EASTER V [B]: Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
Today’s Scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians to abide in Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charity and holiness. Jesus explains to his apostles how they and their disciples can carry on when he is no longer bodily or physically present. Jesus assures them, using the parable of the vine and branches, that the life-giving Spirit whom Jesus will send them, will be present and active within and among his disciples and their successors.
Fruit-bearing in Christian life is not of our own independent and unaided making. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us trims and prunes us, teaching us himself and reminding us of what Jesus taught. It is He who enables us to love him and to keep His words (John 14:24, 26).
In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot. Live wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit.
Cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing our commitment to Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type of self-imposed pruning expected of us. A second means of pruning is practicing self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions and aberrations.
Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us by allowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties with courage of our Christian convictions.
Abiding in Christ means that God has to be inside us and we have to be inside God. We abide in Christ by drawing near to God and by experiencing His being near to us, that is, by living every moment as He has commanded us to do, with the radiant presence of Christ all around us. This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the Liturgy.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."
Max Lucado explains it in these words: “Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and a martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach. Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me. We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Just like a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowship with our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.”
And essentially what the image of the vine and the branches is telling us is that if Christ’s disciples are to bear any fruit they need to be dependent on Christ and to be pruned by the Father.
Staying united to the vine means allowing God to prune us. Jesus says that each healthy branch of the vine must be pruned "so that it bears more fruit." This pruning takes the form of suffering. It may be painful, physical sufferings, like sickness, disease, financial insecurity, or old-age. It may be hidden, interior sufferings, like losing a loved one or watching a dear relative abandon their Catholic faith. Whenever God permits these kinds of sufferings - the ones that we don't seem to have any control over - we have to let our faith remind us that they are under his control. He is the vine-dresser. He knows how much pruning we can handle (and the amount is different for each branch). And he knows how to use that suffering to unite us more deeply with Christ, who suffered on the cross to redeem the world. In times of pain and hardship, God is begging us to trust in him more and more, to pray in the depths of our hearts that beautiful prayer that he himself taught us through his revelations to St Faustina of the Divine Mercy: "Jesus, I trust in you."
Accepting the Cross, not rebelling when God tries to prune us, is the secret of all the saints. Prayer, the sacraments, loving obedience, and suffering in union with Christ are what keep the Christian sap flowing in our lives.
As we continue with this Mass, let's thank God from the depths of our hearts for uniting us to the vine of Christ. And let’s ask him for the grace to not be grudging when he prunes us so that we can bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.