Faithfully Abiding in the Love and Truth of the Lord
The reading for today from Mark’s Gospel tells us the cautionary and prophetic parable about a landowner, whom we know to be God, planting a vineyard and entrusting it to tenant farmers to produce a harvest. But the tenants were not faithful stewards. Instead, they sought to use the vineyard for their own purposes, even going so far as to plot against and kill the landowner’s beloved Son when he came (Mark 12:1-12; Matthew 21:33-46).
God our Father, who created heaven and earth, has entrusted the works of his hand to humanity’s care. From the very beginning, as we read in the opening pages of the Book of Genesis, God gave the earth and the plants and animals to mankind not so we might exploit them, but to be stewards of them. The goods of the earth are not without limits nor can they be squandered without regard for future generations.
Similarly, man and woman are given each other, and together they are given children, not as each other’s possessions, but to faithfully love and take care of one another. In the same way, Jesus the Bridegroom established his holy Bride, the Church, entrusting to us a particular structure and deposit of faith, which we are to preserve and faithfully hand on to others, as I discuss in my recent pastoral letter, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge. By doing this, we will produce abundant fruit in the world.
The image of the vineyard with its ethical and spiritual implications is raised again by Jesus in his discourse at the Last Supper when, after saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” he says, “I am the vine . . . 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” (John 14:6, 15:1, 4).
Branches live and bear fruit only insofar as they are attached to the vine which nourishes them. Cut off from the vine that is the Lord who gives us our being, our identity, we can only whither. However, when we remain connected to the vine, connected to Christ, we access the richness of Love and Truth that has the power to nurture and sustain each branch of our society so it can blossom and flourish. It is vital for us then, as individuals and in the institutions of the Church, to remain connected to that Word who is greater than ourselves and from whom real life originates.
One of the great voices of Christianity in the second century, Tertullian, noted that Christians wore charity like a brand upon their bodies (Apology, 39). Love was a universal mark of Christian faith in those early years of the Church’s life and should still be for us in this age. To do this, it is essential that we be faithful stewards of our Catholic heritage and identity so as to remain connected to the vine of Jesus Christ.
It is only through the uninterrupted tradition, stretching back to the time of the Apostles and continued by their successors, the bishops, that we can be sure of the integrity and validity of the Catholic faith. In this way, we have the confidence that what is taught today is what Jesus actually taught and intended as guidance for his followers, that nothing is forgotten, misunderstood, or lost from century to century, from generation to generation, from person to person.
Jesus is the vine, and it is crucial that we stay connected to him, that we abide in him. For others to also have an authentic encounter with the Lord, we must be faithful servants connected to him as we experience God’s word, the sacraments, and do works of charity. Then we can bear fruit. We can transform the hearts of those we meet and renew our world.