“Others may have their wealth, may drink out of jeweled cups, be clad in silks, enjoy popular applause, find it impossible to exhaust their wealth by dissipating it in pleasures of all kinds, but our delight is to meditate on the Law of the Lord day and night…” – St. Jerome
John 15:1-8: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.’
Christ the Lord The world’s greatest leaders influence people from the outside in; their speech, their ideas, their example, their presence – they move us and motivate, they draw us and stir us. Christ, however, goes much deeper. He not only calls us from the outside, but he also unites himself to us so intimately that his very life flows through our veins. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Where does the vine stop and its branches begin? Their union is too complete to tell. The same sap gives life to the vine and to its branches. He is Lord from within, renewing hearts from the inside, as only God can do. Once again, Jesus Christ stands alone among great historical figures; not only does he excel over all others in their own game, but he plays in an entirely different league; he is a leader, but he is also the Lord.
Christ the Teacher Jesus tells us point blank what the Father wants. God wants us to “bear much fruit” and to “be [his] disciples.” God wants our lives to show forth his goodness, to bring lost souls back into the fold, and to fill human society and culture with the justice and beauty they need to flourish. Our desire to do something with our lives is a gift from God; we are created in his image, and he is the Creator – we too yearn to build, to contribute, to make a difference that will last not only in this life, but into all eternity.
Bearing this fruit requires in the first place our own efforts to stay united to the vine, through prayer, the sacraments, and loving obedience to God’s will. And it also requires our being pruned – the purification of our selfishness that comes through suffering and sacrifice. Love and sacrifice, as all the lives of the saints attest to, and as Christ himself exemplifies, keep the sap flowing. They yield the fruit we yearn for most: living a life that resounds with meaning and energy, a life that positively impacts others and exudes joy and enthusiasm, a life that changes this world for the better in as profound a way as Christ’s own life did, and a life whose meaning and impact overflow into eternity. This is what God wants for us; this is why Jesus came to earth. Bearing such fruit makes life worth living; without it we are dry, dead branches good for nothing except the fire – pretty simple lesson, pretty dire consequences if we don’t learn it well.
Christ the Friend Christ goes on to tell us how to how to achieve this fruitfulness: “Remain in me… cut off from me you can do nothing.” As long as we stay united to the vine, whatever apostolic activities we engage in will yield a harvest – even a small branch dangling near the ground will produce its fruits as long as it’s united to the vine. Separated from Jesus Christ, no one can live in communion with God, the only source of lasting fruit. How much we need to learn how to pray and make this the center of our lives! This is Christ’s constant refrain from the moment of his incarnation: Come to me, learn from me, follow me… My heart yearns for you to make my friendship the highest value of your life, so that I can fill you with true peace, meaning, and joy – the kind that you long for but can never achieve on your own. The sacraments, the Church, prayer, the Bible – these are all extensions of my effort to stay intimately united with you, to guide you along the path of everlasting life, and to reveal to you the glories of my love. These were my final words before I went to death on the cross, my last lesson, and I really mean them: remain in me; stay close to me; do not forsake me; trust in me.
Christ in My Life Lord, your very life flows through my veins. Why don’t I think of this more? Why do I let myself act as if this world were all there is? I know that my life now is a training ground of love, a chance to exercise the virtues of faith, hope, and love that you have grafted into my soul, an opportunity to spread your Kingdom to those around me. In my fidelity to that mission is your pleasure; in it is my joy…
No one loves me more than you. No one has given me more than you – no one can. If I succeed on my own, the satisfaction is real, but it passes; I need another success to feel satisfied again. If I possess something nice, I enjoy it for a while, but then it gets old. You want me to enjoy fruit that will last, the undying fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22)…
Of all the people I know, how many are united to the vine of your friendship, Lord? Half? A little less, a little more? You are yearning for all of them to live close to you, so you can make their lives bear fruit, the kind they yearn for. So I ask you, why don’t I feel a bigger burden to pray for them and to show them your love? Why am I satisfied in my comfort zone? Let the light of your heart illumine my heart…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on John 15:1-8: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Vine branch on the way “Algunder Waalweg”, Huberbe, 10 August 2012, CCA- 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.
About Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.