The Branch on the Vine
Visiting the VinesBy James KeownAs a child, our family lived for a short time in the country. Tucked into one edge of our property was a small collection of grape vines growing around a row of raised wooden posts. I loved sneaking into the patch in the summer to pick my fill of grapes. While I gorged myself, I would use my fingers to trace the vines as they twisted and tucked around one another to firmly latch onto the old wood.The Gospel for this pasttells us, "I am the true vine, and my father is the vine grower." Vincent Lataste has a lot more experience with vines than me. He is a vineyard owner and wine maker from France currently living in Boston, Massachusetts. For Mass, Vincent traveled forty minutes south of Boston to join the members of the lay Dominican "Our Lady of Mercy" chapter inside the prison MCI-Norfolk. How appropriate it was for the chapter to host a vineyard owner on the day the Gospel speaks of God being a vine grower. But Vincent is not simply a wine maker. Vincent is the great grand nephew of Blessed Jean Joseph Lataste, the founder of the Bethany Community in France.The lay order of Dominicans living inside MCI-Norfolk grew from the vines Blessed Father Lataste planted in France after his transformative visit to celebrate Mass inside Cadillac prison in the 1800s. Our Lady of Mercy represents one of the many fruits of Blessed Father Lataste's work. For several years, the Norfolk community has added its voice to the petition for Blessed Father Lataste to be named a Saint by the Catholic Church. Recently, the Church beatified Father Lataste at a ceremony in Cadillac France. It was there Vincent Lataste met Dominican members who volunteered inside the prison.FollowingMass, Vincent fielded questions from chapter members about his life in France and about being a member of the Lataste family in Cadillac. Many of the Norfolk members were also very interested to learn more about Vincent's work. Watching and Listening to Vincent answer our regular life questions felt a bit surreal.Even though Father Lataste lived in the 19th Century, I have never felt any closer to him than St. Dominic who lived 800 years ago. That was until. Sitting with Vincent, my mind could see bits of Father Lataste in his face. One member even passed around a picture of Father Lataste so everyone could do their own analysis. And as I listened to Vincent answer our questions and laugh at our jokes, I wondered how much of Father Lataste's voice survived in Vincent. What was clear to me, was that Father Lataste's heart clearly beat inside Vincent. Why else would a vine grower from France spend a sunny spring sitting on a dark and dusty stage inside an American prison? Through Vincent, I saw Blessed Father Lataste clearer. In one short afternoon, the long-departed priest became present to me. In Bleesed Father Lataste's great grand nephew, I saw a spirit that must have been similar to the one that formed the original Bethany chapter in Cadillac 150 years ago.The Gospel reminds us, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit." But even an amateur grape grower like myself knows that any crop that is neglected will eventually wither. Vincent Lataste's trip to visit with the Our Lady of Mercy chapter was a business trip. Inside the state prison in Norfolk, Vincent the vineyard keeper checked the vines planted by his family as any good vine grower would do. He made sure our braches were strong and firmly attached to the wood. He nourished us with his visit and made a hopeful Saint feel much closer.