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Archbishop Follo: The True Vine of Love

With the wish to understand that if we stay united to Christ, true Vine, we will give fruits of love and life in peace.

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Roman Rite – Fifth Easter Sunday – Year B – April 29, 2018
Acts 9, 26-31; Ps 22; 1 Jn 3: 18-24; Jn 15: 1-8
Ambrosian Rite
Acts 7, 2-8. 11-12a. 17. 20-22. 30-34. 36-42a. 44-48a. 51-54; Ps 118; 1Cor 2,6-12; Jn 17.1b-11
Fifth Easter Sunday
1) The real Vine[1].
Last Sunday, the Liturgy of the Church presented us Christ the good and true shepherd, today it presents Him as the true Vine.
In the Old Testament the vine, which was planted by Noah after the deluge, marked the beginning of an era. With the Song of Songs it became the symbol of the bride. This comparison was used by Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the Psalms to indicate the people of Israel as the bride of the Lord who often proved unfaithful.
In the New Testament, the apostle Saint John introduces a change of perspective. The vine is no longer the people of Israel, but Jesus himself. Therefore, the members of God’s people are in intimate and close relationship with the Son of God, who gives them the lifeblood.
In fact, in the Gospel written by the beloved disciple of Christ, the vineyard of God is no longer Israel, but the Son. Not only that, he also says that the vineyard consists of only one vine and that vine is Jesus himself. He is the true vine of the Father, He is the new Israel.
The true vine is the only one able to finally produce the expected fruits, which the Farmer was looking for in Israel.
The «true» vine is the one that produces fruit. This vine contrasts with the «false» and sterile vine, which does not produce fruit. Christ is the vine that produces the fruit of the love of the Father and of the brothers. His Son becomes the Son of Man, and Christ is the «true» vine that produces the fruit desired by God, the true grape: the sweet fruit which is love.
The Father-Farmer is not satisfied with a modest fruit, he is looking for much fruit. Christ, the true vine bears fruit [2] through us, the branches, if we stay in the trunk becoming capable of a gift of love bearing much fruit.
This is why the Father takes care of the vine, cutting off the useless branches and pruning the others. If it is the vine that gives life to the shoot, it is the Farmer who favors the vitality of the branch and its gift-giving capacity. We must allow ourselves to be pruned, that is to be purified by the wise and loving hands of the Father. Our perfection does not consist so much in striving demanding paths of the soul, but in abandoning ourselves in the hands of the Father, who makes fruitful our capacity to love.
If we pray every day God, loving Him, and we love our neighbor, sharing with our brothers the true bread and living of mutual love and mercy, our staying in Christ will be truly bearing fruits of true life on earth and in heaven.
2) Remaining in Christ.
As branches of the vine, it is essential for us to remain in Christ, to dwell in Him, to let ourselves be loved, to cling to Him and to His outstretched arms crucified by love. This is the plan of the Christian life.
To remain in Him does not mean inventing who knows what. It is simply to be crucified with Him, taking our daily cross.
To remain in Him is to stay where He leads us, in the concrete history of our everyday life that we are called to live aware that «without Him, we can do nothing» (cf. Jn 15: 5). To a man who asked him: «How is it possible to keep man’s freedom together with not being able to do anything without God?», John the Prophet, who lived in the Gaza desert in the fifth century, replied: «If man inclines his heart towards the good and asks God for help, he receives the necessary strength to carry out his work. Therefore, the freedom of man and the power of God proceed together. This is possible because good comes from the Lord, but it is accomplished thanks to his faithful (cf. Ep. 763, SC 468, Paris 2002, 206). The true «remaining» in Christ guarantees the efficacy of prayer, as Blessed Guerric d’Igny writes: «O Lord Jesus … without you, we cannot do anything. You are the true gardener, creator, cultivator and guardian of your garden that you plant with your word, irrigate with your spirit, and grow with your power «(Sermo ad excitandam devotionem in psalmodia, SC 202, 1973, 522).
