Sunday Sermon for May 2, 2021, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, year B
Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
In the Gospel reading our Lord tells us that He is the True Vine and we are the branches. On the natural level, because the sap flows through the vine and into the branches, fruit can be borne by the branches only when they are connected to the vine. Our Lord tells us that we are to bear fruit, but if we are the branches, we cannot bear fruit unless we are united to the Vine. God is the author of grace, so the divine life flows through us only when we are united with Jesus.
However, our Lord makes this point in a way that seems strange at first. He says we must remain in Him and that we can only bear fruit if we remain in Him. In other words, it is not enough to be merely connected to the Lord, we must abide in or remain in Him.
He tells us that if we remain in Him we will bear much fruit, but if we do not remain in Him we will be thrown out and burned. We may be wondering just what this idea of remaining in Him is about. One clue is given when Jesus says “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you…” The words of our Lord must be received and accepted deep within us. They do not merely sit within, but they must be dynamic and alive. It is clear that just having the words stuck in or on us is not sufficient. They must be brought into the interior of the person, embraced, and lived. To remain also suggests it is ongoing and long term.
St. John elucidates the issue for us. He says that anyone who keeps the Lord’s commandments remain in Him and He in them. St. John goes on to say the way we know He remains in us is by the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. In other words, if we are living upright and moral lives and striving to grow in the spiritual life, then we are remaining in the Lord. Another way to say this is that as long as we are in the state of Grace, we remain in the Lord and He in us. Of course, if we fail to follow the commandments and fall into mortal sin, we have chosen something over God, we no longer remain in Him and He no longer remains in us.
If we have cut ourselves off from the Vine, this can be rectified through confession, but we have to wonder how much fruit we will be able to bear if we have lost the live giving powers that flow through us when we are united with our Lord. On the natural level, if an arborist is trying to graft a branch onto a tree, it will take some time for the wound to heal and the sap to flow in such a way that the branch can bear fruit. If the branch keeps falling off and being put back on to the tree, there will be a cycle of losing the source of life, then having life injected back into it, then losing it again. All the energy will be spent on just trying to keep life in the limb, not in bearing fruit.
If we keep falling into sin and getting to confession, we are basically fighting for our spiritual lives. There will not be much fruit borne because everything is focused on trying to keep the branch united to the Vine. In such a scenario, the branch is certainly not remaining in the Lord. Only when the wound of having been cut off is healed will the grace be able to flow through the person in order to bear fruit. This helps us to understand better that remaining in the Lord means just that: staying in the state of Grace so His life can flow through us and bear fruit.
We can also look at the first reading and see that the fruit our Lord seeks will differ with the individuals. Just as we do not expect to find the same kind of fruit on different kinds of trees, neither would our Lord expect each person to produce the same kind of fruit. For instance, we are told the people were afraid of Saul of Tarsus, and with good reason. We see the Lord working through St. Barnabas to took St. Paul under his wing and brought the new convert to the Apostles. The Holy Spirit used Barnabas’ personality to bear this fruit. We are each called to bear fruit for our Lord also, each according to our personality and the grace God gives. This grace is given through the Holy Spirit, but only when we remain in the Lord.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.