“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” [John 15:5-8]
Although Jesus was meek, gentle, loving, and humble of heart, He also said some very strong things relative to our salvation, and these words we should know well and heed.
In the above verses of Scripture, Jesus likens Himself to a vine, and He calls His followers the branches who are attached to the vine. Although we may start out attached to the vine, Jesus makes it very clear that it is possible to be severed from the vine if we do not remain alert and vigilant, guarding our hearts before God.
When we were baptized, we were baptized into Christ. We were baptized into the Vine. But our baptism into Christ isn’t the end of our spiritual journey; it’s only the beginning. From that moment on, we are expected to learn the teachings of Jesus and to obey those teachings. By living faithfully and obediently to the things which Christ has commanded, we remain in the Vine. This is a very important principle that must be understood, for there are many who call themselves Catholics or Christians, and who believe they are attached to the Vine, when in reality, they are not, because of their refusal to obey the commands of Christ. Persistent disobedience to the things which Christ commands will result in our being severed from the Vine if we do not repent. Obedience and remaining in the Vine go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.
We know that it is possible for a man or woman who started out in Christ to be severed from Christ because of Jesus’ words concerning the broken branches and where they end up for all eternity. When Jesus said, “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned,” He didn’t mince words. This is a very sobering warning to all of His followers that if we do not remain in Him by living obediently to the things that He has commanded us, at the end of all things, the angels of God will separate us from those who were obedient to Christ and toss us into the fires of Hell.
Sobering words aside, Jesus made an incredible promise to us in His next statement when He said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
Notice that Jesus does not put any condition on what we may ask of God. The condition for having our prayers answered by God is that His Words must remain in us. In other words, we must not only believe in the things which Christ has commanded, but we must be living them out in our daily lives as well. Jesus’ words leave no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. If we obey His commands, we may ask whatever we wish, and it will be given to us.
If we are truly living for the Lord, this will be reflected in the things that we ask of God. A man who is yielding to Christ is not going to ask for the death of his enemies or for an entire fleet of cars. A woman who is surrendered to Christ and who has made His Kingdom her treasure in life is not going to call upon the name of the Lord and ask for a million dollars to rain down from Heaven. When we are being filled with the Spirit of God on a daily basis, it is only natural that the things we pray for will line up with the Spirit’s will as well.
Are there times when we will ask for something that is not God’s will to grant? Yes. We know that Saint Paul suffered some sort of terrible affliction. Three times He pleaded with Christ to remove this terrible thorn from his side, but Jesus was not willing to do this. Instead, He chose to allow the suffering to remain in Paul’s life, saying, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In that particular instance, Jesus’ response was not to heal Paul, but to give Him grace to endure His suffering, so that God’s power might be perfected in Paul’s life more effectively.
Sometimes God says, “No,” because He has something better for us in mind. Sometimes His answer is not, “No,” but “Wait.”
But I believe that there are many times when our prayers are not answered because we ourselves are not living obediently before God when it comes to the things which He has commanded and taught us through His Church.
As Catholics, we believe that Christ teaches us through His Church. This means that whatever the Church teaches, we must put those teachings into practice in our lives, and herein lies the problem. Many people who call themselves Catholics are either not living obediently to the things the Church teaches, or they are picking and choosing which teachings they wish to embrace or reject.
I love trail mix. From time to time, I’ll throw a huge bag of trail mix into the shopping cart when I go grocery shopping. The type of trail mix that I like contains peanuts, raisins, cranberries, cashews, almonds, M & M candies, and Hershey’s chocolate chips. My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, has a tendency to extract all of the chocolate candy from the bag, leaving behind only the nuts and fruit. When the rest of the family members go to throw a handful of trail mix into our mouths, to our frustration we notice that all of the chocolate is missing! Emily does the same thing with cereal. I had to stop buying her cereal that contains marshmallows in it because when I do, she eats all of the marshmallows and leaves behind the rest of the cereal and the milk.
