Of Mangoes, Vines and Jesus

Today’s scripture reflection is by Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry’s Director of Spirituality. Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.  

The author and his mango tree

As I was growing up in India, the sweetest part to the end of the school year was the promise of summer holidays at our ancestral home in Goa, then a small Portuguese colony and now a state within the nation of India. In the weeks leading up to our family’s great exodus, I would meticulously cross off the days on our family’s large, old-fashioned calendar. Bus or train tickets had already been booked before the last day of school so that we could board immediately for the overnight journey to Goa. 

Summer in Goa also meant mangoes — an abundance of them. Over the years my father and I had planted a number of mango saplings, and as I grew older, I learned to care for these trees when I wasn’t relishing many a lazy afternoon hammocked in the shade of their sturdy branches and clustered green leaves. 

As a budding “vine-grower,” I delighted in the teachings of my father on how to protect the plants from stray cattle, leaf-eating insects, mildew, and disease. And as summer progressed, there was so much fruit that our entire house had piles and piles of mangoes in every corner. Mango was also incorporated into everything for the next two months — stir fries, curries, pickles, chutneys, cakes, pastries, and preserves. Some of the mango was even dried, powdered, or bagged for any laborers who crossed our fields. 

To me, mangoes are what I think of when I imagine God’s lavish, extravagant and abundant harvests. When Jesus speaks of grapes, vineyards and vine-growers in his parables (common to the audience of his time), my mind races immediately to the sultry summers I enjoyed as a child in Goa, and I find myself nodding in perfect understanding of the divine story. 

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus describes the relationship between God, him, and his followers in agricultural terms, using the image of planter, vine, and branches. The timing and setting of the story is key. Jesus is seated in the Upper Room with his disciples; he knows his hour has come. Judas, by now, has left the room, and Jesus has to reassure his disciples that even with impending crucifixion and death, he will not abandon them, but that through the Spirit, he – as the true vine – will continue to empower and sustain them in their discipleship: “I will remain in you!”

It is important to remember that fruits aren’t designed to be food for the tree, but that through “our fruit” – our discipleship – we “feed” others, and not fill ourselves. By this,” Jesus says, “is Abba God glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples (John 15:8).

We are promised that if we listen to God’s Word, receive the nurture of the Spirit, and remain in Christ, we will bear “much fruit.” 

Fruits distinctive to the LGBTQ experience include a capacity for truth-telling, courage and integrity. By sharing complex and organic stories about “coming-out,” hardship, pain, and of living on the margins, many LGBTQ Catholics offer an uncommon lens into a Christ who also struggled, suffered (Luke 22:42) and who died alone on a cross, while still being embosomed in the unconditional love of God. 

Oftentimes, the resilience and courage of LGBTQ Catholics undertaking life-journeys without the support of family and community seems akin to the God story wherein family was defined, not by genealogy, but by all who did the will of God, and where support and friendship was garnered neither from religious institutions nor spiritual leaders, but from the many who were least in the Reign of God. 

By expanding the concept of gender to include more than just male and female, LGBTQ Catholics bring into focus colors and expressions of a God rarely seen. Through this LGBTQ rainbow, God’s diversity and magnificence now lies exposed, making the church all the more richer for the fruits of the LGBTQ community. 

Ultimately, as today’s gospel proclaims, God is to be glorified. If everything is aligned for us to bring forth a lavish, extravagant and abundant harvest through our discipleship, then it is always the perfect season for us, the LGBTQ community, to reclaim our branches in the true vine, our roots in God’s vineyard, and our unfettered potential in the loving care of the Vine-grower. 

– Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry, May 2, 2021

3 replies
  1. John McDargh, Ph.D.
    John McDargh, Ph.D. says:

    Dwayne – I just read your beautiful reminiscence of childhood and mangos in Goa (that evoked a much less abundant but still memorable set of images, smells and tastes from growing up in Southern Florida with one singularly productive mango tree in our backyard..e) I also just read it after reading the heartbreaking stories of the suffering in India today with the resurgence of covid .. so it was if you will bitter sweet. Maybe the coincidence of those images should remind me that there is an abundance of gifts we are challenged to share , harvested from our experience as LGBT persons , that are food and beauty for a world that need to be feed in so many different ways.. Thank you my brother

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  2. DON SIEGAL
    DON SIEGAL says:

    Of Mangoes, Vines and Jesus

    “…[Jesus] will not abandon them, but that through the Spirit, he—as the true vine—will continue to empower and sustain them in their discipleship…”

    and

    “We are promised that if we listen to God’s Word, receive the nurture of the Spirit, and remain in Christ, we will bear ‘much fruit.’”

    Dwayne, As I read your reflection on today’s gospel, these words jumped out to me because of the Spirit. I live in the Central San Joaquin Valley where there is a large Portuguese population (Portuguese is our third language). I have been mentored in the development of my personal spiritualty and ministry in my local parish by one lady in particular. I protested that I could not possibly lead the RCIA ministry because I was gay. My mentors response: “I don’t see why not.” This supportive Portuguese community has enculturated me into the devotion of the Holy Spirit, who has guided me in the carrying out of my ministry. Thank you for reminding me.

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