Vine and branches is Discipleship

04-29-2018HomiliesFr. Chad King

Today we are given such an insightful Gospel to help us grow in faith and our discipleship. Our Gospel is the well-known analogy Jesus uses to describe who God is, and who we are meant to be in relation. Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower, and you are the branches”. You and I are the branches, and if we remain in God, and God in us, we will bear much fruit. Jesus goes on in the Gospel to illustrate 2 kinds of branches- branches that bear fruit and those that do not. Today, I will describe these 2 branches, as well as the fruit that grows, and how this growth of fruit is the journey to true discipleship. To help highlight the growth, I will share a true story of a young man named Daniel. So, let us look at ourselves and examine if fruit is or is not growing in our lives, discover what this journey to discipleship really looks like, and reflect on how we still might need to grow.

Let us begin in our 2nd reading from the 1st letter of John. John testifies, “Beloved, if our hearts to not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask”. My brothers and sisters, how would you like to have such confidence in God that you receive from Him whatever you ask? Sounds amazing, right? Believe it or not, it is possible, if we, as the letter of John continues, “keep his commandments and do what pleases him”. We must keep his commandments and do what pleases him- take a look at your life- do you keep all His commandments and is all that you do pleasing to him? If not yet, that is what this growth in our journey to discipleship is all about. St. John testifies, as he also does in our Gospel, those that do keep his commandments remain in Him, and he in them. In fact, keeping God’s commandments is the first step to discipleship. Notice it is the first step, not the only step, to true discipleship.  Our Gospel also declares, those who do NOT keep God’s commandments, do not remain in Him, and thus the branch will not bear fruit, but will wither and die. All the branches that do not remain connected and receive nourishment from the vine, will die. Obviously, St. John is referring to mortal sin. Mortal sin is that sin which cuts ourselves off from God, and thus no grace, no life, can be flow to us, the branch.  And if a branch isn’t re-attached by the vine grower to the vine (through the Sacrament of Confession), then it’ll wither, die, and be thrown in the fire- a reference to hell and the eternal separation from God. My brothers and sisters, chances are, all of us are somewhere in the process of trying to always remain connected to the vine and not commit any mortal sins; while maybe only a few of us are always remaining connected and are continually receiving spiritual life from the vine.

Daniel is a young man who now is a construction worker in his late 30’s. Daniel was baptized Catholic but never practiced or received any formation or other Sacraments. In fact, his parents, when Daniel was young, would hang out in bars and pool halls. In high school and into his 20’s, Daniel’s life was consumed by alcohol, drugs, and girls. However, some friends of his were Catholic and never missed Mass, no matter what city they were in, they’d go on Sunday.  One time, Daniel was in the car with his friend’s dad. He asked Daniel, do you know Jesus Christ? And because Daniel was only baptized as a baby, he never really had heard about Jesus. The dad went on to talk a little bit about who Jesus is, and said that God has given us an entire week, all that he wants is 1 hour. Unfortunately, although his friends never missed Church on Sunday, as Daniel testified, they would back to Hell on Monday.    

I’ll continue with Daniel’s story in a little bit, but now let me describe ways that a branch does stay connected to the vine. Our Gospel from John is part of Jesus’ discourse during the Last Supper. If you recall, John doesn’t include the words of institution of the Eucharist- this is my body, this is my blood- but instead John gives a lengthy account of what is essentially, the purpose and effect of the Eucharist. It is during the Last Supper, in the context of Jesus passing the disciples the chalice filled with ‘fruit of the vine’, that Jesus uses this analogy of the vine and the branches to teach us. The disciples must have understood the Eucharist, receiving Jesus’s Body and Blood, will nourish us and allow the branches to remain in Him and He in them. Indeed, the Eucharist is how we abide in Him and fruit grows in us.

