Dependence is a sign of growth

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | April 26, 2018

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus describes his relationship to his disciples through the image of the vine and the branches. Our connection with Jesus is as close and as intimate as the source of life and the fruit that comes from that life. We should reflect on our experience of the growing things at springtime. The whole purpose of plant life is to bear fruit so that plants will regenerate and flourish for future generations. Pay attention to growing plants and realize that the intimate association we have with our Risen Savior is similar.

We can, however, gloss over the centrality of the notion of dependence if we do not read the passage carefully. We are utterly dependent on Jesus and his Father for everything we have and are. Dependence does not come easily for us who live in the 21st century, for we thrive on our independence. We quickly reject help from others. We do not grow up as mature adults in these days of self-determination. We are like the five-year-old child attempting to tie its shoe. When an adult asks, “Can I help you?” the response typically goes something like this, “I can do it myself.”

In my work I spend a good amount of time helping people by means of spiritual direction. One of the most difficult things I hear is an elderly person who strongly resists the consequences of aging. People want to hold on to their independence beyond what their physical or mental capacities will allow. We never move beyond the five-year-old and continue to insist that, “I can do it myself.” The spiritual problem with this attitude rests in our failure to allow God to help us in our needs.

I had a person in my office a while back who was finding aging a burdensome cross. This person did not want to allow others to help and would tell them, “I can do it myself.” I suggested that a more adequate response to those who want to help would be to say, “Thank you.” More recently this person returned to the office convinced that allowing others to help was a sign of a new spiritual growth in life.

When Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches he wants us to realize how much we need to depend on him. Early in life we can look at this dependence as him helping us when we experience rough spots in life. We all know, however, that the Father prunes us as the vine dresser trims branches so that we will bear much fruit. In later years, as we prepare for death, we need to deepen our dependence on Jesus and God to the point that when we prepare to die we can say with Jesus, “Father, not my will but thine be done.” In this attitude of utter dependence we bear fruit beyond our wildest imagination.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

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