The Vine and its Fruit
Fifth Sunday of Easter. Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-27,28,30,31-32; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
Today's Gospel describes success and failure in the Christian life in organic terms. Christ is the vine, a Christian is described as a branch of a vine and the Father is the vine dresser. Jesus explains that there are two possible fates for a branch, either to remain in him and bear fruit, or else to fail to remain in him and bear no fruit. Those who do not remain in him are, sooner or later, thrown out in two stages. First, they are thrown out from the vine, but still with some possibility of being grafted back into the vine; second, the discarded branches are gathered up and thrown into a fire, at which stage there is no possibility that they will ever return to the vine. Clearly, therefore, it is important for us to remain in Christ and to bear fruit, but how is this to be done and what are the challenges that we face?
Whatever 'bearing fruit' means, it is significant that we need to do so little, in a sense, to bear fruit. All that Christ says is necessary for success in the Christian life is to remain 'in him' in some way that is likened to a branch connected to a vine. A branch does not need to plan or work hard to manufacture a fruit, but simply to remain in a living connection to the vine in order to bear fruit. How, then, do we remain in a 'living connection' to Christ? Well, first of all we are connected to Christ through the sacraments. In particular, by means of Baptism we are joined to the vine, which is Christ, and by means of the Eucharist, we are nourished regularly by the Body and Blood of Christ, taking the divine and human life of Christ into ourselves. So this is one reason why Sunday Mass is so important and why it is a very serious matter to miss Sunday Mass intentionally: we can do nothing of any eternal significance without a living connection to Christ. But in order to remain in him, Jesus also mentions at least two other key principles in this Gospel. First, he says that the 'word he has spoken' prunes us, in other words, insofar as we can, it is important to nourish our minds with his words and his teaching. So it is important to devote some time to study and, ideally, even to commit to memory if we can, the words and teaching of Christ. Finally, it is hard to remain in living connection to Christ if we do not do as Christ himself shows us, that is, to pray to his heavenly Father, to glorify God and also to ask from God what we need. All saints capable of doing so devoted significant time each day to prayer. So we remain in living connection to Christ principally through the sacraments, the teaching and through prayer.
What, then, are the fruits exactly and what challenges do we face in bearing fruit? Well the 'fruits' are not quite the same as 'works' in the sense of good deeds, although being fruitful in good works, especially the 'works of mercy' when people need our help, are part of what it means to remain in Christ. In the Christian tradition, there are twelve Fruits, called the 'Fruits of the Holy Spirit', developed from a list in St. Paul's letter to the Galatians 5:22-23: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Longsuffering, Goodness, Benignity, Mildness, Faith, Modesty, Continency and Chastity. To clarify the meanings of some of these Fruits, Chastity is not the same as celibacy, since a married couple can be chaste without being celibate, and Benignity means a kind of 'good fire', by which a person yearns to help others. These twelve Fruits can be summarized as having the kind of heart that Christ has, and a person who 'remains in Christ', principally through the sacraments, the study of his teaching and through prayer, will bear these Fruits, as the lives of the saints show us. What, then, are the challenges to bearing these Fruits? St. Paul's letter to the Galatians 5:19-21 lists certain acts that are opposed by the Fruits: fornication, uncleanness or impurity, debauchery or licentiousness, idolatry, witchcraft or magic, enmities or hatred, strife, jealousy, anger or wrath, quarrels, dissensions, factionalism, envy, drunkenness, excessive feasting and similar things. Now while these evil acts overlap with what is prohibited by the Ten Commandments, what is significant about St. Paul's list is that these evil acts are particular dangers or temptations to living the Christian life. These evil acts offer counterfeit or false 'fruits', especially false promises of Love, Joy and Peace, and all of these acts break our living connection to Christ. One cannot have the heart of Christ and commit these acts, and if any of us do commit such acts, it is vitally important to repent of such behavior and be re-integrated with Christ the vine through the Sacrament of Confession.
So may God give us the grace to remain in him, especially through the sacraments, his teaching and through prayer. May we avoid temptations, especially false promises of Love, Joy and Peace, and may we bear much true Fruit for everlasting life.
Father Andrew Pinsent, Saint Ambrose Church, Saint Louis, 10th May 2009
© Fr Andrew Pinsent. Academic Web Site.