“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” (Jn. 15: 1-2).
Nearly ten years ago, Ben and I celebrated our Nuptial Mass with a host of family and friends who shared in our joy. The Gospel reading we chose was from John 15 – the Vine and the Branches – not because it was a popular gospel or because we found the message to be typical for weddings. We chose it, because we knew that life wouldn’t be easy. It was to serve as a reminder to us both that we must remain rooted in our faith, tethered to the Cross, in order for our marriage to be fruitful.
Bearing fruit doesn’t come quickly, I learned. In fact, bearing fruit often appears to the contrary: dull, lifeless, nothing moving forward. There is a period of our lives when we do not see growth, so we misinterpret it to be stagnancy. In turn, we become impatient and force something – anything – to happen, to move forward.
When we do this, however, we are moving against the gift of pruning. What happens to a plant when it remains untouched year after year? It may produce fruit or flowers, but its potential is never realized. Only when it is clipped of its branches, sometimes down to the vine or trunk itself, will it eventually proliferate even more than it ever had before the pruning.
Ben and I bought a grapevine shortly after we purchased our first home as a symbol of the Vine and the Branches story we selected in our wedding. The landscape owner who sold it to us promised it would bear grapes within three years of planting, and that was with no work done to it, except sunshine and water. We watched. We waited. Sure enough, three years later, we noticed two fat bunches of Concord grapes hanging on the vine! It was a delight, to be sure, but we wondered what was next.
Ben read about how to care for grapevines so that they would be overflowing with grapes for a full harvest. That fall, he chopped almost every branch off of the vine. It looked sickly and paltry, withered and left for dead. I trusted his judgment but wondered if our little vine would ever recover. The following spring, we were delighted to see abundant new growth! It truly appeared to be a minor miracle, considering how desolate the vine appeared only months prior. And, sure enough, late that summer, I had harvested enough grapes to make homemade grape jelly that we preserved for the winter and enjoyed with Felicity on toast for a taste of summer now and then.
I thought about the metaphor of the grapevine and what it meant for my own life. So much of my life has been spent waiting and wondering about “what’s next.” When will I complete college? When will I find the right job? How long will it take me to meet my future husband? Will we ever have children, or is infertility going to plague our dream? How long do I wait to hear back from a publisher about a book that took me a year to write? When will we be called into the exam room? How long will it take to hear about Sarah’s surgery?
Each of us can relate our own particular stories of waiting and wondering. We anticipate that something will change, a breakthrough perhaps, but when it does not happen immediately, we wonder all sorts of damaging thoughts that threaten our hope and foster discouragement.
Only recently, when the Lord called me back into another desert experience in my interior life, did I revisit the Vine and the Branches story. For months, it has perplexed me that God began something beautiful in my life last year and then seemingly left it unfinished. But then I read again, “To those who bear fruit, He prunes to bear more fruit.”
Could it be that I was like our little grapevine? In my spiritual infancy, maybe I could only see the measly two bunches of grapes that God produced through me. Maybe that’s all I’ve ever believed was possible in my life. Yet here I am, undergoing a fairly intense spiritual purgation that hurts and gnaws at my heart on a daily basis, and I can only see the desolation. There is no consolation on the horizon – none, that is, except the unfulfilled promise that He will bear more fruit in me.
We tend to see only as far as our senses permit us to see, and we get caught up in their limitations. To see with the eyes of the eternal, to view with the lens of our hearts united to His Sacred Heart, requires obscure faith. This is faith that does not rely upon visions or signs. It is a faith that walks in a particular darkness, one that appears entirely lifeless. To rise within that darkness means that we must grapple with our weaknesses, constantly uniting them to Jesus and thanking Him for all that He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives.
Obscure faith is a radical faith. It is the type of faith manifested through God’s creation. Like the grapevine that does not give up on its life even when it is painfully scourged by way of snipping away its lovely leaves and branches, so must we cling evermore to God when we experience the pain of pruning. The promise we have is that one day we will bear even more than what we could have imagined. All we must do is remain in Him, remain solidly rooted in the faith that walks by way of this unclear, but certain, path.
In Sophia Institute’s new release by Mother Angelica, On Suffering and Burnout, she writes:
Jesus wants us to trust Him to take care of all our yesterdays and tomorrows. He looks for souls who are willing to see the Father in every happening, then give that circumstance to Him to solve, justify, make right, or straighten out. It is not easy but it is peaceful, for we are bearing good fruit. God is bearing fruit within us… (p. 155).
I look in retrospect on ten years of marriage. These ten years have been filled with shock, heartache, uncertainty, and tension, yet also joy and blessings beyond measure. The pain has led to the proliferation of our family’s witness of hope in the midst of ongoing trials. That’s the message of the Vine and the Branches: that we do not attempt to foresee what is to come, nor nostalgically grip the past, but rather that we remain connected to the One who silently works in and through us until all things come to blossom and flourish in His time.