Back in the time of Jesus, there were no schools like the Barcelona Academy, where people would go and graduate. So what a student would do was attach himself to a master. The master would teach the student everything he knew. And when the student learned everything the master had shared, he would leave and become a master himself. By then, the master would no longer be needed.
Every religion in the world has some sort of a master who has a message of self-salvation. They say that once you embrace the message, you can become holy. Once you embrace their teachings, you can be saved.
But the opposite is true in Christianity. We don’t follow a message. We follow a Person, One who is as close to us as a vine to a branch.
In John 14 and 15, we read about Jesus saying goodbye at the Last Supper. He wanted to assure the Apostles to be at peace. “Remain in Me and I in you, and you will produce much fruit,” He said.
The disciples didn’t have a clue what He meant. Later in the conversation, He said, “It’s better for you that I go.”
“Where are you going?” Thomas asked. “We don’t know the way?”
Reading this from the point of the resurrection, we can better understand what the Apostles could not.
When did they understand? When did it all fall into place? When did they begin to really produce fruit? How can they remain in Him and He in them?
Only one way: by the Holy Spirit.
That’s the gift that would go from the vine to the branches. When Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. You will produce much fruit,” what He is saying is, “Through the power of the Holy Spirit, have intimacy with Me.” Whenever you are intimate with anybody, you give them your whole heart. In this case, you give your whole heart and whole soul in trust to Someone with whom you are connected, and who wants to work wonderful things through you.
But at the same time, we have to be pruned.
The late Fr. Michael La Guardia at a Bibliakonia session, the Bible study of The Feast Bay Area, said, “To be pruned is to be cut.” Had we known, for example, that the pandemic would last a month, maybe two, we would have easily forgotten about it. We would have written it off as a bad-few-weeks memory. But we were in it for the long haul, weren’t we? And while our Lord did not send the pandemic to punish us, I’m sure He wanted us to use the time to cut out what we need to disconnect from, so He could work powerfully through us.
Jesus Is the Healer
Our Lord can accomplish wonderful things through people who don’t care who gets the credit. One of the things I need to prune in my life is my ego. Often, my ego gets fed by people affirming me for what I preach and teach, and even for hearing confessions.
Once, Monty Mendigoria, one of our servants at The Feast, learned that the mother and the father of the singing group, 4th Impact, were both in critical condition at St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City. It would be dangerous for a priest to go to an intensive care unit during the pandemic. He could easily get the virus. I’ve been vaccinated twice at that time, so when he was looking for a priest, I knew immediately I had to go and give them the sacrament of the sick.
I didn’t think much of my own safety, but Monty put something on social media that made it look like they should put me up for sainthood. He said, “Look at this old man, going to that hospital, risking a life-threatening infection just to do his duty?”
I didn’t mind so much what he said. I’ve never been called an old man, but I was glad that he said that I went to an intensive care unit. There was no courage involved here because I was jabbed. I knew I was not going to get the virus. And I hoped that when all the priests would get jabbed, they would have the same trust and go where they’re most needed—the COVID wards and the intensive care units.
I got dressed in a PPE. I went in and I got to see firsthand why the frontliners were called heroes. It was like walking into a science fiction movie. They were dressed in helmets and hazmat suits. There were curtains made of plastic all over, beepers constantly going off, and ventilators breathing for the patients. gave first the sacrament of the sick to the father and then to the mother. The mother was on a ventilator that breathed for her a hundred percent. It looked to me as if she were dying. They had her in deep sedation.
After that, I asked the nurse, “Are there any other Catholics here?” I was able to minister to ten or twelve patients in different stages and gave them the sacrament of the sick. Some looked extremely frightened, some very much in peace, others were in a coma. They all received in some way the healing touch of God. I was just the instrument. But I knew that I had to be connected all the time to the Vine because that’s where the power comes from.
Later on, I heard from the 4th Impact girls. They said to me, “Oh, Father Bob, you healed our mom. She’s getting well. She’s getting out of intensive care.”
“No, I did not,” I said.
Jesus is the healer. The priest is just an instrument.
I was joyous that she was healed, but I have to be careful of the ego, of looking at all the affirmation because of what was said online about me. I have to always recognize that it is the Lord who does all these through us.
Where do you need to be pruned? What needs to be cut out in your life? What have you disconnected from in your life that you thought would make you happy? And now that you don’t have those things, what gives you joy?
What gives us joy is connecting intimately to Jesus who wants to use us powerfully to touch the life of another person with simple things.
You don’t have to have a degree in Theology. You don’t have to be a preacher like Bro. Bo Sanchez or Bro. Alvin Barcelona. You don’t have to be extra-talented. You just have to be available to the Vine, connected to Him. Let us be the kind of branches through which God can touch people and they can be at peace.