“He who abides in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”
The gospel today brings the promise to each of us of a fruitful life. How often in our oh so ordinary existence we need this assurance. Our days seem mundane, routine, and dry. We fear coming to the end of it all with little or nothing to show for all our worry and incessant plodding. Our experience seems to us in contrast to the rich, fruited abundance which Jesus depicts as the norm for the Christian life.
Jesus’ intent, however, is not to stir us up to what we must do to bear fruit but to give us comfort in the knowledge of what God will accomplish through us if we will only allow him. While the image of the vine and the vine-dresser certainly does not intend to promote passivity on our part, it does call us to an attitude of trust and rest. To live in Christ means to abide in him: to rest or tarry in His presence, to wait for God’s grace. It is a simple call to daily refreshment from the life that flows through Christ the vine. By patiently practicing the awareness of Christ in our midst, we are nourished, our attachment grows secure, and we produce fruit. Does the branch need to worry and struggle to remain attached to the vine? Does the branch need to huff and puff to push out the fruit? No, the branch merely abides. It remains in place, and in so doing, in time, it naturally brings forth fruit.
It is generally not the big sins, like some violent windstorm descending upon us to snap the branch away, that we need to fear but the little irritations that keep us from resting in Christ’s love and presence. We are in danger of wiggling ourselves off the vine. The Hebrew scripture chides, “Beware of the foxes that spoil the vine.” As little foxes nipping and gnawing at the bark of the vine, our daily cares and worries, when not infused by God in prayer, begin to bleed away from us the life flow necessary to produce fruit.
Our abiding life in the vine, however, is probably most threatened by spiritual compulsions born of doubt and fear. We doubt Christ’s willing presence to us in our daily life and so we fretfully seek him through the extraordinary. We fear punishment for not producing fruit and so all our time spent before God is in lamentation. Our prayer life is so taken up with going to God with our loud cries of regret that we have no more time left in which to hear God coming to us with his soothing, soft words of forgiveness, consolation, and healing.
We are called to abide, to remain, to rest in God’s love. Even the pruning that must take place is to be seen not as our activity but as the work of the Father, the vine grower. God determines what is peripheral to our life, what activities or passions drain vital life away from our core of being. He cuts these things from us. We hear his shear sharp words and yield ourselves to their force. The pruning process calls for our willingness to let go of long held attachments, again not always sin but often things that look good, even as the many shoots and leaves look good on the vine yet in reality by cutting them back the vine is able to produce larger, better tasting fruit. Always, though, the pruning is under the vine-dresser’s direction. If we were to choose those things that we deem as hindrances to the spiritual life, we would most likely snip away the very things vital to a sweet, fruit bearing life. We would hack away all things temporal leaving only what we perceive as spiritual: the Bible, Eucharist, and Rosary perhaps. While indeed these do provide us with the life of the vine, it is most likely the things mundane, routine, and dry, which at first seem as distractions resulting in fruitlessness, but which when properly perceived actually bring to us Christ in such a way that integrates His life with our life–this integration being by definition fruitfulness.
Fifth Sunday of Easter Acts 9: 26 – 31,I Jn 3: 18 – 24, Jn 15: -18
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.