IT IS HARD to believe that I began freshman year at Cathedral College over 45 years ago. Cathedral College is the forerunner of today’s Cathedral Seminary Residence at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston.
Those many years ago, the entire center was Cathedral College. With close to 300 seminarians representing the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre and the Archdiocese of New York, all of the rooms were occupied. All of our classes were attended on premises and the faculty served as corridor monitors and mentors.
Living, studying, praying and sharing fellowship all in the same location was a great experience. It was also, as you can imagine, fodder for many stories and memories. There were a few faculty members who, for various reasons, did not live at the college. Some had parish obligations, other taught only as adjuncts while filling other offices. Occasionally, a teacher would arrive a bit late.
One morning, we were waiting for speech class to begin. The professor had been held up in traffic, but wanted a cup of coffee before entering the classroom. When he finally arrived, he slumped into a chair and was quite a sight to behold: His hair was a mess, his suit jacket was half on and half off, there were crumbs all over his clothing and he was obviously a little frantic.
The opening lines of his lesson for the day were: “Sirs, the first thing anyone notices about a speaker is your appearance.”
After a momentary, stunned silence, the predictable laughter began with him seeming very confused as to what we found funny. He did not seem to realize how well he was teaching that lesson!
In Deed and Truth
St. John does not leave much room for misunderstanding in the opening words of the second reading: “let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.”
As the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
The Book of Genesis tells us we are created in the image and likeness of God. The Christian life is the opportunity to reflect that image in word and deed. To help us, we have the grace of the sacraments, the power of prayer and the support of the Christian community as well as retreats, spiritual direction and many other ways to grow in the imitation of Christ.
However, I am not God and the reflection will always be imperfect in this world. The Gospel teaches us that just as the Father fashioned us in His image and likeness, so Jesus refashions us. He prunes the vine so that it can bear more and better fruit; He corrects us, teaches us, forgives us so that we can reflect in action our desire to become better people, the people we were created to be.
Cooperating with His Grace
He prunes the vine so that at the harvest, he can present rich fruit to the Father. Obviously, though, it is not and should not be all His work. We have to cooperate actively and willingly with His grace.
Every once in a while videos appear on YouTube that show little boys getting their first haircuts – their first prunings, so to speak. Most often they are crying, squirming and basically, resisting. This makes for some very amusing videos. However, it can also make for some very poor haircuts.
Jesus knows His creation. He knows how we think. So, to teach us, He taught by example. His actions speak as loudly as His words.
To refashion us, Jesus took upon Himself our human nature to show us what human nature is capable of and invites us to open our hearts to His divine nature with the willingness to be fashioned more into His likeness.
The thought of being pruned like a vine may sound frightening in the moment, but ultimately, it produces a better product.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9: 26-31
Psalm 22: 26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
1 John 3: 18-24
John 15: 1-8
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.