The Vine and Branches

July 23, 2010

Today’s post is from Roy Petitfils.  I subscribe to Roy’s blog, and he often shares resources and suggestions on working with youth and young adults.  While I have never met Roy, several respected ministry colleagues pointed me to his blog and his writing, ministry and speaking.  I am sure you will enjoy his post on community below!   
When I was a kid I loved watching Tarzan. There was something mesmerizing about watching Johnny Weizmuller swing from aNapa_grapevines_900x1 vine while belting out that trademark yodel (aside: treat yourself and go to and type “Tarzan Yell” in the search box. Johnny’s original is there along with a bunch of “would be” Tarzans. Funny stuff!)  
Needless to say, for most of my life whenever I heard the word “vine” I thought of Tarzan. Gradually my little world opened up and began to include Kudzu and Muscadine as other legitimate options. 
None of these images helped me when it came to understanding this weekend’s gospel where Jesus says:   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.  
None of those vines, at least to me, had branches. Offshoots maybe, but branches? No.   
It wasn’t until I traveled to California that I began to understand this passage. Driving North from San Francisco up Highway 1 leads you into the heart of Wine Country. I was in awe of the literally thousands of acres lined with rows of bush like vines, laden with grapes. Being nosy, I stopped and got out to go take a closer look (trespass). 
To my surprise, there was nothing supporting these huge vines other than a mere wire extending the length of the row.   Keep in mind that a single grape vine can produce up to 42 pounds of fruit. There is no way this one piece of wire could hold up that much weight. I learned that the wire was a “form”, only there for the vine to hook onto. Once started, it would then weave its branches around, on top of and underneath the other branches. 
It wasn’t the wire that supported those heavy branches—it was all of the branches supporting each other  If I were to ask you, “How do you stay connected to the Christ-Vine?” what would you say? I know what I would say. “Going to Church, frequent reception of the sacraments, spiritual reading, retreats, giving alms, etc.”  
These are important spiritual disciplines. But a closer look into Jesus’ metaphor reveals that our most obvious support for staying attached to the Christ-Vine is one another.   Henry David Thoreau once quipped, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And while I appreciate his sentiment, I believe it more fitting today to say that most folks lead lives of quiet isolation.   
I know that for me, when times are tough, when things aren’t going right, when I’m down or discouraged I retreat into myself, believing that I can “go it alone.”  I’m learning (slowly) that growing as Christ’s disciple does not mean being able to “go it alone” but being willing  support and be supported by other branches on that same Vine.  
We are not offshoots from a pesky weed. Offshoots can stand alone and are not fruitful.   We are noble branches supporting one another, on a magnificent vine in the Lord’s vinyard.  
How am I supporting others?  
How does God call me to live in community? 

Becky is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and writer. She is the author of the Busy Lives and Restless Souls (March 2017, Loyola Press) and The Inner Chapel (April 2020, Loyola Press). She helps others create space to connect faith and everyday life through facilitating retreats and days of reflection, through writing, and through spiritual direction. With nearly twenty years of ministry experience within the Catholic Church, Becky seeks to help others discover God at work in the every day moments of people’s lives by utilizing St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the many gifts that our Catholic faith and Ignatian Spirituality provide.

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