Today’s gospel shows us this powerful image of the vine and the branches. The vine shares with the branches, from the greatest to the smallest, its life giving force, a force that makes the branch fruitful. Each one of us is a branch and Jesus is the vine. He will always be there giving us all the nourishment we need to live Christ-like lives. If for some reason we break away from the vine we wither and die.
A couple of weeks ago there were pictures on the news showing men working in the vineyards on the Niagara Peninsula pruning branches on grape vines, cutting them back. This pruning happens every spring, it is a process necessary for the health of the vine and branches. Jesus describes his Father pruning the vines. He cuts off and throws away branches that have failed to produce fruit. Branches that have, for whatever reason, have failed to use the nourishment offered by the vine. The Father prunes healthy branches as well, cutting them back so that they can be more receptive to the live giving vine and produce more fruit. Pruning is a way to make things better, make a branch stronger and more fruitful. If you cut old tired branches from a plant your plant begins to thrive again, not whither. Our spiritual pruning by the Father is meant to encourage new growth in us. We all have to be pruned of our unhealthy self – reliance, our lack of openness to other people, our lack of concern for the needs of others, our desires to have more and more. Facing our faults and failings we can say to God. ‘go ahead, trim whatever gets in the way! I am not the vine, I am a branch. My job is not to be perfect and to remain in you, Christ, and to let you do good within me and through me.’
United with Christ the vine we find the strength to be caring and thoughtful people. United with Christ we find the strength to reject temptations to thoughts and actions that are unworthy of us. United with Christ know the value of taking time away from our hectic lives to be still and silent and open to the grace of God in our lives. United with Christ we are given the insights we need to keep the priorities of our lives in line with what we call gospel values. United with Christ we respect the dignity of every person who comes into our lives because we know they too are branches, one with Christ the life giving vine. United with Christ we sensitive to the suffering of the poor and oppressed around the world and pray for them. United with Christ we know we are never alone but he is with us to help us deal with the joys and disappointments of our lives. United with Christ we find the strength to deal with our own failing health or the death of someone we love. United with Christ we find the strength to cope with the reality of our aging.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you live in me, and I in you, you will produce abundant fruit, but apart from me you can do nothing.” This is not a tame claim. It is a bold assertion that we have no being, no life, apart from Christ. As St. Paul said of himself, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.” Paul was truly attached to the life giving Jesus Christ.
As we continue this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be graced to always be one with the living vine of our lives Jesus Christ.