My Dear Friends in Christ,
Last Sunday we saw how the figure of the shepherd, in so far as Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, has its roots in the Old Testament: Jesus fulfills the expectation of a good shepherd, who does not flee in the face of danger, as does a hired hand, but stays and lays down His life for the sheep.
This Sunday, we hear the same dynamic, through the image of the vineyard, which is best understood by meditating on Isaiah 5:1-7. This time the expectation is not by Israel, but by God: God expects a good vineyard that simply produces grapes. He planted a “valuable vine” on a “fertile hill”. He cleared the ground from the stones and took care of it, yet the vineyard produced only “sour grapes,” not good fruit.
This is the condition of humanity, which Jesus describes in this Sunday’s Gospel, when He says that without Him we can do nothing (Jn 15: 5). By itself, a vineyard cannot produce fruit at the height of God’s expectation, because humanity cannot live a life that is true and beautiful; it does not possess eternal life in itself. The fruit does not depend on our efforts, but on God’s grace and our cooperation with it.
What was missing in the vine of which Isaiah speaks? Did not God himself take care of it? In this vineyard Jesus was simply missing. This is why the Lord speaks of himself as the true vine (Jn 15:1), the one that finally bears the fruit that God expects, the one that lives the life of the Father. To this life, Jesus opens the doors, so that it is the life of every man and woman, and each person can share in it, just as a branch shares in the life of the vine.
Jesus emphasizes two particularities about this vineyard. The first is the experience of pruning: essential to producing fruit is to accept pruning: “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15:2). This pruning demands purity of heart and ongoing conversion. To bear fruit it is necessary to keep the life of the vine within itself, without anything else. Anything more, everything that is other than this, must be pruned. How does this purification, this pruning, happen? It comes about through God’s Word (Jn 15:3): whoever truly listens to it, abandons his gaze upon himself and others, and his heart becomes simple.
The second characteristic regards what it means to be simply oneself: a branch is itself, it is true, when it remains in the vine. We simply need to remain, a verb that recurs at least seven times in today’s selected text. In baptism, we were grafted on to the True Vine. New life was given to us as a gift. One enters the new life by grace, by the gift of Baptism that imparts the sap, the life of God, joins us to the Church. But it is up to us to remain there, not to lose ourselves looking for life elsewhere: Jesus says that whoever does not remain, is thrown away and “dried” (Jn 15:6), namely, dies.
To sustain us on our journey, Jesus gives us the sacraments. In penance, we are “pruned” and restored to the True Vine. In the Holy Eucharist, we are nourished. Over the past two weekends around 120 young people received Holy Communion for the first time. They, and, we, need to abide in God’s love, especially through the Sacrament of Charity.
Whoever remains in His love lives in a truly full way, the same life of God: with Him he shares the same feelings, the same way of thinking, the same gaze on things in life, the same love with which to love everyone. For this reason, he can ask anything (Jn 15:7), because he will ask only this new and risen life, a life of communion with God and with all others.
The model for all disciples of this abiding in God’s love is Mary, the Mother of God. May is a special month for honoring her. We will have our parish May Crowning on May 4th at 6:30 PM, and it will be followed by a concert featuring world-renowned musician, Eric Genuis, in church to benefit the Seranelli Project, which seeks to assist those who have been incarcerated to successfully re-enter society. We hope that you and your families can join us for all or part of the evening.
The Holy Father has also asked us to pray the Rosary each day of May for an end to the pandemic. Even as I write this bulletin, my aunt, uncles, and cousins in India are reporting how the whole subcontinent is suffering greatly with a new strain, with four days in a row of record high numbers of COVID cases. Let us ask our Lady, Health of the Sick, to come to the assistance of humanity and help us to experience the life in abundance that comes from Christ alone.