April 29, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
Last Sunday in John’s Gospel we reflected on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I pointed out to you that 5 times in that short Gospel Jesus spoke about laying down his life, referring to how in love he gave away his life for us. Joined to Him, we are invited to lay down our lives in love for others.
This Sunday we are given another image of how the Risen Lord Jesus gives his life for us and to us, how he shares his risen life with us. He says: “I am the Vine and you are the branches.”
In connection with this beautiful image on intimate and constant communion, Jesus commands us to “remain in me”. He makes the command 5 different times in these 8 verses. “Remain in me.”
We are called to remain in him because when we are cut off from Him we wither up and die before we die and then when we physically die we die forever. Just as branches that are cut off from the vine wither up and die, so we do when we are cut off from the Lord Jesus.
As the vine, he is rooted in the One who is necessary for life and life in abundance, the source of all life, connected to the Father himself. In the Son of God, we are connected to the Father who is the Source of life. Cut off from Jesus, our lives shrivel up and lose their ultimate meaning.
John, in his 1st letter points out how we know that we remain in Jesus and he remains in us — by the gift of the Spirit given to us. It is by the Spirit poured into our life at baptism and given to us anew at every celebration of the Eucharist that we remain in the Risen Jesus and he remains in us.
When we remain in Jesus, when we remain connected to him, then we bear fruit. That is our mission as branches attached to the living vine—to produce fruit. 5 times Jesus states in this Gospel passage that our mission as the branches, as we stay connected to Jesus, is to bear fruit. Over and over again Jesus stresses this point—we are to bear fruit. For fruit is not for the vine nor for the branches, but for the nourishment of others. Fruit is for others—for others to eat.
Bearing fruit means we lay down our lives in service of others, we give away the gifts given us to nourish other’s lives, to feed them by our life-giving love. Bearing fruit happens when we love one another as Christ loves us. In fact, when we remain in Jesus and he remains in us, when we have this intimate communion of life with him as branches connected to the living vine, then we have the energy to love as he loves.
Another way to understand what bearing fruit looks like is to return to what John states in his first letter about how we know that we remain in him and he in us is by the Spirit he gave us. For there are 12 fruits of the Spirit, signs of the Spirit of the Risen Lord at work in the lives of believers. The 12 fruits of the Spirit are: Charity, joy, and peace Goodness, generosity, and gentleness Patience and kindness and faithfulness Self-control, modesty, and chastity.
When we see someone who generously shares of themselves and their gifts, we know the Spirit of the Risen Lord is at work in that person and we see the fruits of such generosity. When we see someone who is patient and kind in the face of hatred and violence, we know that the Spirit is at work. When we are around people whose joy lifts us up, whose peaceful spirits bring peace to our troubled souls, we are in the presence of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
When we are connected to the Son of God as branches to a vine, and the sap of the Spirit flows from the vine grower (the Father) and the vine into our lives, then we can produce the fruits of self-control, modesty and chastity. In a secular society which has turned people into objects to be used for one’s pleasure and then thrown away when done with or simply erased by the click of a computer mouse, the invitation of the Spirit of the Risen Lord is to produce the fruits of chastity, modesty, and self-control in order to bring the God-given dignity of the other to light. One of the 7 deadly sins is Lust, which causes the lustful one to feel cut off from others and from God. When lust “flares up” in the human heart, most people think they only have 2 choices: to indulge lust or to repress lust. Indulging leads to separation from others and from God and from our truest, best self and can lead to a heart to wither, like a branch cut off from the life-giving vine of love.
But repressing lust is not a good option either, because whenever we don’t deal with something as powerful as lust but simply try to put a “lid on it”— then it forces it’s way to the surface in more powerful and destructive ways.
The 3rd option, one that is life-giving and transformational, is the one suggested by Pope St. John Paul II in his “Theology of the Body.” Rather than trying to repress lust or trying to ignore it, we surrender our lust to the paschal mystery.
What does this look like? When a lustful thought arises in our mind or a lustful desire arises in our heart, we immediately turn toward the Lord Jesus and give it to Him. We make the experience into a prayer by crying out, “Lord, help me.”
In other words, as we allow lust to be crucified with Christ, we also come to experience the “resurrection” of God’s original plan for sexual desire as a life-giving force, as the power to love in God’s image. As we do this, Pope St. John Paul II states that “the Spirit of the Lord gives new form to our desires.”
We can do this with any deadly sin, such as Anger or Pride, for when angry or prideful thoughts come to mind or arise in our heart, we immediately turn to the Lord Jesus and give them to Him. He is called the Savior of the World for a reason, for he wants to set us free from what enslaves us.
The Holy Spirit, the bond of love between Father and Son, strengthens us to love as we have been made to love.
The beauty and power of God’s love for us is that we do not have to do anything on our own power. We are made to be connected to Christ Jesus, the Life-giving vine. Without him, we can do nothing of value at all; but with Him, we can do all things for the Glory of God. We do not have to do anything on our own. With Him and In Him and Through Him we can produce the fruits of the Spirit.
The Lord Jesus invites us to remain in him in a very intimate way as we share in this Holy Eucharist. He remains with us by the gift of His Body and Blood and by the gift we are to one another.