Clinging to the Vine
by Rev. Robert J. Wagner
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
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 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. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
The state of Virginia has more than 200 wineries, so it’s likely you have seen one with rows and rows of grapevines growing on trellises that cover the landscape. The work of the vinedresser, who cares for these vines, is demanding, yet when it is done well, his labor produces much fruit and great joy to those who share in its abundance.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus uses the analogy of the vineyard, and tells us that we are the branches and God the Father is the vinedresser who cultivates and prunes us that we may grow in sanctity. In order to bear fruit, we must remain united to Jesus Christ, the vine without whom we can do nothing.
While we recognize our dependence on Jesus Christ in this analogy, we can also see his humility. The vine itself, while sturdy and life-giving, does not bear fruit at all. Instead, the grapes grow in the branches, which are strengthened and nourished by the vine.
Our relationship with Jesus mirrors this. When we abide in the Lord we are nourished by him, we are strengthened and sanctified by his grace. The vine seeks nothing from the branches and the fruit. God, who is love, seeks only our good. “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples,” Jesus tells us. Our good works and our sanctification are what God wants for us, not for his sake, but for our peace and joy in this life and the next.
How do we remain in Jesus? How do we stay attached to the vine? By our faithful discipleship within the vocation that God calls us to. While the fruits of our lives are different whether we are married, consecrated, ordained or single, there are some similarities between who we remain, being nourished by the life-giving vine.
We remain in Jesus Christ through daily prayer, where we grow in intimacy with Him. In particular, prayer before the Lord in the Eucharist, when possible, offers the opportunity to remain with him, which transforms us that we may remain in him more fruitfully. Prayer with sacred Scripture, the Word of God, also allows Jesus to speak to our hearts in a tangible way.
We also remain in Jesus Christ though the church that he established through St. Peter, and through the sacraments, which allow us to encounter his grace. Again, we give primacy to the Eucharist, because in the Eucharist we not only encounter Christ’s grace, but we encounter him, sacramentally present in body, blood, soul and divinity.
A third way to remain in Jesus Christ is through the service of others in charity, especially those most in need. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40), Jesus tells us, ensuring us that when we reach out in love to serve others in his name, we are united to Our Lord. This service is not only a way to cling to the life-giving vine, but is also the fruit that shows that his grace is transforming us.
Another important detail in Christ’s analogy is the pruning of the vinedresser, who is God the Father. In order to bear great fruit, we must allow God to trim away all that distracts us from offering ourselves completely to him, whether it be a false belief about his love or his truth, or perhaps an attachment we have to something of this world that becomes an obstacle to our remaining on the vine and bearing good fruit. This pruning can be more severe or uncomfortable than we would prefer. Often, suffering is the means of our pruning, as it calls us to place more trust in God in order to find peace. Other times the pruning can be the discomfort that comes with confronting and uprooting a harmful thought or action that we have allowed to be deeply imbedded in our beliefs or lifestyle. In the end, however, we know that the pruning is necessary and even welcome.
May we pray that as branches on the vine, we always allow God to prune away all that we cling to that is not Jesus Christ, so we may remain in him more perfectly and bear the fruit that lasts for eternal life.
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