By Fr. John Meehan, SJ
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1–2)
When we reflect on the signs of our times, alienation is a word that often comes to mind. Today’s challenges to humanity—such as climate change, the refugee and migrant crises, political unrest, loneliness, and isolation—point to a widespread alienation from God, each other, and creation. Building on recent major Jesuit meetings, the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs, which orient the Jesuits’ work globally) call on Jesuits and lay partners to promote reconciliation on all three levels. In the face of such alienation, how are we called to carry out Christ’s mission of reconciliation?
When we reflect on the signs of our times, alienation is a word that often comes to mind.
In a world marked by alienation, the vine is an image of hope. It is a poignant symbol of belonging and connectedness. Jesus used this image that was so familiar to people of his time. It was also an image that came to us during our retreat last May in Loyola, Spain, when some 110 Jesuits from around the world gathered for the 71st Congregation of Procurators (CP71, a significant Jesuit assembly). It spoke to us as we prayed with Fr. General Sosa’s letter “De Statu Societatis” (“On the State of the Society”), itself the product of our extensive listening and reports as representatives from all 64 regions of the Jesuit order.
Vines show diversity and unity, but not uniformity. Their gnarled branches and tender shoots span diverse terrains, enmeshing themselves along the way, connecting what is varied into a wide, living network. At this gathering, we felt part of a vast network of Jesuits and lay companions from around the world who, in our diversity, share a common identity as friends in the Lord, a common language of Ignatian discernment, and a common mission of reconciliation. In our global community, we too are diverse, yet interconnected, each bringing unique perspectives and strengths to address the challenges we face. Through deep conversations, we listen to the Spirit moving among us, calling us forward together.
To produce fruit, vines require loving care. Similarly, to address the challenges of our world, we need compassion, understanding, and action. We are called to care for each other, particularly the most vulnerable in our midst. At CP71, we felt a strong call to be with Christ humble and poor, letting go of whatever prevents us from befriending the poor. Solidarity with the marginalized, fidelity to the vow of poverty, and protection of the vulnerable are key ways of showing this care. As Father General reminded us, care for the person (cura personalis) and care for our works (mission-focused care, cura apostolica) are part of a larger ministry of care in a Church of the poor for the poor.
Similarly, to address the challenges of our world, we need compassion, understanding, and action.
Spirit-filled decision making (discernment) is vital to such care. Gardeners must know each branch well to discern how best to prune so that it will bear more fruit. God provides the life, calling on gardeners to be attentive, open, and courageous in discerning God’s will and acting upon it. Just as gardeners must understand the needs of the vine, we too must discern the needs of our world and respond with wisdom and compassion. Jesus is the humble vine who inspires us to be people of inclusion and care, hopeful stewards of the fruits yet to come.