I am the Vine you are the Branches

Do Everything in Christ

This Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:1-8), Jesus depicts himself as the true vine and God the Father as the vine grower. He calls us to ‘remain in him’ and if we do, he promises that we will ‘bear much fruit’.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), a Carmelite in Dijon, France reflected on this Gospel:

“”Remain in Me.” It is the Word of God who gives this order, expresses this wish. Remain in Me, not for a few moments, a few hours which must pass away, but “remain…” permanently, habitually, Remain in Me, pray in Me, adore in Me so that you may be able to encounter anyone or anything; penetrate further still into these depths. This is truly the “solitude into which God wants to allure the soul that He may speak to it,” as the prophet sang [Hos 2:14/2:16].

In order to understand this very mysterious saying, we must not, so to speak, stop at the surface, but enter ever deeper into the divine Being through recollection. “I pursue my course,” exclaimed St Paul [Phil. 3:12]; so must we descend daily this pathway of the Abyss which is God; let us slide down this slope in wholly loving confidence. “Abyss calls to abyss” [Ps 42:8/42:7]. It is there in the very depths that the divine impact takes place, where the abyss of our nothingness encounters the Abyss of mercy, the immensity of the all of God. There we will find the strength to die to ourselves and, losing all vestige of self, we will be changed into love.”

–  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, I Have Found God

I am the Vine you are the Branches
I am the Vine you are the Branches

Remain. In Latin, manere means “to stay”. re means “again”, or “revert back to”. Therefore Re-manere can signify “to stay again”. Or, to return to where you are.

We live in a society that encourages movement, of going somewhere, of doing something. But Jesus points not to going “out there”, but rather – and how Blessed Elizabeth understood – to be in Christ. “To be” is a state of existence. How that compares with what our culture often values – “to do”, which is merely an action of the agent who is (be).

Jesus calls us to remain in Him. To ‘be’ in Him. Today, let us rest (remain) in Him, fully aware of the presence of Jesus in all that we ‘do’. That with Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, we may habitually ‘stay’ again in Christ:

  • remain in Christ
  • pray in Christ
  • adore in Christ
  • love in Christ
  • suffer in Christ
  • work in Christ
  • act in Christ
  • (you fill in the blank) in Christ

This gives a broader understanding to this Gospel admonition “Remain in me”. Let all that we do be in Christ, and find our lives prolific and fruitful, as God desires.

Unity With Christ will Transform Your Life – Pope Francis’ Regina Coeli address, 5th Sunday of Easter

The Release Latch

Reading a reflection by Father Vincent Nagle, he tells of a scuba diver going in the water at high-tide and soon found himself unable to make any progress toward a cove. Rather, he was hurled again and again against the rocks. Try as he might the diver could not free himself from the force of the current and could neither go forward nor turn back. He was too laden down with gear and not willing to let it go. There he remained, dashed against the rocks until another diver went in and pulled the release latch, freeing the struggling diver from his gear sending it to the bottom. They both reached safety together.

All of us are laden down with ‘stuff’ that keeps us from progressing. We long to have lasting relationships, deeper faith; to live good and holy lives.

What gets in our way?

Where is the release lever in our lives that frees us so we can make our way to safety? How are we freed so to reach toward what is important? How long will we let ourselves be dashed against the rocks, unwilling to let go of our habits, our possessions, our old self ? We must come to a point and realize we need someone to help us pull the release latch that keeps us weighed down in our ‘stuff’.

It is Holy Week. It is time to let go of the past and to walk in freedom with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Jesus walked to Jerusalem to bear the burden for us.

Will we let him pull the lever? Will we let Him take our burden upon himself and choose in our new freedom to follow him?

It is time to choose.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842


Patient Waiting, Undying Hope

Each year when we begin our preparation for Christmas with the season of Advent, we listen to an instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem:

“We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

– Office of Readings, 1st Sunday of Advent

These words mark the anticipation of the Christian life. We sit between two comings of Christ, and, St Cyril reminds us, when the Lord comes again, it will not be clothed in silence in a manger. At the second coming, there will be no mistake that the Lord is here. But in our waiting for that day that only the Father knows, what is our attitude of waiting?

Jesus tells us what our attitude should be like. When the disciples questioned him about the signs that the end was near, Jesus responded, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-33, 35-37)

vigilance copyThe first disciples of Jesus thought that the Lord would return in their lifetime. They committed all their resources to getting the word out, proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. As one Disciple after another began to die, it made them wonder, where is the Messiah? Isn’t He coming back soon? Urgency turned to hesitancy. Many possibly returned to their previous lives. Their vigilance turned its energies to ordinary tasks.

To think, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah’s return for not quite two thousand years. And, a general pattern follows that after a period of complacency, believers find themselves persecuted and must choose whether what they believe is worth dying for. We see many signs that any hope for the return of Christ is fading from our cultural memory. The memory is clouded with a sense of urgency for what is not eternal. Eternal seems so far a way, like an old fairy tale. But it is not a fairy tale and the words of Jesus are words for our generation:

“Be watchful! Be alert!…Watch!”

To have such a capacity comes from a life formed by prayer and worship. For these require discipline which also prepares the heart for hardship and difficult choices. Do we have such an attitude that will sustain our waiting? Are we willing to wait in patience and vigilance, without letting hope of His coming die in our hearts?

