‘Remain in me’

At the Last Supper, Jesus warned His apostles, "Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me." It is important to recognize the context in which these words were spoken, for in a few hours the soldiers would take Jesus away, and by the next evening, Our Lord would be scourged, crucified and laid in a tomb. These would be His last moments to offer His apostles strength for His coming Passion and death.

"Remain in me," He said. Likely, the apostles did not know what He meant. As the Gospels show us, they were unclear with how the divinity of Jesus would take place in this world , despite the teaching of Our Lord and the prophets before Him. We cannot judge them for their slowness to understand, for never before had God become man to dwell among us. They needed time with Our Risen Lord, as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to help them further understand the reality of the Son of God. Only then could they begin to grasp what Jesus meant when He said, "Remain in me."

We are the blessed recipients of an understanding that began with the apostles, and continues through centuries of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the church. Having received this understanding, we know that Jesus is the source of our grace, and to remain in Him is to remain in that grace, to allow it to strengthen us and transform us and lead us to conversion and holiness.

Jesus Christ ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. On a natural level, it seems impossible to remain in Him given that distance. Yet on a supernatural level, we know it is possible to remain in Him, for Jesus told us before He ascended into heaven, "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (cf. Mt 28:20). Taking Him at His word, we come to realize that not only is remaining in Jesus possible, but it is absolutely necessary.

Jesus commands us to remain in Him at the Last Supper where He instituted the Eucharist. In this we recognize how His Body and Blood are a vital source of our remaining in Him, for every time we worthily receive Our Lord in the Eucharist we are intimately united with Him. In receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we strive not only to be united with Him, but also to be transformed, that we may be made more like Him.

Prayer is also a necessary means of our remaining in Jesus, for through prayer we enter into conversation with Our Triune God. In prayer, our words, our thoughts and our hearts are brought into the presence of Our Lord. Prayer in adoration before the tabernacle or the exposed Eucharist in the monstrance brings us even closer to that union as we place ourselves in the physical presence of Jesus Christ.

The institution of the priesthood of Jesus Christ also took place at the Last Supper, and we see in the priesthood another means that Our Lord allows for His church to remain in Him. Like the Eucharist, each of the sacraments allows us to encounter the healing and transforming power of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest. In particular, we should frequently partake in the sacrament of reconciliation in which Jesus forgives us of sins that weaken and even break our union with Him.

Finally, St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us that the Spirit holds us to the vine that is Our Savior Jesus Christ (cf. Commentary on the Gospel of John, No. 10). We should always remember to pray to the Holy Spirit not only to unite us with Jesus Christ, but also to inspire us and guide us in all of our daily activities.

Our Lord warns us that without Him, we can do nothing. When we open our hearts through prayer and the sacraments, we are opening our hearts to living person of Jesus Christ, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. As we remain in Jesus Christ, we are led to encounter each person of the Trinity, who heals and restores us from sin and evil . Let us rejoice that Jesus makes Himself present in so many ways in our lives as Catholics, and may we strive to grow as fruitful branches on the one vine, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015