When Jesus in St. John’s Gospel says “I am”, he implicitly evokes the name of God, as revealed to Moses, and thereby claims divine status. He does this not out of self exaltation, but as a revelation of the truth, entirely for our benefit. And when he adds a title, or self description, it’s always to show how his life as man is entirely given for us. “I am the bread of life”, he says. That is, bread broken for you, given to you, in order that you may have life. “I am the Good Shepherd”. That is, one who lays down his life for his sheep, in order to bring them with him to heaven. “I am the Resurrection”; that is, Jesus will willingly die, in order that we might live. “I am the true vine”; that is, my blood will be poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and it will be wine for your nourishment, your life, your everlasting joy.
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are set by St. John in the context of the Last Supper, immediately before the betrayal, arrest, passion and death of Jesus. Even as the disciples face impending sorrow beyond measure, then, Jesus directs their vision ahead, encouraging, consoling and strengthening them for the time of the Church. But as for us: we read these words after Easter, indeed in Eastertide, as is most fitting. So as we read, with the liturgy we spontaneously sing an Alleluia with every phrase.
“I am the vine; you are the branches, Alleluia!”
Jesus has accomplished his work. Through his Incarnation, and then through his Paschal Mystery, he has identified himself with us, in order that we might be identified with him. He has done that in order to draw us out of our own darkness, and out of the shadow of death, so that we can share in his own divine light and life. This is our Gospel, and the source of our joy. Now, even as we await the fullness of union with him in heaven, our life as Christians here on this earth is defined by our vital relationship with him. This relationship is far different from the sort of moral union brought about when people become fully paid up members of a party or club. No, this is something else entirely. Life flows continually from Jesus to us: our life is his life, and his is ours. Without losing anything of our individuality, we are through our baptism made one with him, as a vine branch is one with the vine that bears it. I in you and you in me, he says elsewhere (Jn 14:20), just as Father is in me and I am in my Father (10:30 & 17:21). Alleluia!
And yet, and yet. Abide in me, he says. Be re-assured! I ever abide in you (15:4). This is a given; this is the work I have accomplished; nothing can take it away from you. And if this were not enough, my life in you is ever renewed through the power of the indwelling Spirit, and through the grace of the Sacraments you celebrate and receive. Nevertheless: from your side of the equation, there are degrees of union. Our perfect oneness is not merely automatic: it is not simply conferred on you, as if from outside, without your own active cooperation. So you must abide in me. That is, you also have a work to do. It’s the work of your life; a great work; a work that confers on you dignity; that will make you worthy co-heirs of my glory, of my divine sonship, of my heavenly blessedness. You have to bear fruit; you have to give glory to my Father.
The first condition of our bearing fruit for the Lord is that we abide in him; that we not cut ourselves off from him through mortal sin, through infidelity; through allowing our vital union with him to atrophy and die through indifference and spiritual sloth. Then, we have to do what he did, ever more and more. We have to give glory to his Father by becoming ever more closely conformed to him. We have to have his mind in us; we have to grow towards his holiness; we have to allow his life to flourish in our life without any impediment of pride or selfishness or other form of sin. Doing that will be entirely our own work, and also entirely his work. The perfect union with Jesus to which we are all called must involve a life of prayer without ceasing; a life of complete self forgetfulness; a life of total self gift. Such a life is possible. It will involve the Cross, of course, after the pattern of the Cross of Jesus, but also it will involve, necessarily, joy without ceasing, great fruitfulness for the Kingdom, great power in intercession for sinners.
The person who lived this union to the highest degree was the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and perfect disciple of Jesus. We turn to her especially in this month of May, because she will help us, enable us to approach that union with Jesus which she herself enjoys. We put our trust in her Immaculate Heart, precisely because it is so perfectly united with the heart of Jesus.
Today, then, we set ourselves to consider the fruitfulness of Mary as Mother of all Christians, Mother of the Church, Mother of divine grace, Queen of Apostles, Refuge of sinners, Consoler of the afflicted; and we understand that as her children we ourselves are part of the fruit she bears.
We consider too the power of Mary’s intercession. We say that the intercession of Mary is all powerful - omnipotent - not as if it were somehow independent of the intercession of her Son, but precisely because it is one with that; perfectly united with his great act of intercession, his redeeming Sacrifice offered on the Altar of the Cross. Her will is now, and always has been, one with the will of her Son; her intercession is one with his intercession. So, according to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, she may ask anything she likes, and she will receive it.
Show us, then, Mary Immaculate, how to grow ceaselessly towards the fullness of union with Jesus that you yourself enjoy. Show us how to be holy, as we are called to be; how to pray, how to give glory to God. Show us how to give out of the abundance that we receive. Show us how to be fruitful disciples of Jesus: so that like you, we may draw many others with us to heaven.