Every branch that does bear fruit, my Father prunes to make it bear even more (John 15:2)
The last few Words of Life have been concerned with some of the characteristic aspects of Christian love. Christian love urges us to action "not just words or mere talk, but something real and active." Christian love also produces fruit, and its fruitfulness depends not so much on what we do, as on how much we are united to Christ, like branches on a vine. We can he united to him if we live his word and love one another.
The fruits produced are for good, in the broadest sense of the word, and never compromised with evil.
Using the words of Paul, we can say, that "the fruit of the light consists in every goodness justice and truth", or that "the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, benevolence, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self control.
As well as interior fruits of spiritual growth and maturity in freedom and love, there are external fruits like conversions and the communion of goods, or anything else which brings an increase of justice, brotherhood, and peace in the world. The apostle James writes: "Peacemakers ... sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness."
This month's Word of Life "Every branch that does bear fruit my Father prunes to make it bear even more", introduces a new element.
From John's gospel we see that this new element,"pruning" means primarily persecution, or anything a Christian suffers because he is a Christian and behaves like one. "If the world hates you, know that it first hated me," Jesus continues, "They persecuted me, and they will also persecute you."
Any difficulty, any negative experience, or anything which causes us to suffer, can be taken as "pruning".
A Christian bears fruit, but can also experience futility and failure. He may come up against ingratitude, misunderstanding, hostility, and the criticism of others, or find himself alone and deserted by his friends. He can suffer terrible disappointment seeing people let him down, or turning their backs on him. And at times he finds it difficult to build unity even with people who share the same ideal.
He may be deceived or oppressed. If he is made worthy of suffering for Christ he may find himself in prison, or lose his job, and be libelled and slandered. Illness may cut him down at the height of his activity, and leave him immobile. He may experience old age, weakness, anguish, the feeling of being limited and unable to do certain things. He has to reckon with all kinds of temptations.
These are the things tailor-made to cut the legs from under us. The gospel here is affirming something which cannot be understood by unconventional logic: that all these can be taken as forms of "pruning" which, after the suffering which passes, produce a great abundance of fruit. What is essential is that they be firmly rooted in Jesus, since only he has succeeded in bringing all the negative things into the redemptive work.
When he speaks of his forthcoming passion, he compares himself to a germ of wheat, which brings fruit only if it decays and dies. He brings his infinite fruits through negative things. If we think of him, and especially in the moment when he suffers his mysterious "forsakenness" by the Father. we see that any "pruning" we have undergone is summed up by him: united to him, our suffering finds a new meaning in redemption and fruitfulness.
Every productive process which uses energy is never completely efficient, for part of the energy is wasted. When, however someone acts who is united to Christ, it is as though any lost energy is recuperated and fed back into the system. Evil does not come from God, but he uses it to do good.
It is up to each one of us to unite our sorrows to Jesus', and make them in this way as fruitful as his own. This is in fact the most important way of "abiding in Christ": believing just as Jesus did in the love of the Father, even while we are being "pruned", and responding to the love with which Jesus took up his cross, by taking up our own as well, out of love for him. Abiding in him while we endure "pruning" means abiding in him crucified and forsaken. This phrase assures us that we have the strength to do it.
The fruits which result are not only interior purification and inner maturity, which would be understandable enough. The fruits which are produced in this mysterious way which Jesus crucified has opened to us, are of many kinds, and ate so apparent that every time we are "pruned" we can expect with certainty, a more abundant harvest, in due course.