The imagery that the Lord presents in the Gospel for this Sundays jibes very well with the season in which we are presently in, and I am not merely referring to Easter. For us who are here in more temperate zones in the northern hemisphere, we are already in the middle of spring. This may raise some concerns for those who are suffer from allergies or are particularly sensitive to pollen, but for the greater part, it is very much evident that the barrenness and the hard cold of winter have given way to the freshness of spring. Where once there was merely barren earth, fresh shoots have sprung up, and seemingly dried twigs have brought forth fresh green shoots. Spring shows us that the earth, which seemed dead, is actually alive. This brings to consider once again the message of the liturgical season of Easter, which we are in.
To sum it all, the gift and grace of Easter is nothing less than new life in Christ. This new life we have all received in Baptism, and in the other sacraments of initiation that go with it—Confirmation and the Eucharist. Through these sacraments, with us being inserted in the death of Christ, we are also brought back to life with him. It is not the life that we used to live before: now it is something new, because before of we have been slaves of sin and death, now we are sons and daughters, co-heirs with the only begotten Son of God.
In the Gospel this Sunday, the Lord teaches us that the only way to keep this new life going within us is to live it in union with him, and in order to express this, he resorts to the image of the vine and the branches: “I am the vine, you are the branches”. The image conveys something that seems to be quite evident to us: branches cannot live on their own; they need to be attached to that which truly channels the sap that gives life to them, which is none other than the vine. Likewise, in order to live this new life, which has been given to us by the Lord as a grace—a free gift, we need to be in union with Jesus Christ. This is what Christian life basically is: a life lived in union with Christ, separated from whom we can do nothing. It is a life that is meant to be fruitful, and by this we mean that it bring forth fruits of holiness. Jesus says “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit”: the fruit referred to in this saying is the holiness of life made fruitful by union with Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2074). A Christian cannot afford to be barren; no joy could be had in being found without fruit (remember that the only creature cursed by the Lord was a fig tree, doomed to be sterile forever).
Where do we live this union with Christ? Basically it is found in our life of prayer, which is none else but being with him. Prayer is actually a relationship, very much like the ones that we have. The quality of our relationships depends on the intensity of our union. We prefer to stay more with those whom we love more, and this love transforms us; the lesser time and attention we spend, the lesser love that we cultivate in our hearts, and the less we are transformed by these people, and vice versa. Prayer is union with Jesus Christ, Son of God and our Lord: the moments that we spend with him in the silence of our ordinary life, the things that we do out of love for him in secret—this is prayer.
Union is also fostered in our sacramental life: Jesus continues to touch us through the sacraments in the most profound way. If one doesn’t go to Mass every Sunday as he should, allowing himself to be touched by the Lord in the liturgy, I doubt that that person could actually maintain such a relationship. In the spiritual life, a so-called long-distance relationship simply does not exist: or we are personally touched by Christ in the most profound way through the sacraments, or we don’t allow ourselves to be touched at all. The liturgy of this Sunday clearly reminds us of this contact, when in one of the prayers of the Mass we here that by this holy exchange of gifts (the bread and wine turned into the Lord’s Body and Blood), we share in God’s divine life (cfr. Prayer over the Gifts, 5th Sunday of Easter).
Just as the branches go green, flourish and bring forth fruit because of the sap that flows into them from the great vine, so we too grow in spiritual gifts as we are united to Christ. In the First Reading are made to see the situation of the community of believers in the Acts of the Apostles: The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Spirit it grew in numbers (Acts 9:30-31). Separated from Christ, we cannot hope to grow or progress; far from his grace we do not even halt, but rather retrocede. Instead of growing up life strong cedars that grow tall and strong, providing shade and shelter, we get stunted like bonsais, interesting to look at perhaps, but useless.
It is only being in union with Jesus that we could heed the admonition in the Second Reading, taken from the first letter of John: Children, let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and in truth. There is nothing more pathetic than a Christian who is incapable of loving, and who cannot profess this love in his life. A Christian who does not love is a sad one, and when a Christian is sad, that is very serious indeed. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life(Jn 3:16); my commandment is this: love one another as I have loved you (cfr. Jn 15:12): love is at the heart of the Gospel message, and we live in the fullness of this message as we make this message alive in us.
May our union with Christ show us how to live this love concretely in our ordinary life. With the sap of grace form the Vine, who is Jesus, flowing in us, may we live according to the newness of life that he has won for us with his death and resurrection. AMEN, ALLELUIA!
FIRST READING: Acts 9:26-31
SECOND READING: 1Jn 3:18-24
GOSPEL: Jn 15:1-8