He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. (John 15:5)
This month's Word of Life tells of the power, effectiveness and fruitfulness of Christian love.
The most striking thing which it tells us is that the quality of fruits produced depends not so much on the amount of work we do, or on how much wealth we distribute, but rather on another, unexpected, unpredictable factor, which is not measurable in human terms. This other factor is expressed in the words of Jesus: "He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit".
This is not the only important element in Christian love, for love also urges us to use all our individual and collective resources, but it is so important and essential that Jesus adds: "for apart from me you can do nothing".
In trying to understand what exactly is meant by "abiding in" Jesus, we come face to face with the mysterious but very real way in which we belong to Christ, In John's gospel Jesus says we are like branches on a vine, and Paul uses a comparison with the human body: we are all members of Christ like the members of the body. Because of this reality we Christians, through faith and baptism, enter a living organism, animated by one Spirit and nourished by one food, in which we are members of Christ and members of one another.
We cannot share in the power with which he freed us without belonging to him. No human force is capable of raising someone from death to eternal life, or capable of making us sons of God, and no human force can free us from sin and its consequences. Since by sin we mean here all the world's material and spiritual evils, be they individual or collective, we can say that membership of Christ is the essential condition for man's complete and authentic liberation.
Apart from reminding us of these supernatural realities so that we may accept them and believe them with infinite gratitude, these words commit us to action, to make sure we abide in him. In the same part of the gospel Jesus says that among the branches on the vine there are those which bear no fruit. These are cut down and thrown away, along with the dead branches. It is not enough to belong in a passive way, through the grace we have received, but we must respond actively and commit ourselves.
What must we do in practical terms, to remain in him, and bear fruit in plenty? Jesus goes on to explain, in the same part of the gospel, with these words: "abide in me ... abide in my love ... If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love ... This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you".
Jesus asks us three things, which are really one. The first is to abide in his love; this love means above all a personal relationship with him of deeper and deeper communion, prayer and conversation.
The second thing he asks is to keep his commandments, by living his words, learning them and remembering them, feeling them spoken in our hearts at any time of the day, whatever we are doing. Jesus says: "if you abide in me and my words abide in you..."
The third thing he asks is the summary of all his commandments: that we must love each other in the most intense and complete way possible, and love just as he loved us, to the point of giving our lives for our friends. If we form one body with Christ, it is logical that the life of this body is mutual love, which unites us more and more with Christ and with one another. This last thing must be stressed for it is the social dimension of abiding in Christ, which has often been omitted and overlooked by Christians, although Christ strongly emphasises and repeats it.
Remaining in him means more than simply drawing from his life through the sacraments, and remaining united with him through prayer: it means above all living the word and loving one another.
Since this is the essential condition for making our lives bear fruit we must put it before everything else.
And so before getting down to work, or planning anything, we must make sure that this is our first priority, and from time to time during the day whatever we are doing, make sure that we are living what is essential. And if we realise that we are living the word half-heartedly, or that we have stopped all together, we should give some time to rebuilding our unity with Jesus, renewing our faithfulness to his word, and starting to love one another again.
If we complain about the poor yield of fruits, and the lack of incision of Christ's message in society, this is because abiding in him is not, as it should be, our first priority.
In fact our faith and our experience have given us the certainty that wherever the word of God is lived, and wherever mutual love is the first priority among Christians, there are fruits, and much more than the people involved had ever expected or intended. It causes surprise, and we become certain that apart from anything we have done, someone else has produced the fruits: Jesus, who we were trying to keep present among us.