The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on May 14 at the Mass for Expectant and New Parents at Good Shepherd Parish in Alexandria.
By using the concrete image of vine and branches, Jesus is turning our attention today to the reality of intimacy or closeness, to a deeply personal relationship that is life-giving. After all, unless the branches are joined to the center-vine, unless there is a union among them, the branches will not grow and develop and live. Moreover, the branches and the center-vine need one another, because only together do they make up the complete vine.
So then, by using the image of vine and branches, Our Blessed Lord is calling each one of us to intimate union with Him and, through Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is inviting each one of us to experience and to live within the Community of His Disciples, the Church, a deeply personal relationship with the Trinity. I repeat, this invitation, this call, is offered to every baptized person. As Jesus Himself tells us today,
"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. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing."
This call to live in a deeply personal relationship with God can actually be experienced only when two inter-connected realities are working together: deepening conversion and deepening prayer.
Yes, conversion and prayer go hand-in-hand. The image of the vine being pruned can help us to understand. The vine and its branches grow healthier and stronger by being pruned now and then; cutting off the dead parts does not hurt but rather helps. So too, our personal relationship with Christ grows healthier and stronger as we become more and more converted, that is, turned back toward Him. This pruning occurs as we willingly put to death within us those things that separate us from the Lord. The more we die to self by putting aside pride or selfishness or greed or lust or apathy, the more our union with Christ develops. Yes, this kind of pruning, this dying to self and living for the Lord and others is, in the end, truly good and helpful. Again, Jesus reminds us, "I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes, so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you." The word Jesus speaks is conversion and repentance.
As the dead branches are cut away, as we experience deepening conversion through this daily dying to self, our hearts open to a deepening experience of the Lord's presence and love. His life fills us more fully. Prayer is the way by which we truly experience His life-giving presence within us. Prayer is the way by which we hear Him speaking to our hearts and strengthening our wills.
Now, when we live and experience this deeply personal relationship with the Trinity, sustained through deepening conversion and deepening prayer, then we become equipped and strengthened for fulfilling the particular vocation God has given us, whether that be priesthood, permanent diaconate, consecrated religious life, marriage or the chaste single life. When we are living in close union with the Lord, then we can be witnesses both in word and in action, as we saw St. Paul (the former Saul) doing in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Then too, we can love "not in word or speech" alone, but also "in deed and truth," as St. John counsels us in today's second reading from his First Letter.
All of us are called to live in close union with the Lord. Among us today are expectant and new parents. Dear parents, the more you experience deepening conversion and deepening prayer, the more fully and faithfully will you live out your vocation as husband and wife and as father and mother. In concrete ways, you experience the pruning which the Lord speaks about in today's Gospel. To accept the responsibilities of being a parent and to nurture your newborn through infancy and childhood into adolescence and adulthood requires much self-sacrifice, countless times of denying what you want in order to parent the gift you have received. For example, at 3 a.m., it is not easy to get up and feed the crying baby or to comfort the sick child. This requires a dying to self and a living for another. As the children continue to grow, so many opportunities present themselves to continue loving by living for the other: making time to listen to their stories or to join them in their activities, combining gentleness with firmness in helping them to grow into maturity. Yes, the fruit of the parents' lives lived in personal closeness with the Lord spills over and fills the family with joy, peace, hope and love.
Above all, parenting involves sharing with your children the precious Catholic faith into which they are baptized. No greater gift can you give to your children than to enable them to know, love and serve God in this world by growing in Christian discipleship, so that they are prepared to enter eternal life. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, "Parents are the first evangelizers of children, a precious gift from the Creator (cf. Gaudium et Spes, No. 50), and begin by teaching them to say their first prayers. In this way a moral universe is built up, rooted in the will of God, where the child grows in the human and Christian values that give life its full meaning" (Letter to the Participants In the Fifth World Meeting of Families). Parents, how noble is your vocation and how fruitful when lived in close union with the Lord!