5th Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2018John 15: 1-8
Nativity, Washington, D.C.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower” (John 15: 1).
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In Palestine and many other parts of the world, including significant parts of our own country, vineyards are important to people’s way of living and to the general economy. You and I probably don’t relate to that so much—at most you might have put a little trellis with a vine in your back yard. But we can appreciate Jesus’ analogy—even if we’ve never even tried to raise some tomatoes. We understand that our beautiful cherry trees and dogwoods and magnolias (like the one outside the side door) won’t blossom if their branches are broken off from the trunk.
Jesus’ words today—taken from what he said to the apostles at the Last Supper—remind us, 1st, that Jesus has come to us from God the Father: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” That is, the Father has planted this vine; he has sent Jesus his Son, into the vineyard of the human race. And we know from other verses that the Father’s reason for doing that was love, e.g., that most famous verse: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
2d, this vine, Jesus Christ, has branches, attached parts of the vine. Those branches are what St. Paul calls the members of Christ’s body (1 Cor 6:15), viz., the Church—us. We are the branches of this vine, and as long as we remain attached to it, we’re alive.
This life, of course, isn’t our physical life—altho our attachment to Christ includes the promise of the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day, as we profess every week in the Creed. But immediately, this life is our spiritual life, the life of our innermost selves, the life of our souls.
How do we maintain this interior life? How do we remain firmly attached to the true vine? By prayer, by reading the Scriptures, by participating in the sacraments. Just as the branches of a vine or a tree need life-giving sap to feed them, our souls need the life that flows from our daily conversation with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit in prayer. We need the nourishment that comes from letting the Holy Scriptures seep into our hearts and souls; this is the dew of the Holy Spirit moistening and refreshing us as nothing else can. We need regular contact with Jesus himself, the Person of Jesus, in the Eucharist and Reconciliation (the sacrament of Penance), and we need to draw on the graces that come from living the unique sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation that we received, most of us, so long ago, graces that aren’t “once and done” but forever-lasting. Most of us also have available the graces of a vocational sacrament to nourish us thru life, to enable us to “live Jesus,” as St. Francis de Sales phrases it: the sacrament of Christian marriage for many of you, or most of you, and the sacrament of Holy Orders for me.
3d, the Father has planted this vine and enabled its branches to flourish in order that those branches may bear fruit: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit” (15:5,8). The branches don’t exist for their own sake but for the sake of bearing fruit. What good would a vineyard be without grapes?
So what is the fruit that the Father desires us to produce? What does the life of Christ flowing thru us produce? Virtue. E.g., in Gal 5:22-23, St. Paul lists as “fruits of the Holy Spirit” the virtues of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Obviously there are numerous other virtues: the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the religious virtues of chastity and obedience; the virtues that Jesus puts into prominence in the Sermon on the Mount, and Pope Francis stresses in his recent apostolic exhortation: poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, sympathy with others in misfortune, purity of heart, peaceableness, and other virtues too: perseverance, patience, a sense of humor, boldness, passion.
That is by no means an exhaustive list of virtues. The point isn’t to list them or to define them, of course, but to practice them—to be fruitful thru the working of grace, the divine sap running thru us branches of Christ the true vine. That’s how we glorify the Father, which is the purpose for which God made us.
When Jesus promises the apostles toward the end of this evening’s gospel, “Ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (15:7), he means primarily to ask to remain faithfully united with him, to be his faithful disciples, to remain fully alive in him—in this life and in eternal life.