However, the Eucharist every Sunday is not all that we have to do, even though Daniel’s friends didn’t quite understand that. In fact, if we, the branches, are to bear fruit, not only do we have to remain in Him but we have to be pruned. Jesus says to his disciples, “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you”. The disciples spent years listening to Jesus’ every word and reflected on them. Therefore, if we are not reading and reflecting on God’s word and letting Him reveal himself to us in prayer, then we cannot remain in Him and He in us. Jesus is the vine and source of nourishment, and we are the branches.  In fact, Jesus says that apart from Him, we can do nothing. Therefore, if we are not taking time in prayer every day then we cannot remain in Him and He in us. And notice that being in God and He in us is different than us being with God and God with us. To be in, is different than being with. If we are not humbly giving ourselves to Him every day in prayer, then we cannot expect to be in Him, led by Him, or do what is pleasing to Him. And if we’re not surrendering ourselves in prayer every day, then who is really Lord of our lives?

After only occasionally going to Mass with his friends, one day Daniel, after he got into a major fight, had a bleed in his brain and needed surgery. After the successful surgery, Daniel told his friends that he wanted more of God and needed to be Confirmed- something he had heard about from them. So, he went through the RCIA classes and became Catholic, because he thought it would set him right. And although he learned some of the prayers, he never fostered a relationship with Jesus or a prayer life. He would go to confession, but soon after fall back into the alcohol, drugs, and women. After years of going good for a little but then falling again, he grew more and more frustrated, because seemingly no one, not even God, helped. He thought his problems was the fault of others- his parents, his friends. No one was there to hold him accountable. His friends didn’t help, because they really couldn’t, as they themselves were not fully helped or living rightly. He started to question why- why he was never staying sober, and why he kept going back into all that bad stuff. Finally, one-night Daniel was fed up. He stripped himself of everything, for he had had enough. And there, in the cold and darkness, he had a profound encounter with Jesus, one that I cannot describe in justice. Jesus filled him with such amazing peace and love, and told him in his heart, ‘from now I am holding you accountable, you cannot do it on your own, but I will help. I want you to come to receive me every day’. Daniel knew that day was the end of his old life, and God would take away his addictions. Daniel started going to daily Mass, and praying every day, by doing so God was pruning Daniel and preparing for the fruit to grow in his life.

My friends, through prayer God will reveal what needs to be pruned in our lives too. If you have ever gardened, you know that to prune a fruitful branch is to cut off that which is excess, so that only what remains will get all of the nourishment from the vine. If there is a lot of unnecessary excess on the branch, then the less nourishment it’ll receive and the less fruit that can grow. This is where a lot of sacrifice is required in our lives. If we are to bear much fruit, not only must we rid all sin out of our lives, but we must also allow ourselves to be pruned. Keep in mind, what is excess in us might not be bad or harmful in itself, but too much of it is not healthy either. If we spend our lives watching too much tv, for example, or anything else that we might do too much of, then we won’t have time to be better formed- we’ll have less time to pray, to read, to study. Brethren, the more we fast, and sacrifice the unnecessary excess from our lives, the more we become better formed in our faith, then the more fruit will grow.  The fruit that grows in us, the branches, are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Gal. 5:22 describes the “fruit of the Holy Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. Therefore, if you can use more of those fruits to grow in your life, take a look at what excess needs to be pruned, and let God into all that you do- the good and the bad, so that God can prune us and the fruit can grow to full maturity.

Our Gospel concludes, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is my father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples”. My brothers and sisters, if we remain in Him and He in us every day, then all that we want will be what He wants. Our hearts and our wills will be united to His, and so, we can ask for whatever, and it will be done for us, because we remain in Him and He in us. And that is how we bear fruit and truly know that we are his disciple. Daniel was asked- if you could ask God anything you wanted, and you knew God would answer, what would you ask? After thinking about it for almost a full minute, Daniel answered- ‘I talk to God all the time. I pray every day and I keep him with me all throughout the day. I ask him things all day long- should I do this or not. Is this how you want it Lord- even the small things. I know God is in me every day, and he always answers me- it might not be right then, sometimes it is, but God always answers. So, I don’t need anything because I know He is leading me all the time’. May you and I learn to know and say the same. May we become his disciples and our lives bear much fruit for the good of others.  

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