Homily given by Bishop Anthony Randazzo
Bishop of Broken Bay
Solemnity of the Mother of God – 1 January 2021
Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral
This morning as I turned over my calendar, I had to remind myself that today we begin a new year. As I waited for my coffee to brew, I wondered where 2020 had gone. I also wondered how much dead wood remains on the vine of 2020 that, by the grace of God, needs to be pruned as we begin 2021. The image that filled my mind was that of the vineyard, with vine laden trestles in need of care so that they might once again produce good fruit.
I have vivid memories of my grandfather, my father and my uncles working and preparing the ground while carefully tending the vine and trees so that the best fruit possible might be produced. It is backbreaking work that requires strength, determination, endurance, and skill. Unfortunately, agrarian imagery is sometimes lost on 21st century urban life.
As we begin the new year, we might feel that the grapevines of our lives are in need of attention. The biblical image of the vine, found in John’s Gospel, may be of assistance to us.
It is also important to watch carefully a vine or any other plant to see how it is born and how it grows out of the trunk and the branches, and how the fruit springs into life. In viticulture, pruning is not some random hacking away of dead wood. It is a careful removal of what is not needed so that the whole vine can reach its full potential. If too much is removed, then the vine suffers. Likewise, if too little is removed, the vine will suffer. Knowing what is alive and what is dead will ensure that the knife takes away only what is necessary – no more, no less. There is a temptation to think that once removed, being thrown into the fire is the final fate of the branches while the vine continues to flourish.
I would like to offer a variation for us to consider today. For generations, the people from my mother’s home in the Mediterranean have made an epicurean delight called vino cotto. Literally meaning “cooked wine”, this rich, dark, viscous liquid is used for cooking sweet pastries as well as sweet and sour meat dishes. It can also be used as a tonic, fortifying the body against fatigue and flu.
One of the key ingredients of vino cotto is the dead branches which have been pruned from the vine. These branches are burned in the fire and then ground into ash. They are then added to the wine and cooked. The experience can only be described as one of the phoenix rising from the ashes. You would never imagine that such a delicate and yet robust flavour could be produced using cut, burned, and crushed vine branches.
My sisters and brother, the image is clear. Nothing is wasted in the Lord’s vineyard. From the human perspective, all we see is useless dead wood. From the Divine perspective, nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, and no one is good for nothing.
Pruning is painful, but it is necessary. It purifies the vine, and as a result, it grows and bears more fruit. When the ashes are combined with the fruit of the vine, then something unique and beautiful can be brought to birth.
At the end of the day, the work from beginning to end belongs to Jesus. He is our beginning and our end. For our part, we are called anew each day to consecrate our lives and ministry to the Lord. We can’t do this on our own. And so we respond to the invitation of Jesus who invites us “Remain in my love”, (John 15: 7-8).
Our model today is that of the Blessed Mother of God, and our mother. In the company of Blessed Joseph, she watches over the Christ Child, the saviour of the world. All the while, Mary lives in relationship with God the Father and in communion with the Holy Spirit. It is Mary who guides us carefully to her Son and she helps us see the dead wood that needs to be pruned from our lives, so that the Holy Spirit might bring to birth in us new fruit, new life, a New Year.
As we commence this New Year 2021, may we be inspired by Mary, our Heavenly Mother, to become disciples of her Son Jesus, and may we bear much fruit.