This Wednesday’s Gospel (Jn 15: 1-8) continues recounting Jesus’ farewell discourse from the night of the Last Supper:
Jesus said to His disciples : ” I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. ”
Our Lord promises us that we can always be connected to Him, like branches to the main stem of the vine. Last weekend, as I watched the constant rain, I had this beautiful Gospel on my mind. I thought about how all this falling water is unable to directly benefit the growing leaves of spring unless it passes through the roots and the trunks of the trees into the branches, bringing life and nourishment to these leaves, flowers, and fruits.
In the same manner, it seems to me that true happiness and meaning in life cannot be absorbed from the world or the culture around us, but only by going to the true source of life, our Lord, ” the true vine “. The sap with which He strengthens us is His Love, His very blood, His life- force,which was shed on the cross and we receive with the Eucharist. I agree with what He says : ” Whoever remains in me and I in him, will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. ”
What are these fruits that we are to bear? I have often wondered. I mentioned true happiness and meaning in life. How is that achieved ? First of all by remaining in the Lord, as He says, surrendering to Him, joining Him intimately in prayer, receiving His holiness, becoming like Him. But fruit is something that the plant gives to others. In last Sunday’s mass at my parish, the intercessory prayer asked for us to be able, by our acts of self-giving and service, to bring the message of Christ to the world, to be disciples. Perhaps this is the fruit we are to share.
Father Ignacio Larrañaga one of my favorite spiritual writers says that this message of Jesus is that we have a divine Father, who cares for us as His beloved children. Therefore, we are all brothers and sisters, and we had better behave like it!
I asked my wife Berta about this and she said that the fruits are actually more and more people discovering Jesus through us. How? By our example of lives lived in peace, joy, selflessness, faith, hope, and love. Quite an intoxicating brew, like Canaa- wedding wine, straight from the true vine!
But our Lord points out that with these wonderful gifts comes pruning ( Ouch ! ) . Our beloved Father comes with clippers and reduces us to stubs. Is it so that we don’t get too proud? Henri Nouwen, reflecting on this pruning image indicates that pain and sorrow come to our lives sooner or later. We get cut down to size, and our need for God explodes. This is how we grow in holiness. Blessed are the poor in spirit!
Sister Maria Grace, C.P., in her foreword to “The Autobiography of Saint Gemma Galgani”, writes : ” Life is a series of losses , as little by little we are emptied of those things that we cling to . Our usual way of handling such losses is to simply endure the pain with a bit of self-pity. Gemma’s message is : Give them freely, with love ; don’t let them be taken from you.” When I talked about this to Fr Francisco Murray, another Passionist, he shook his head indignantly and exclaimed, ” Our loving Father would NEVER intentionally send us pain and suffering.” I must admit that this pruning issue is just a mystery that I don’t fully understand.
When I was visiting Spain, my host pointed out the vineyards of La Mancha on a cold, windy March day. The vines had been cut down so they looked like stunted stumps, barely alive. He said that this is done so that in May the new branches will make the best grapes, from which Valdepeña Wine ( one of my favorites) is made. That day, I also thought of this Gospel, and of the Passion of my Lord, Jesus, the true vine, cut down and disfigured like that, in order that the best fruit might follow. And He certainly is my number one guide and example.
Must I then be constantly wishing for all types of suffering in order to become the best Christian? Perhaps not. Our Lord says : ” You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Reading and praying with Scripture, listening to God in prayer, this too can in a way prune us of our pride and self-reliance. For the ” word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword , penetrating between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart ( Heb : 4, 12)”. Ouch, again!
Dear Lord, being your disciple can be very exciting and delightful, but also more than a little scary. Please, Beloved, I beg You, don’t let me be disconnected from you and become dry and withered, fruitless and loveless. Let me follow You always, for without You I ” can do nothing” that is worthwhile.