I’m not much of a gardener but I remember my mom working in the garden. I can still see her taking her pruning shears through the branches of her rhododendrons removing the shoots that had withered up and were getting in the way of new branches.
This winter, with all the storms, we only have to look into our yards to see all those weak branches that fell as they were whipped around by the rain and the wind and weighted down by the snow.
Jesus tells us, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
To bear fruit, we must remain in Jesus. Now, what does that mean — to “remain” in Jesus? It means to be always connected to Him. And how do we stay connected to Him? Through prayer. Through regular attendance at mass and participation in the Eucharist. Through regular confession.
Today’s second reading has a little bit to say about this. John’s letter reminds us about the great commandment – to love God by believing in his son Jesus Christ and to love one another. Our faith is quite simple. Love God and love your neighbor.
It’s simple but it’s incredibly profound… profound and difficult… because it is so hard to really do those two things consistently. I know there are times when I fail to show my love for God by attending to my daily prayer life the way I should. And there are times when I struggle to love my neighbor. And let’s face it some people are just really hard to love. We need Jesus to help us do these things.
To flourish… To bear fruit by living a life of holiness… a life of giving of oneself to others… A life of virtue… We can’t do this alone. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing.” We need to allow Jesus to prune the way the dead branches of sin so that we can bear fruit. We need to be open enough to allow him into our hearts and minds so he can work on us… so he can clear out all the deadwood of pride, anger, lust, laziness, envy and greed.
It’s a real challenge to acknowledge that we can’t do this alone… that we need to rely on Jesus. In our culture, we value independence and self-reliance. Amazon.com offers us thousands of books on self–improvement. Self-help gurus make millions peddling the idea that you can make yourself a better person if you pay them money, go to their seminars and use the techniques they teach. In the face of all this, it is an act of faith to say I can’t make myself a better person on my own — without the help of Jesus Christ. And yet that is precisely the message of the Gospel we read today.
A few weeks ago, I was driving around town, and I noticed several people burning dead branches in their yards. Between January 15th to May 1st in Massachusetts, we have something called “the burning season”. You can go to town hall, get a permit and burn all the dead branches, and brush and other debris left by winter storms.
Jesus is telling us life is like the burning season. God gives us a choice. Go it alone… wrap ourselves in pride to the point where we whither — folded in on ourselves — no longer connected to the sap and marrow of Christ’s love. Dry and unable to produce fruit. Fit only as fuel for the fire.
Or we can remain in Jesus Christ. We can rely upon his grace and live a life that produces good things. A life that is rich in joy and abundant in blessing. A life that can weather the storms of disappointment and suffering. A life always connected to Christ and rooted in God the Father.