April 29: Old Vines & Memory (Easter 5 B)

“I am the true vine…. Remain in me as I remain in you. Whoever remains in me will bear much fruit. (John 15: 4a, 5b)

John’s gospel reveals the person of Jesus as the true vine, the shepherd, the gate, the way, the truth, and the light – all these allegories among the thirty mentioned in the gospel tell us – who Jesus is and what he does for us.

Last week we celebrated Jesus as the Good Shepherd; the bible is filled with references to shepherds and sheep; there are some sixteen references to shepherds in the New Testament.

This week we hear of Jesus as the “true vine,” a “Mashal” or allegory that applies wine and winemaking to real life, and the use of wine in festival celebrations.

In John’s Gospel alone, there are forty references to wine. And perhaps a point of emphasis about wine — Christ’s miracle at Cana takes place as early as the second chapter of John.

As the “true vine,” we are rooted in Jesus and one another – in a family, history, and memory. Like vines, our roots go deep and provide us with identity and self-knowledge.

From time to time, my friends and relatives from New Jersey come to visit California and want to go to “wine country.” My reply is that all of California is “wine country,” and in fact, Monterey produces more vineyards and grapes in the “Golden State.”

Nonetheless, many want to visit Napa and Sonoma, and I suppose “wine country” is a state of mind, and a moveable feast, in that many of the grafts and shoots that become vines come from fragments taken from France, Italy, Spain and places unknown.

My grandparents came from a region of Italy named Iripinia, and the most famous of their wines is Fiano di Avellino, a tart white wine. This area of Southern Italy, or the Campania, in the provinces of Avellino, Puglia, and Basilicata, along with Sicily, produces an abundance of wines today.

When I was a young boy, I recall my grandfathers on both sides of my family invited neighbors from their Italian club to join them for their yearly ritual of winemaking.

Crates of California’s lush grapes arrived at my grandfather’s home in Newark, New Jersey. In the back of their apartment house, they undertook the various jobs of preparation of the grapes, removing the stems, and crushing the grapes into a mixture that would be poured into huge vats, located in the colder recesses of the cellar.

Well, this description sounds a bit — too content. Because, from what I can recall most from this winemaking exercise was that there were daylong debates, in various Italian dialects, on how to precisely make wine. It seems that each of these men held secret formulas passed on from their hometown. No one appeared to agree on anything. Okay, there was humor and plenty of food for the occasion.

Of course, the real test was the wine itself. From what I remember, as an eight-year-old, my grandfather’s wine, despite his love for this yearly ritual — was awful tasting, maybe too overpowering, and potentially dangerous.

Soon their winemaking would be replaced with commercial wines like Gallo. These vintages were cheaper in price, safer, and more satisfying. What was lost, despite their disagreements and the humor – was the genuine bonding among these old men.

Here’s my point: it’s not about plants or vines. Instead, it’s people and eternal life.  As the “true vine,” we are rooted in Jesus and one another. In family, history, and memory, these elements contain even our conflicts and define our lives. Recall that in our very first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read: “The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.” (Acts:26-31) is considered among the very first expressions of church as a whole communion beyond that of the local community.

Like vines, our roots go deep and provide us with identity and self-knowledge. We all grow out of a central vine that is Christ – where there is no one authority. Look at the grapevines and their clusters of fruit — there is no beginning or end, no up, no down.

We are all equal, all different and may have different formulas for coming to Christ. To bear fruit, there is only one condition, namely, to love one another as Christ loved us.

Jesus said: “I am the true vine, you are the branches,” and as such, we must attach ourselves to his word, not just to accommodate to the soil, but rather to transform it — into service for others who need to drink from the same cup.

In this regard, the Lord concluded: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.






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