This weekend’s gospel passages focus on the Father-Son connection and how to bear good fruit. This gives us pause to connect these lessons to the Trinitarian foundation to our family relations. It also points to the challenges in family relations among those not rooted in faith.
Grounded in the Trinity to Bear “Good Fruit”
When the disciples ask Jesus to “show them the Father,” he scolds them:
“Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? (John 14:7-14)
This concept that “Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in” him reminds us of the corporate unity of the Trinity, and points to our connection to that union. The Sunday second reading extends that union to us:
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:20-24)
When we “keep his commandments” then we “remain in him…(and) he remains in us.” We know this through “the Spirit he gave us.” Soon we will celebrate Pentecost, where the apostles received the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised his disciples. We are born in the Holy Spirit at Baptism, which leaves an indelible mark on our souls. Later, after First Holy Communion, when we choose to be confirmed, Confirmation seals that indelible mark on our soul. At Confirmation we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. These are gifts essential to leading a life that enables us to discern our vocation (religious or family life), and which enable us to live fruitful lives. We must have God-given understanding, wisdom, knowledge and good counsel in order to act with prudence. All right action must be infused with piety and fear of the Lord; and we must persist with fortitude in right action.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
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.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-8)
The message is clear: Without God we can do nothing; with God we can bear “good fruit.”
Now most families have a “bad apple.” Even if they received the Sacraments and were raised in a faith-filled home, we know, all-to-well, that they can go astray. In fact, we live in a culture that heightens that possibility. Once upon a time, government and education were charged with promoting virtue in its citizens.
This was true throughout the cultures of the world – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Confucius, and even in the civics virtue-infused American culture. Not only have our educational and government objectives lost moral grounding, but we’ve added a wide-open mass culture to the mix – TV, radio and Internet – which bombards souls with chaos in the electronic boxes that surround us, and even in the little ones we carry in our hands.
The message is clear, and anyone who has tried to raise a fruit tree understands the imagery even more concretely: Good soil, proper pruning, the right conditions, and a lot of – what gardeners would call – luck are needed to raise productive fruit trees. You lose a lot of fruit trees, and even more fruit along the way. Fortunately we are not subject merely to natural forces, but we have supernatural strength to rely on throughout our life – both in this world and beyond, if we but choose to “remain in” it.
We are called to remain in that love to sustain us. If we have a “bad apple” then we must pause to reflect: have we remained in His love? Has the person we are trying to love remained in that love? The nature of love doesn’t change, but the object must embrace the whole Trinity if that love is to bear fruit. Hence, while we may work hard to prune, guide, nurture and attend to our children, ultimately a relationship with God must remain to infuse all with that grace which is essential for a good life and good relations.
Of course, Our Lord remains the Good Shepherd, who never stops searching for the lost sheep. But, even if he finds the lost sheep, that sheep must choose to “remain in him” if they are to choose rightly and live well. We can trust in God’s never-ending efforts, and we can only pray that the lost sheep will choose to return to the fold, and “remain in” Him for this preparatory time on Earth, and for the goal of heaven.