“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. … By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:5,8)
John 15 is one of the best-loved of all the gospel readings, and with good reason. We all want to flourish! And here Jesus tells his disciples that if they stay “in him” – rooted in him through the Word and Sacraments – they will lead the kind of fruitful lives that marks his disciples.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are responsible for our own fruit. We focus our energies on doing so there will be something to show for our efforts. But that’s exactly what happens when a grapevine grows wild: all the energy goes into ornamental leaves and branches. It looks impressive, beautiful even – but doesn’t bear much actual fruit.
“The branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in me,” Jesus says. The kind of fruit God chose you to bear is fruit that grows organically from his life flowing through you. They are the “fruits of the Spirit” as St. Paul calls them in Galatians 5:22-23; evidence of the indwelling presence of the Lord. What are they?
The Fruits of the Spirit
- Love or Charity – Not just feeling affection for something that pleases us, but selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. Jesus said the greatest love is to lay down your life for a friend. It’s what he did for us, and when we abide in him and he lives through us, we start showing it for others.
- Joy — A supernatural joy that doesn’t depend on circumstances. Abiding in Christ opens a channel of grace to your heart. In him, even the things that seem to crush us can lead to joy. Think about the wine that comes from grapes that are crushed. The wine that is Christ to us, in the Eucharist. That wine is joy!
- Peace — Not the absence of conflict, but wholeness. Completeness and right balance. Anyone can be at peace when the world is quiet. It takes the life of Christ to give us inner peace that holds steady even through chaos.
- Patience — This fruit becomes evident when you’re willing to suffer trials; when you’re not vengeful; when you avoid fighting; when you choose to put up with annoyances. Patience helps you carry your cross.
- Kindness — When Jesus said his yoke is “easy,” he used this word (Matthew 11:30). His yoke doesn’t chafe, because it’s tailored to the one wearing it. It fits well. It is “kind.” The fruit of kindness extends that attitude through us. Kindness enables us to take into account the needs and foibles of others and help them instead of condemning them out of hand.
- Goodness — This is doing the right thing for others. It can mean encouraging or helping them but it also encompass a loving rebuke or what we call “tough love.”
- Faithfulness — Being trustworthy and reliable. When this fruit is active in your life, you are faithful to God even when you can’t see him or feel his presence. Faithfulness hangs onto what we know is true and acts accordingly.
- Gentleness — This is sometimes translated “meekness.” It’s not weakness, though – it’s power under control, like a horse that is trained to the bit. When Christ’s spirit lives in you, and you abide in him, that spirit flows through you and enables you to be gentle and considerate even in difficult situations.
- Self-control — This fruit shows mastery over desire and self-indulgence. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he practiced self-control. He was helped in that battle by quoting Scripture; there’s a reason that “abiding in Christ” involves soaking in the Word. We can work at gaining self-control (and should), but the kind of self-control that comes from the Spirit passes what we can do on our own.
- – 12. There are three more: Generosity, in which the Spirit deepens our impulse to give abundantly from what God has given us; and two that are related to self-control, namely Modesty and Chastity. The Spirit doesn’t cause us to reject passion or other human gifts, but it gives us a moderation and proper way to use them to a good end and the greatest eternal fruit.
Fruit is meant to be shared!
These are the fruits that should show up in our lives, if we’re abiding in Christ. I think of a woman I met recently. One day she asked me what I do, and when I told her, she said “Oh – are you religious, then?” I said, “you could say that.” “Well, that explains it!” she said. “You have this peace, this stillness in you, even when things are hard. I couldn’t figure it out.”
That peace that she saw, was a fruit of the Spirit. I certainly didn’t manufacture it! And it opened the door to some fruit of a more tangible kind: it gave me an “in” to tell her how faith in God had helped me through tough times. I haven’t seen her since, to know what impact it had. And maybe I never will. But a seed was planted. Maybe someone else will water it, and God willing – perhaps someday she’ll be grafted into the Vine, herself.
When you start bearing fruit – give it back to God in thanks and watch him multiply it!