Anyone familiar with gardening is familiar with the fate of dead leaves on plants: they are pruned away and tossed out. Leaves which fall from trees and plants, cut off from their source of life, wither and die upon the ground.
It is not difficult for us to appreciate the significance and meaning of Jesus' words in the Gospel: “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.” He goes on to say that “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
We members of the Church, Christ's mystical body, would do well to remember that we are the branches. We draw our life from Christ, the true vine. He alone is our salvation. We have the hope of everlasting life we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come only because of Him. We are partakers of His divine nature because this is the gift He communicates to us, shares with us, through the Church’s sacramental life.
If we are going to take Christ's words seriously, then we need to realize He is telling us that to cut ourselves off from the sacramental life of the Church is to cut ourselves off from Him, the very source of that life. An arm or a leg can not function if severed from the body. It withers away and the body itself is impaired. As members of Christ's mystical body, we suffer a spiritual death if we cut ourselves off from the life-giving stream of sacramental grace.
A Catholic couple who marry outside the Church deny themselves the grace of the sacrament of marriage. This grace enables them to live out the true self-giving, sacrificial love that is necessary in married life. A husband and wife need that divine assistance if they are to be patient and forgiving with one another day in and day out, if they are to remain faithfully committed to one another. This grace is necessary for transforming a marriage into a living image of Christ's sacrificial love for His bride, the Church, made manifest on the Cross: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
One who claims he need not go to Mass on Sunday because he can pray to God in other ways denies himself the sublime moment of receiving the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Here we have Jesus' words to get a sense of just what we miss: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (Jn 6:54, 56).
The branch that bears fruit is the soul that draws its life from and remains united with Christ in the sacramental life of the Church. The sign that a soul is bearing much fruit and that Christ truly lives in a soul is to see in that soul the characteristics of Christ. The Christ-like soul is one which is humble, obedient to the will of God, compassionate, and totally dependent upon God. Such a thing is impossible if Christ does not dwell in the soul, and Christ cannot dwell in the soul if we deny ourselves the grace of the sacraments: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
Fr. Grankauskas is parochial vicar at St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)