The analogy of plants that bear fruit that teach us about the spiritual life is a common theme in the Bible.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses His famous vine and branches teaching. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the disciples that He is the vine and all who follow Him are the branches, and the Father is the vine grower. All branches that fail to bear fruit will be cut off from the vine and thrown into the fire. All branches that do bear fruit are pruned by the Father so that more fruit can be borne. Jesus tells us that in order to bear fruit for the Father, we must remain in Him as branches stay attached to a vine. And if we do so, His words will continue to prune us so that we can bear fruit. 

This image is very famous and is simple enough to understand. Many of us understand that it is in Jesus that we can know, love, and serve God. However, there is a crisis of fruit being borne in the American church today. This is evident by the multitude of statistics surrounding the Catholic faithful participating in the Body of Christ (both the community and the Eucharist). Where is the disconnect?

It comes in our watered down version of what it means to remain in Jesus and to hear his Word. At some point in recent history, many Catholics have accepted the notion that a relationship with Jesus as simply: Jesus died and rose again for me, thus as long as I go to mass and refrain from sin as best I can (going to confession when appropriate), I have the license to live my life however I would like. While it is true that a life in Jesus gives us a life in freedom, it is not a free pass to do whatever we would like without sin. Rather, it is a freedom from sin so that we can do the will of the Father which encompasses so much more than not sinning. Yet many church communities are marked by many families who make the effort to go to mass each week, but aside from that, are reassured that this box has been checked and go about their lives without any understanding there is a deeper spiritual life waiting for them. 

How do we know that there is more? We have only to look at the words of this Sunday’s gospel. The vine grower (the Father) takes away the branches that do not bear fruit and prunes the branches that do. The branches that are taken away and burned are those that have no intention of remaining in Jesus. The branches that do bear fruit are faithful Christians who God desires to prune. Pruning occurs when branches (both good and bad) are cleared away to make room for more fruitful branches to grow. That means God intentionally invites good, faithful Christians to eliminate things from their life (EVEN GOOD THINGS), to make way for other, more fruitful branches to grow. This is the challenge of the rich young man. He follows all the commandments, but knows there is more. Jesus tries to bring him deeper into the spiritual life by pruning away the material goods in his life in exchange for greater spiritual goods to grow. Yet, he goes away sad. 

This is the state of our Church today. We are satisfied with a moralism of following the commandments (which is essential to the life of a Christian and bears fruit). However, we are too scared or ignorant of how to take the next step in our relationship with God. For more fruit to grow, we have to allow God to prune away even good things. This is what it means to imitate Jesus. This is what it means to bear good fruit. This is what it means to follow God’s will. God is waiting to replace the good temporal things in our life with great eternal things. It is up to us to listen to the will of God, and allow the pruning of the Father to take us deeper.