To remain is a gift to be asked in order not to detach us from Him, Love that becomes our home. If we do not ask, if we are not beggars of Love, we cannot receive it as a gift.
To remain in him, growing in the awareness to live in this house and cultivating the feeling of gratitude because a grateful heart is a faithful heart, pleased to be loved by God, to love the brothers, and to be a friend of Christ, who does not wants servants but friends. Being a friend of Jesus means accepting his person, it means accepting his love for us, it means loving him and loving our neighbor.
A special example of this acceptance of Christ and of this adherence to him is that of the consecrated Virgins. These women are called to be witnesses in the world of the faithfulness of God who is the guardian of theirs.
They are faithful to the Word addressed to them by God from the day of baptism and that over time has taken the form of a call to live the Christian vocation in the particular form of virginal consecration.
They are faithful as brides to their Spouse because the characteristic of the consecrated of the Ordo Virginum is to live their being brides of Christ in the vigilant custody of the promise of Jesus: «Yes, I come soon!» (Rev 22:20) and to be a voice that, in the gratuitousness, responsibility and pure freedom of relationships, shouts to the Church and to the world: «Behold the Bridegroom! Go to meet him «(Mt 25: 6).
Faithful to Christ, the women of Ordo Virginum are bearers of the Word of the Beloved. It is from the ever faithful love of God that they draw strength in persevering in the embrace of their virginity for the Kingdom of heaven (Mt 19, 12) and committing themselves to live every day with authenticity and concreteness the Love that manifests the face of God.
Just as Christ remains in the love of God the Father, so these disciples, wisely pruned by the word of the Master (cf. Jn 15: 2-4) loved virginally as Spouse, remain in Christ as fruitful branches that produce abundant harvest. In fact, the dedication to the meditation of the Sacred Scripture and to prayer is not experienced by them as a withdrawal into themselves, but as an enlargement of the heart to embrace the whole of humanity, especially the one that suffers (cf. Pope Francis, Vultum Dei quaerere, n 16). Remaining firmly united to Christ as branches to the Vine, these consecrated women are also associated with his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary, who at the Cross remained united to the Son in the same total donation of love.
Patristic reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 – 430)
Tractate LXXX
On Jn 15:1-3

1. This passage of the Gospel, brethren, where the Lord calls Himself the vine, and His disciples the branches, declares in so many words that the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,1 is the head of the Church, and that we are His members. For as the vine and its branches are of one nature, therefore, His own nature as God being different from ours, He became man, that in Him human nature might be the vine, and we who also are men might become branches thereof. What mean, then, the words, “I am the true vine”? Was it to the literal vine, from which that metaphor was drawn, that He intended to point them by the addition of “true”? For it is by similitude, and not by any personal propriety, that He is thus called a vine; just as He is also termed a sheep, a lamb, a lion, a rock, a corner-stone, and other names of a like kind, which are themselves rather the true ones, from which these are drawn as similitudes, not as realities. But when He says, “I am the true vine,” it is to distinguish Himself, doubtless, from that [vine] to which the words are addressed: “How art thou turned into sourness,2 as a strange vine?”3 For how could that be a true vine which was expected to bring forth grapes and brought forth thorns?4
2. “I am,” He says, “the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away; and every one that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” Are, then, the husbandman and the vine one? Christ is the vine in the same sense as when He said, “The Father is greater than I;”5 but in that sense wherein He said, “I and myFather are one,” He is also the husbandman. And yet not such a one as those, whose whole service is confined to external labor; but such, that He also supplies the increase from within. “For neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” But Christ is certainly God, for the Word was God; and so He and the Father are one: and if the Word was made flesh,-that which He was not before,-He nevertheless still remains what He was. And still more, after saying of the Father, as of the husbandman, that He taketh away the fruitless branches, and pruneth the fruitful, that they may bring forth more fruit, He straightway points to Himself as also the purger of the branches, when He says, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Here, you see, He is also the pruner of the branches-a work which belongs to the husbandman, and not to the vine; and more than that, He maketh the branches His workmen. For although they give not the increase, they afford some help; but not of themselves: “For without me,” He says, “ye can do nothing.”’ And listen, also, to their own confession: “What, then, is Apollos, and what is Paul but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apollos watered.” And this, too, “as the Lord gave to every man;” and so not of themselves. In that, however, which follows, “but God gave the increase,”6 He works not by them, but by Himself; for work like that exceeds the lowly capacity of man, transcends the lofty powers of angels, and rests solely and entirely in the hands of the Triune Husbandman. “Now ye are clean,” that is, clean, and yet still further to be cleansed. For, had they not been clean, they could not have borne fruit; and yet every one that beareth fruit is purged by the husbandman, that he may bring forth more fruit. He bears fruit because he is clean; and to bear more, he is cleansed still further. For who in this life is so clean as not to be in need of still further and further cleansing? seeing that, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness;” to cleanse in very deed the clean, that is, the fruitful, that they may be so much the more fruitful, as they have been made the cleaner.
3. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Why does He not say, Ye are clean through the baptism wherewith ye have been washed, but “through the word which I have spoken unto you,” save only that in the water also it is the word that cleanseth? Take away the word, and the water is neither more nor less than water. The word is added to the element, and there results the Sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word. For He had said also to the same effect, when washing the disciples’ feet, “He that is washed needeth not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.”7 And whence has water so great an efficacy, as in touching the body to cleanse the soul, save by the operation of the word; and that not because it is uttered, but because it is believed? For even in the word itself the passing sound is one thing, the abiding efficacy another. “This is the word of faith which we preach,” says the apostle, “that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shall be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”8 Accordingly, we read in the Ac of the Apostles, “Purifying their hearts by faith;”9 and, says the blessed Peter in his epistle, “Even as baptism doth also now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer10 of a good conscience.” “This is the word of faith which we preach,” whereby baptism, doubtless, is also consecrated, in order to its possession of the power to cleanse. For Christ, who is the vine with us, and the husbandman with the Father, “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” And then read the apostle, and see what he adds: “That He might sanctify it, cleansing it with the washing of water by the word.”11 The cleansing, therefore, would on no account be attributed to the fleeting and perishable element, were it not for that which is added, “by the word.” This word of faith possesses such virtue in the Church of God, that through the medium of him who in faith presents, and blesses, and sprinkles it, He cleanseth even the tiny infant, although itself unable as yet with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and to make confession with the mouth unto salvation. All this is done by means of the word, whereof the Lord saith, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”
1 1Tm 2,5
2 Hebrew ynDm, pass. part. of rDm, to depart [from God], and so, perhaps, “stragglers,” i.e. “straggling branches of [a strange vine];” or, as in English version, “degenerate branches,” rather than as in text, where Augustin gives, in amaritudinem, vitis aliena, following the LXX., which reads, “ajllotriva.” The Vulgate is better: in pravum, vinea aliena.-Tr.
3 Jr 2,21
4 Is 5,4
5 Chap. 14,28.
6 1Co 3,5-7
7 Chap. 13,10.
8 Rm 10,10
9 Ac 15,9
10 Literally, “questioning,” interrogatio, 1P 3,21.
11 Ep 5,25-26
[1] Seven (and seven is not a random number because it indicates fullness) are the images that Jesus brings to the expression «I am», revealing a particular dimension of himself: I am the bread of life (Jn 6:35), I am the light of the world (Jn 8,12), I am the door of the sheep (Jn 10,7), I am the good shepherd (Jn 10,11), I am the resurrection and the life (Jn 11,15) , I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14: 6), I am the true vine (Jn 15: 1).
[2] For seven times the Chapter 15 of the Gospel of John repeats the expression bear fruit: three times in 15.2 and then

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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