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Lessons from the parable of the vine and the branches

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the celebration of Sister Maria Grace Dateno's Jubilee at the Sacred Heart of Mary Chapel at Marymount University in Arlington.

Our Savior Jesus Christ often speaks of the virtue of humility in the Gospels. He tells His disciples that if they are invited to a wedding feast, they are to take the lowest place, not the place of honor (cf. Lk 14:8-9). He gives us the example of the humble publican, who dares not raise his eyes to God as he humbly admits, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (cf. Lk 18:13). He offers the promises that "the humble shall be exalted" (Lk 18:14), and "the last will be first" (Mt 20:16).

As Christ's followers, we know that humility allows us to recognize our strengths as gifts of God and our weaknesses as conduits of His grace. Humility allows us to recognize our sinfulness and to ask for God's mercy. Humility makes us fit instruments for building up the Kingdom of God, for it is only when we are humble that we are able to place God's will above our own, and allow Him to guide us in doing His work.

Yes, humility is necessary for holiness, so it is no wonder that Jesus spoke of it so often. But He not only taught about humility; Our Savior lived it. In humility, He became man. In humility, He submitted His will to that of His Heavenly Father's. In humility, He gave Himself up to death, death on the cross.

If we look carefully at the analogy of the vine and the branches that Jesus offers in today's Gospel account, we see yet another example of Christ's humility. "I am the vine, you are the branches," He tells His disciples. Those familiar with the grapevine know that the fruit, the clusters of grapes, grows on the branches, not the vine. Yes, the vine is thick and sturdy. It nourishes the branches and supports their weight and the weight of their clusters of grapes, but the vine itself bears no fruit. It has a humble role, but one that allows the branches to flourish.

And that is, in a sense, the role of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course He is the vine through which we bear great fruit. So, His role, is like the vine, humble, yet necessary. So necessary that Jesus reminds us, "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. ...without me, you can do nothing" (cf. Jn 15:4-5).

It is thus that our fruitfulness as Christians is based on our lived relationship through grace with Jesus Christ. We are grafted to Him in Baptism, and we are nourished by Him through the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. As faithful disciples, we humbly and lovingly cling to Our Savior, the living vine, and He fills us with His life-giving grace. "Remain in me," He tells us, "as I remain in you. …Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit" (cf. Jn 15:4-5).

As women living the consecrated life, you know this reality well. Through your faith in Jesus Christ and your remaining with Him and His Church, your ministry has born much fruit. In humility, you recognize this fruit is due to the Vine to which you cling, Jesus Christ, and you rejoice that you have such a glorious and sturdy Vine to which to cling!

We also rejoice and give thanks to the Heavenly Father, Whom Jesus calls the vine grower. As religious sisters, it is the Father who prunes you, through poverty, chastity and obedience, through the joy and suffering that accompanies life in community, through the daily trials and triumphs that accompany trying to follow faithfully Jesus Christ as a member of a religious institute and a member of His Community of Disciples, the Church.

It is the Father, Who enables you through His Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make visible and present in our midst what the early disciples lived and to which they witnessed: devoting yourselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life; to the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist), and to prayers (the Liturgy of the Hours) as dictated in your constitutions. Yes, you together believe and hold things in common. (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

And finally, we rejoice for Sister Maria Grace Dateno, FSP, our jubilarian, who celebrates her 25th year of profession this year! Twenty-five years living in community, serving the Church, loving Jesus Christ. Twenty-five years of fruitfulness. Twenty-five years of remaining in Jesus Christ.

Yes, our humble Savior offers us Himself as the living Vine, calls us to remain with Him, and promises to strengthen and nourish us through His sacraments and His Church. Let us ask Our Lady, Mother of the Church and the most fruitful of all branches, to intercede for each of us, that we may continue to be pruned and bear great fruit through the grace of her Son, Jesus Christ, who calls us to be "meek and humble of heart" (cf. Mt 11:29).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014