REMINDER: Today is our final Mass on campus of the semester, at 4:00pm. After Mass this afternoon, there will be no Credo discussion. Instead, we will have a reception to celebrate Jackie Perez's First Holy Communion, as well as a farewell to Rebecca Romo, who is graduating this Saturday. Please join us. Also, remember that the Catholic Student Center and Chapel will be open all next week if you need a quiet place to pray or space to relax during exams.
Jesus today calls Himself the vine, and we who would be His followers the branches. The meaning of His metaphor would have been apparent to those in the agricultural society of His time, as it is to anyone today who has done a bit of gardening. If a branch is cuff off from the vine from which it is growing, it will wither and die. The same is true with us. If we want to continue to live in Christ we must remain connected to Him. Only then will we grow and bear fruit.
What fruit? The Catechism, quoting from Gal. 5:22-23, says, "He who grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear 'the fruit of the Spirit... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.'" Can anyone imagine a soul in heaven lacking in any of these? Can you imagine an unfaithful person in heaven? Or being in heaven and having no peace, or no joy? These are the characteristics of the saints, and we can achieve them not only in heaven, but in this world, as well, so long as we remain grafted onto the true vine of Christ.
The important question then becomes, how do we remain in Christ? Is it enough to belong to a church? To go to Mass on Sundays? To read the Bible every now and then and try to be kind to people? These are good things, but they are not enough on their own. Most of us, I imagine, know plenty of people who go to church, read the Bible, and lack many of the fruits of the Spirit. Perhaps they lack self-control. Perhaps they lack patience. Perhaps they lack love. They may be like a branch that has been partially torn from the vine. It still hangs on, receiving some life from the vine but it is withering and will die unless it is grafted back on. (And perhaps this describes ourselves).
So how do we truly remain in Christ? In today's second reading (1 Jn 3:18-24), John says, "Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth... because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them." Believe in Jesus. Love one another. It sounds so simple, yet to follow this path takes perseverance. A "casual Christian" will not remain one for long.
There are some who believe in Jesus but fail in following His commands. They feel they don't need to change their habits of life because they believe in Jesus and that's all that matters. Yet Jesus clearly says, "Not all who say to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father" (Mt 7:21-23). The scriptures also say, "Even the demons believe, and tremble in terror" (Jas 2:19). Belief alone is no guarantee of holiness.
Nor is merely following the commandments sufficient. Some think that it is enough to simply be a loving person and to do good things. Many of us, no doubt, know people who are atheists or agnostics whom we would describe as "a good person." Maybe they even practice the corporal works of mercy better than many Christians we know, volunteering at the soup kitchen, helping to shelter the homeless, donating to charities, and always lending a helping hand to their neighbors. Yet, as we read last Sunday, there is no salvation through anyone else but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). We cannot save ourselves.
Jesus is clear in today's gospel. "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). We are incapable of loving as we ought without God for one simple reason; God is love. Therefore any act of love we perform, if it is loving at all, is a participation in the love of God -- even if we do not recognize it at the time. But to grow in love we must grow closer to God, the source of love. Trying to love without God is like trying to swim without water, or trying to breathe without air.
To love without believing is to be a social worker, not a saint. To believe without loving is to be a Pharisee, not a saint. To be a saint, to be one abiding in Christ, we must believe and love. How do we know if we are succeeding in these things? Because the fruits that are born by a life in Christ begin to be apparent. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These gifts will manifest in your life to the extent that you abide in Christ, and He in you. If you examine your life and find them absent, it may well be that you lack in your belief or your love. What to do then? Do not despair, and do not be afraid, but rely on Christ. For He knows that none of us can believe or love perfectly without Him. Ask for His help. Pray for an increase of faith and love in your life. Pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be made manifest in you. And be ready for what comes.
Jesus lets us know that sometimes the vine grower has to prune a branch so that it will bear more fruit. Perhaps you and I need a little pruning now and then to help us perfect our faith and our love. Pray today that God will prune away from your life anything preventing you from believing and loving perfectly, so that you may grow in Christ and know the comfort of the fruits of the Spirit in your heart.