In the rectory’s backyard there are four vines that yield delicious and very generous grapes. Behind the little house next to the Grotto of Lourdes at the rectory there are four more; but lately their yield has been scarce and disappointingly tart.
What makes the difference between those on this side of our church and those on the opposite side? The more one knows about the nature of grapevines and their care the easier it would be for one to figure out the difference.
At any rate, this image of a vine and its branches proposed by Jesus today (cf. John 15: 1-8) is one quite a few people can understand because of how Jesus describes the work of the Holy Trinity in our minds and hearts so that we can bear good and abundant fruit.
And here is that ideal way to prove the wholesomeness of our being parts of the vine that is Jesus Christ: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (cf. 1 John 3:18) In other words, we are all urged to implement the new commandment that Jesus gave us during the Last Supper, of loving each other the way he loved us on the cross.
We cannot expect to impress people with our nice leaves (word or speech) but with top quality grapes (deed and truth). The love that the Holy Trinity desires us to show ought to be uninterrupted, untiring and factual. After all, we all need to love and to be loved, and none of us would be content with just some vague promises of being taken care of or some hollow, sweet chatter now and then. Nor would we be satisfied if the love showered upon us were to be superficial, skin-deep and casual and as uncommitted as the love portrayed on television and on the silver screen. And we would find absolutely useless the kind of “love” so common among those whose life stories fill the pages of the tabloids and the “Entertainment Tonight” show.
We want, we expect, we need genuine love, Christ-like love born of self-sacrifice done with a joyous heart. Therefore, the love that we ought to display in our interaction with others has to be genuine, Christ-like, born of self-sacrifice and done with a joyous heart. This requires the uninterrupted action of each Person of the Holy Trinity.
First the obvious work of Jesus Christ: Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. All of us know enough about plants to realize that to remain attached to the vine that is Christ is of the essence. Cut off from the vine a branch slowly dies. First the leaves wilt away, the sap dries up and pretty soon it can become fuel for a nice fire.
So the work of Christ is to keep us united to him so that the work of the Holy Spirit, the divine sap, may bring nourishment from the soil, through the trunk to the branches and all the way to each cluster of grapes. What is perhaps unexpected by those who know next to nothing about quality grapes is the essential action of pruning, the work of the Father, the divine vine grower. Well, we have just found out the reason why the vines in our backyard give delicious and abundant grapes and those by the Grotto very little and quite tart ones.
In the letter to the Hebrews we find repeated mention of the radical pruning that the Father applied to the vine of his Son Jesus.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5: 8)
In other words, Jesus underwent radical pruning by the Father to show us that self-sacrifice is the most reliable proof of the quality of one’s love.
In our case the pruning is the elimination of all branches that do not have any potential for bearing good grapes and the radical cutting of fruit-bearing branches to a stark, bare minimum. As the pruning is done, one can almost feel the pain endured by the vine. The sap drips from the cuts in plentiful tears soaking the ground below. The message is inescapable:
Our Heavenly Father, the divine vinedresser, does the pruning of all those tendencies, flaws, defects, sinful attachments, evil inclinations and, eventually, even minor imperfections, that slow us down and that would make us yield less than generous fruits of loving service of our neighbor.
Generally speaking, movies speak of love (mostly mingled with lust); songs speak of love (of the cheap variety); novels speak of romance, love triangles and intrigues; but in all of them it is rare to find genuine love given and received because the essential idea of pruning, self-sacrifice, is absent and/or considered absurd. It is not natural for us to embrace the necessary pruning that would allow us to bear top-quality actions of loving and caring.
But the Holy Trinity doesn’t leave overlooked a single aspect of their grace-filled action in us.
We just have to look around, most likely at our parents or someone who is a true friend, to find the necessary inspiration. Also, reading the lives of the saints would certainly help us generate enough motivation.
For this to happen we must resolve to “remain’ in Jesus through his Word and Sacrament: i.e., to become aware of his constant, loving presence in our hearts, in the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to endure the pruning done by the Father and to bear much fruit.