23rd July St. Bridget of Sweden (Patron of Europe)
St Brigid of Sweden, whose feast we celebrate today, is one of the saint protectors of Europe. I pray for this continent as it grapples with deep questions of identity, openness to migrants and the value and meaning of its Christian heritage. May it never lack good political leaders and saints like Brigid who show us the way to God in every time.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Only Jesus can say these words, they sound so incredible: Jesus abides in me, and I am invited to abide in him, so that I can produce abundant fruit. I pray for the desire of a deeper relationship with Jesus, and for a fruitful life.
Today we are invited to recognize our close relationship with Jesus, which he compares to the relationship between a vine and the branches that grow on it. What does it mean for my life that the life of Jesus flows into me? What does it mean for me personally to know that I am as much a part of Jesus as the branch is a part of the vine? Are there things in my life that would be different if I consciously realized this? What are they? I reflect on these things, I talk to Jesus about them and I ask the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten me.
God cherishes his people – Israel - like a shepherd guards his flock. Or, to use another comparison, God is like a vinedresser lovingly tending Israel The True Vine; overseeing everything and standing by in crises : keeping the plant healthy even as persecution cuts off and prunes branches (these ones still fruitful).
Christians have also been called ‘members of Christ’s body’; we are in mystical union with him – part of ‘the whole Christ’ (according to the Jewish notion of ‘corporate personality’). As such – in authentic union with Christ – we today at the same time both represent him to the world and also give glory to the Father. No wonder then that we are awarded with the assurance : “You may ask what you will and you shall get it”.
The life of today’s saint, Bridget of Sweden (a Patron of Europe), is an example of deep union with Christ flowing into action in the world – in married life, in affairs of State, in practical charity : all rooted in commitment to Christ – which issued from mystical prayer.
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” We could call to mind our total dependence on Christ for life and love. Recall his many gifts over the years and ask for more.
The Father is pruning us, working deep in our hearts to draw us closer to himself in Christ. Am I resisting his efforts? Let us ask for the gift of openness to his pruning work.
Jesus is telling us that the very core of our existence is to be connected with him. He invites me to ‘abide’, to rest, to stay, to remain in him, so the divine life flows in and through me. Do I have a sense of this abiding in him?
Perhaps it is a challenge to me as I would like to be active and doing. I take some time to realise how it is that I need to be connected with the very life of Jesus, to know the beating of his heart, to receive life from him just as a great branch from the vine.
This rare parable in John is rich in echoes of the Old Testament but its context of the Last Supper gives it a Eucharistic significance; it is spoken just as the disciples have taken his blood in the form of wine and so manifests the closest possible union between the Lord and his followers.
The fruits of our Christian life are the work of God. Each of us can see the life and work of God in others - in ministry, in love, in commitment, courage, endurance, and ordinary daily kindness and compassion. Each of us, too, is gifted in some unique way. We can bear fruit for God in a way nobody else can. Prayer helps us recognise the fruits, develop them and offer them in the service of God and God's people.
Through the analogy of the vine and the branches, Jesus invites us to be united to Him. We are the branches, and if we allow the life of the vine free reign in us, it will bear much fruit of patience, kindness, compassion and forgiveness.
“A beautiful question for us Christians is this: do I abide in Jesus or am I far from Jesus? Am I united to the vine that gives me life or am I a dead branch, that is incapable of bearing fruit, giving witness?” (Pope Francis).
Teach me, Lord Jesus, what it is to live in you, and for you to live in me.
Dear Jesus, you seem to love that little word ‘abide’. You use it eight times here! Let me love it too. Your abiding is steady: you are constantly at home with me. You don’t drift off or grow bored as I do. Teach me this art of abiding.
I need to learn that I don’t have to be ‘always on the go.’ The grapes mature happily simply by being on the vine: they don’t have to work to blossom and ripen. So for me; simply being with you is enough.
Think of the music of that lovely hymn: Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide; When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O, abide with me.
Teach me, Lord Jesus, what it is to live in you, and for you to live in me. It means being in love with you, being at ease with you, finding my strength in you, and being ready, when questioned, to explain to others what you are in my life.
The term ‘to abide’ was music to the Hebrews who had been nomads and exiles. They longed for a place in which they could rest permanently. Jesus offers, not a country, but his very self, for this abiding. Relationship, not place, is what matters. I thank God that even though my life is always changing, Jesus is my home, my permanent resting place.
When I feel that my life is barren and fruitless, I may come to see that this is because I am ‘apart’ from Jesus and so can ‘do nothing’. Shocked, I may resolve to catch up with God in prayer again. Then I find that I begin ‘to bear much fruit.’
Jesus’ word cleanses me. I may, for instance, think that I am of little importance to God or to the world, but if I struggle to believe that I am an intimate friend of Jesus, my self-image is cleansed. If I am hard of heart, his command about love for others cleanses me. Doing Sacred Space is then a daily washing, a spring cleaning of my heart.
‘Ask for whatever you wish’. If I abide in Jesus, heart to heart, I will want only what he wants. He wants divine love to flow like a river in the world: this is the background to true prayer. ’Thy will be done on earth.’
I picture a grapevine with its branches, large and small. Which branch mirrors me? Is my branch healthy or a bit withered and tired? Can I accept the attention of the vine-grower as he prunes this branch? Can I trust that my branch can then bear much fruit at harvest-time?
God sets me up in the world, but he does not then go away and leave me to myself. Instead God abides in me. I am wrapped around in God’s friendship. Lord, may I in turn be a good and faithful friend to you.
How do I abide in the Lord? Above all by prayer, raising my heart and mind to God each morning. There is a worldwide community which uses Sacred Space as a way of abiding in Jesus and drawing strength from him.