Monday in Sixth Week of Easter at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Acts 16:11-15; Jn 15:26-16:4]

Today's gospel from John 15 is a continuation of Jesus' “Vine and Branches” discourse. To understand it we must remember that we, individually, are members of a branch connected to the vine of Christ, only if we are part of community. The community is the branch. The community Jesus is addressing is His most intimate disciples, those who have already been converted to Him. His strongest advice to them is this: “REMAIN.” If they remain on the vine the Spirit of Truth will come to them. It is this Truth that the Father uses to prune the branches in ways that will make it fruitful.

We remain in community. A community and the story it lives shapes character. The faith of a community is centered on a person: Jesus Christ, Who is the Truth. He is the vine that will nourish and unite.

It is in community that we learn to be attentive to the Spirit of Truth. We learn from community. The law of God is written on our hearts. What we learn is the demanding task of habitually living in tune with our inner experience. That is how we are attentive to the Spirit of Truth. We distinguish those inner experiences that flow from the Spirit from those that do not. As St. Bernard says, this is one of the ways that we “set love in order.” This is a life-long process of conversion. Acedia or sloth, as Dr. Rebecca De Young has taught us, is resistance to the demands of ordering love, resistance to attunement with our inner experience. Truth is not just learned; it is loved. And it orders love. Dr. De Young emphasized Evagrius' treatment for sloth: stability, i.e., to remain. Connection to community is crucial. It gives the security that makes humility possible. It sustains during certain adversity. Community's story and its fellowship develop conscience.

“Remaining” fosters ongoing conversion when one shares with the community an affection for an ultimate end: the kingdom of God. This feeling-in-common is shared when each member knows the others feelings toward an object, not as an external thing, but as something deeply shared. We are vulnerable to what is deeply shared and that shared vulnerability can be an antidote to vainglory, as Dr. De Young has shown.

With this in view, a disciplined way of life is lived toward the Kingdom. All is ordered to sharing in the mission of Christ. It is Christ who nurtures for the mission through community.

When one is separated from the vine, the community, the withering is a slow process that one is not usually aware of. Gradually the disciple begins to assert a right to spend her life as she chooses. One decides to “do it my way.” Imperceptibly one squanders the gift of being that Christ represents. That gift requires only our gratitude for it and our willingness to imitate His self-gift which is our deepest vocation.

But this cannot be done apart from the vine of Christian community and story. This is the vine tended by the God of Love. This again points to the importance of conversion rather than mere socialization.

The mark of a faithful community is not similarity of its members, but how it loves.