When I am struggling with temptation, I realize that I must always return my eyes to Christ. I must always cling to His Heart.
By all worldly and secular standards, Lent is weird. For most folks, and even for other faithful Christians, Catholic Lenten practices are confusing. I suppose that if we were to take an outsider’s view, we Catholics would look pretty peculiar. From kissing the Cross to covering ourselves in ashes to fasting and abstaining from some our favorite things, our lifestyle looks rather strange for the 40 days of Lent.
I will admit, most days it looks strange to my eyes as well. My human faculties instinctively question the need for all of this intentional sacrifice and humility. Why would the Church have us perform all of these wacky tasks? Is this really necessary? Does God love me any more than usual because I’m fasting? I’m hungry for a cheeseburger on Friday, why can’t I have one?
Yet, when my faith feels uncertain and I have confusing thoughts, or when I am struggling with temptation, I realize that I must always return my eyes to Christ. I must always cling to His Heart. So, when I see that I am losing focus or going through difficult times, there is one scripture passage that our most gracious God always uses for my spiritual realignment:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15: 1-5 ESV).
Just before the start of this Lent, I read this passage to realign myself. So, as I dove deeper into the Book of Glory within John’s Gospel, I noticed an interesting parallel in how Christ uses the authority and tradition of His Church to prune its members. Before Christ reveals himself as the True Vine, he says and does several odd things with the disciples in the upper room before the Passover Feast:
“Hey guys, you know that I am the Messiah sent from Heaven and we all know I am the Son of God, but now I am going to wash your muddy, stinky feet.”
“Hey guys, I know we have been traveling and living together for the past 3 years, but one of you is a sellout and will betray me tonight.”
“Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that I am the only way to Heaven and that if you have seen me, you have seen The Father.”
“Guys! Guess what!? I need you to eat my body and drink my blood in remembrance of me.”
“Hey Peter, you are the leader of the twelve, but I’m telling you that you will deny me three times before tomorrow morning.”
Surely, the apostles must have taken all of this information exceedingly well…of course not. They likely would have been dumbfounded at all of these strange and confusing acts of humility and service. They probably would have questioned the odd and peculiar practices that Jesus was instituting. However, that is just when Jesus commands them to abide in him. “Trust in me, rest in me, remain in me,” says our Lord. A good vinedresser knows that pruning in vital to sustaining fruit-bearing plants.
These beautiful, beautiful words from St. John provide the perfect reminder that despite the seemingly uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient practices of Lent, this is what Mother Church uses, through the guidance of Christ, to prune us, to help us grow in faith and charity. Pruning is painful and uncomfortable. It involves cutting away our old habits and attachments, so that we may grow good, holy fruit for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom. Oh, how lovely it is to be reminded that we are just little branches in the body of Christ! Though seemingly small and insignificant, Christ uses our fragile, tiny tendrils to bear fruit in God’s Garden.
So, as we are living through this Lent, let’s be obedient little branches. Let’s cling to Our Lord Jesus throughout our struggle, throughout the confusion, and let us always remember to abide in the love of Our God.