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Remain united

The story is told about a priest who accompanied a man sentenced to die by electric chair to the death chamber. Once seated, the prisoner said: “Father, I have one last request.” The priest said: “Anything, my son.” Then the prisoner said: “Father, I am so scared. Please remain here, stay with me, and hold my hand till the end.”

In today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8), Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches to describe our relationship with Him. We are to remain with Him so that we can bear much fruit. Are you living a fruitful life? What kind of fruits have you produced? Are you living a meaningful, and not just a successful, life?

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Jesus tells us bluntly that if we do not remain with Him, we can do nothing. Sure, we can do a lot of things without Jesus in our lives, but what kind of things? Many people do a lot of things that are vain, self-serving, and of no substance.

Jesus further warns us that if we do not remain with Him, we will be cast off like a branch, and thrown into the fire and burned. There is a price to pay if we detach ourselves from the Lord. Sin makes us miserable, unhappy, afraid, insecure and alone. Sin sows its own seeds of destruction.

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Remaining with the Lord does not mean being comfortable. Pruning is part of our relationship with God. Pruning leads to bearing more and lasting fruits. If you have been or are experiencing pruning, be assured that the Lord is leading you to a more fruitful and meaningful life. Be patient.

Here are words of comfort and assurance for us when we go through the pruning season: “Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in crucible to try their hearts, nor has He done so with us. It is by way of admonition that He chastises those who are close to Him” (Judith 8:27).

“God loves those who are grateful, even in suffering” (Saint Arnold Janssen). May these words from our founder remind us to be patient, trusting, and grateful when we go through suffering or trials.

Manuel V. Gabriel was one who remained in and with the Lord throughout his 89 years of fruitful life. He held on to his God as he braved the pruning and dry seasons, staying simple, prayerful, trusting, and joyful through it all. He carried God in his name. “El” in Hebrew means “God” (Manu-El, Gabri-El). Not only that, he carried God, or, more rightly, he allowed God to carry him till the very end. Simple and hidden people deserve our sincere respect and appreciation.

I had three days of “pruning” last week at the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital for a general checkup. We all need time to stop, rest, and find out what needs to be repaired in our bodies and, consequently, what needs to be changed in our lifestyle. It was a spiritual experience as well—realizing our own limitations, and our need for others to help us, and our need for God in our fragile life.

My first experience of a hospital was in 1966 when I broke my arm as a little playful boy of 12 and a first year high school seminarian at the Christ the King Seminary. Our infirmarian, Fr. Victor Holobrady, SVD, brought me to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital which was then run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit (SSpS), who continue their chaplaincy presence there. Along with professionalism and gadgets, remember, physical healing is enhanced by personal and spiritual atmosphere and surroundings.

Flowers abound in weddings, and in funerals. Beautiful and amazing flower arrangements, and expensive, too. But they are there just for a day or two, soon to be thrown out, burned, forgotten and gone. Such is the fate of people who forget the Lord in their prime, and who do not remain with Him in the pruning and dry seasons of their lives.

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Someone once said: “Worry not about branches swaying in the wind, as long as the trunk is firm in the ground.” Yes, let us not be alarmed or be afraid as long as we are seriously grounded and connected with God.

What is the best way for us to remain united with each other? The best way is that each of us remain united with God, and we remain united with each other in God.

A moment with the Lord:

Lord, help us to stay connected, and remain united with You throughout the varied seasons of our lives. Amen.

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