Last Sunday’s gospel gave us a glimpse of Jesus’ intimate relationship with his disciples through the much-loved image of the Good Shepherd (who knows his sheep and lays down his life for them).

This Sunday we are given another equally powerful image of the same relationship in the parable of the vine. “I am the vine, you are the branches… and my Father is the vine grower.”

The metaphor of the vine and the branches speaks of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples at its most profound level. It is a relationship of a shared life, a communion of life that comes from the vine and flows to the branches and vivifies them. What an awesome reality, if we only think of it. It means that the life which flows in our veins is not ours, but Christ’s. Thus, St. Paul could only say, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

The catechism teaches that through baptism, we receive the life of God (sanctifying grace) and are incorporated (grafted) into the Body of Christ, the Church. Pope Benedict XVI explains this plainly. “The true vine of God, true life, is Jesus who with his sacrifice of love gives us salvation, opens to us the way to be part of this vine. And as Jesus remains in the love of God the Father, the disciples too, wisely pruned by the word of the Master, if they remain profoundly united in him, they become fruitful branches that bear an abundant harvest.”

The vitality of the branch totally depends on the life that flows to it from the vine. Hence, the need for the branch to remain with the vine. “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” The word “remain” is mentioned eight times in our gospel passage which simply underscores its absolute importance in our relationship with Jesus.

How do we remain in Jesus? Our second reading gives us the answer, “Those who keep the commandments remain in him and he in them… And his commandment is this: that we should believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” To remain in Jesus means to believe in him and to love one another. It means to live a life of faith and love.

As we have often pointed out, faith is not just an intellectual assent to the truth about Jesus and his teaching, but more importantly a personal encounter with him that leads to an intimate relationship. We maintain and grow in this relationship (remain in him) through the help of the Word, the sacraments (particularly, the Eucharist), prayer and, most of all, a life lived in love. Charity is the fruit and culmination of the branch’s union with the vine.

The gospel tells us that if we are to bear fruit, we should be ready for some pruning. Pruning can come in many ways. It can be self-administered, as when we cut off from ourselves anything contrary to Jesus’ teaching, or when we practice self-control from sinful desires. It can also come from the vinedresser, as Jesus cautions us in the gospel. Here, Jesus is teaching us how to look at our hardships and pains with the eyes of faith. We need to see our sufferings as pruning by which the Father disciplines us so we can grow stronger and bear more fruit. It is the fire that tests and purifies in order to bring out the best in us.

During my first years in the diocese I literally experienced what they call the baptism of fire. I inherited problems so enormous that I was drained of every energy and confidence left in me. I felt utterly helpless I had no choice but to surrender everything to God. It was painful for my ego but invigorating for my soul. It purified me and made me more prayerful and humble. It was a pruning which I would not wish to undergo again but for which I am truly thankful to the Father.

Today, Jesus invites us to remain in him so we can live. He also tells us not to fear pruning so we can live more fully and bear fruit more abu

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