Come Lord Jesus! Come soon!

Always a Way Back to God

I’ve seen this video before, Lifehouse’s Everything Skit, and it always touches a cord in me, so I am sharing it with you (please click picture to watch):

Like all of us, the young woman has life breathed into her by God, created for intimacy with Him. And so starts out our own human existence, innocent and playful, intimate…but somewhere, we fall into various traps: the skit portrays the traps (temptations) of lust, avarice, alchoholism, vanity, depression, despair, which can lead to suicide. The skit was designed to pull at the emotions: the music is hauntingly beautiful, the words could be a love letter from us to our beloved. It is meant to make us question, “what is my ‘Everything’?” and “What are the traps that bind me, keeping me from the One who loves me as I am?”.

One viewer of the skit observed: “The skit itself bothers me as it portrays Jesus at one point as being powerless to intervene. Come on, this is the Second Person of the Trinity, God Himself, and he is powerless to stop what is happening?”

Watching the story unfold, it does seem as though Jesus is powerless, no? One moment He is dancing with his creation, and at some point lust pulls her away from this union; and with it, her created innocence. In real life, this happens, but in much more subtle ways. Most of the time full-blown sin enters the soul by seemingly innocent curiosity… wanting to fit in, or the surrounding culture says tells us a television show or activity isn’t harmful. And by this very curiosity the soul lets down its guard and opens a window that allows something else (fill in the blank) be entertained. In the Gospels when Jesus says ‘one cannot have two masters’ (Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24), this wisdom is applicable to more than money and greed; whenever we make a choice to compromise just a little bit, we open the window just a little wider for something other than God to enter in, and in doing so, we let ourselves walk away from that union with our Creator that we were designed for. Each time we lower our standards, or tell ourselves, ‘just this time’, we create another barrier between us and that perfect union with God. The helplessness portrayed by Jesus, as the girl goes from one temptation to another is the result of the gift of our free will. He has made us free to choose, so in a way, we make Jesus powerless to help us when we choose a lifestyle contrary to His love.

The way back begins with a decision that we need God first and foremost in our lives, but it isn’t a magic trick that corrects itself automatically (although I do not rule out Divine intervention through special grace in some cases – I know this occurs). It requires our determination and will to return, or convert. Convert – the Latin convertere – means, “to turn around, transform”. What we see happening in the skit when the girl throws down the gun and starts trying to get back to Jesus, is this process of conversion taking place. It is a struggle of the will trying to overcome learned behavior – including how her mind and body have learned to respond to stimuli – takes a lot of her own effort. The skit shows her moving back and forth between different indulgences she’s experienced, as they ‘rear their ugly heads’ to again keep her from the One person who will shut them out for good. Just as it takes a soul a long time from that first instant she entertained a small step away from her union with God, so it takes a soul quite a bit of effort to put the acquired vices and sin behind her, and be free. She falls and fails, she gets up and tries again, until eventually, the hold of the old temptations on her life are less and less a threat to her goal – her renewed relationship with God. Seemingly, as in the skit, she has to go at it by herself, but true to scriptural teaching, she’s never alone.

There’s another important aspect conveyed in the skit. As she’s struggling, Jesus seems to be pulling her toward him by an imaginary rope. This pulling effect is the working of grace in our lives. Whenever we are struggling to overcome sin or vice, and call on God to help us, He comes to our aid. Our problems do not miraculously disappear, but there is a hidden resolve or strength that keeps us from giving up. This is grace at work. This is why people who are struggling to overcome addictions and vice need to ask for prayer, and to stay close to the Sacraments. The simplest definition of a Sacrament is ‘an outward sign of an inward grace’. Thus, when we partake in the Sacraments – especially Reconciliation/Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion on a regular basis – we receive spiritual help and support to strengthen us in the daily battle to grow in holiness and continual conversion. Little by little we find the hold of our vices and addictions on our lives less and less, as we slowly reunite ourselves with the One we were created for.

La Madonna Nera

In honor of Our Lady of Czestochova – the Black Madonna, her feast day is celebrated today:

In Italy, she is referred to with reverence as La Madonna Nera (the Black Madonna), and there is a song that has been floating around in my head all day. I’ve embedded it below for your listening pleasure.


Feast Day: August 26I’ve translated the words of the song:


There is a land most silent

where everyone wants to return to,

to a land and a sweet face

upon which lies two signs of violence;

an intense gaze full of compassion

that asks you to entrust

your life and your world into her hands.


Madonna, Black Madonna, how sweet it is to be your child!

Oh, let it be, Black Madonna, that I may live close to you!

She is calm and reassuring, she frees you from evil because she always has a great heart for each of her children.

She enlightens your journey if you offer a bit of love, if every day you would speak this way of her. (Madonna…)


This world falling into darkness, what could it offer to all people? Only the face of a Mother could give a peace that is real.

We are seeking in your gaze to find that smile of the Lord that awakens a bit of good deep in the heart. (Madonna…)


With our world – as the song says – falling into darkness, what can it offer to us? Yet, God gave us His mother at the foot of the cross (John 19:27) in the words, “Ecce Mater Tua”. That is, “Here is your Mother”. We have recourse to her with our worries and concerns for our family and our world, and being the mother of the Lord, she certainly shares our concerns with her Son, interceding to Jesus on our behalf.
Mary, Madonna of Czestochova, Pray for us.