5th Sunday of Easter-April 28, 2024

I was in the second year of Seminary in Colombia when a cousin of mine who was a priest came back from Italy. He had been there earning a degree in Spirituality. Upon his return he came to teach at the seminary and became my teacher. My classmates told me that I would have it easy in his classes. They assumed that I would pass the classes simply because I was his cousin. Just the opposite was true. I put more effort into his classes because I respected him, and I wanted to earn a good grade on my own merit.

I recalled this part of my seminary years this week as I reflected on today’s readings. The Lord in the gospel tells, maybe even begs, his disciples to remain in him. And Saint John in his first letter tells us exactly the way to remain in him: by keeping the Lord’s commandments. The disciples needed to obey the Lord’s commandments to remain in his love and grace. They could not have taken their relationship with the Lord for granted. They were the Lord’s closest friends, but they were not automatically in the loop of his love. It was through their free will that they assented and acted to remain in the Lord.

This is something very important in our Christian life. God always remains in us; God cannot stop loving us. It is us who, by our lack of faith, may interrupt for a moment the reception of that love. God knows that by our free will we have the option of not remaining in the loop of his love and grace. The Lord seems to beg his disciples to remain in him. The truth is that the story of salvation in the Old Testament is a continued pleading of God to the people of Israel to remain in his love, precisely by obeying God’s commandments.  

Now, the teaching of Saint John in his letter about how to remain in God is very important in our spiritual life. It is by keeping God’s commandments that we remain in him. In this life we are motivated to obey by two reasons: love or fear. God desires that we obey him based on love. Going back to my hard work in my cousin’s classes, I did it out of love and respect for him. It was part of my character and my desire for academic improvement. I never did it out of fear of bad grades or for fear of my cousin reporting a bad grade to my parents. The Lord’s disciples remain in the Lord by keeping his commandments, and out of love for him.

The Lord uses the beautiful image of the vine and the branches to teach us about several important things in the spiritual life of his disciples. The Lord starts by saying that he is the “true vine”. By this he is saying that in this world we have the option of seeking meaning, truth, love, and transcendence in many things such as wealth, power, and pleasure. However, those ‘vines’ are imperfect, unable to satisfy our thirst for meaning and truth, for love and transcendence for good. Ony God can do that. That is why the Lord is the true vine. The Lord alone can give us eternal life.

A branch exists to produce grapes. Similarly, the reason for being a disciple of the Lord is to produce good works. Branches that do not bear fruit are taken away. Disciples that do not bear the fruit of good works are also cut off from the vine. As I stated earlier, we are the ones who have the choice of not accepting the vine’s nourishment and of not bearing fruit. Let us always choose to remain in the Lord by keeping his commandments. We accept the vine’s nourishment each day when we take in the Word of God. We learn from him and better understand what it means to live out the Lord’s commandments. This way, we can keep them in our minds and in our actions. May the Lord grant us these graces.