Do you know that there are people who “practice” Catholicism in the same way that my daughter consumes trail mix or cereal? They pick out the Church teachings that appeal to their palate, while ignoring or rejecting altogether those teachings that do not. For example, the Catholic Church teaches that apart from sickness, it is a mortal sin to miss Sunday Mass. It is also a mortal sin to receive Holy Communion when we are in a state of mortal sin. And yet, many Catholics go to Mass only when they feel like it. When they do go to Mass, because they do not believe they have committed a mortal sin, they add to their sin by going up to receive Holy Communion without going to Confession to get that sin removed. It doesn’t matter what we think about certain issues. If the Church says it’s wrong, it’s because Christ says it’s wrong. Period. There is no room for personal interpretation when it comes to the Word of God and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If the Church forbids contraception, then contraception is wrong. If the Church forbids abortion, then abortion is wrong. If the Church forbids dishonoring one’s parents, drunkenness, envy, faithlessness, fornication, greed, idolatry, impurity, adultery, sorcery, lying, stealing, and strife, then these things are wrong.
Too many Catholics do not understand that Christ Himself stands behind what the Church teaches, and that when they disobey what the Church teaches, they are disobeying Christ. If we find that no matter what we pray for, our prayers continue to go unanswered, we need to take a long, hard look at the lives we are living in order to see if they are truly lining up with what the Catholic Church teaches. We can’t dismiss Church teachings and say, “Well, that’s what the Church teaches, but this is what I believe….” This is the way Protestants serve God; it is not the Catholic way. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus Christ Himself teaches us through His Church.
Many years ago, I noticed that all of my prayers were going unanswered. It didn’t matter what good or holy things I petitioned God for. Nothing was coming my way. It was as if He had turned a deaf ear to my cry. This went on for many months. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. In frustration, I went before the Lord and said, “Lord, I’m having a hard time understanding what’s going on between us. I can’t reconcile the promises that You have made in your Word with the reality that I am currently experiencing. You promised many times throughout the New Testament to answer our prayers, but none of my prayers are being answered. Why not?” About a week went by, when I stumbled onto the verses of Scripture referenced at the beginning of this article. As I meditated on Jesus’ teaching, the Holy Spirit removed the veil from my eyes and caused me to see that there were certain teachings in the Catholic Church that I was not obeying because I was clinging to my own interpretation and opinion on certain issues and disregarding the Church’s position.
Anytime we deliberately go against anything the Church teaches, a wall goes up between us and God. I cannot emphasize this truth enough. If the Church forbids something, it is because Christ Himself forbids it, for it is Christ who teaches us through His Church. If we disregard what the Church teaches and decide to do what we feel like doing, or what feels right to us, or if we try to tailor Catholic teachings to fit our particular lifestyle, we are forcing God to turn a deaf ear to our prayers. I am convinced that this is the number one reason why most people are not receiving answers to their prayers.
We have become lax in our duty to Christ and His Church. Because of the sex abuse scandal, many no longer respect the authority of priests or bishops. As tragic as the sex abuse scandal is, this does not nullify the authority that Christ has given to His Church. If we choose to nullify it, we alone lose out, for God will not answer our prayers or do great things in our lives. His blessing will not be upon our lives until we repent and start lining our lives up with everything that Christ commands us through His Church.
Jesus said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” What does Christ mean when He says, “My words?” He is referring to the things which He has commanded us and continues to teach us through His Church. How do Christ’s Words “remain in us?” The answer to this is simple: through obedience. Only when this condition is being met in our lives, will Christ keep His promise to give to us whatever we wish.
All of us would do well to study the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church each and every single day. It is imperative to our salvation that we understand what the Catholic Church teaches.
How faithful are we to the teachings of the Catholic Church? How obedient are we to them? If the Church says that something is a mortal sin, and we continue to go up to receive Holy Communion while remaining in that state of mortal sin, we are only adding to our sin. Not only this, but God will turn a deaf ear to our cry until we repent of what we have done. If a man or woman gets divorced and then remarries without obtaining an annulment from the Church, in the sight of God they are living in an adulterous state. When they go up to receive Holy Communion in that adulterous state, they are adding mortal sin to mortal sin. Not only this, but God will not bless their lives or hear their prayers until they make things right with the Church.
It doesn’t matter what that individual thinks about the necessity of obtaining an annulment in order to have their second marriage recognized by the Church. It’s what God has said to us through His Church that matters.
If you see that your prayers continue to go unanswered month after month and year after year, you would do well to examine your life before the One who poured out His life for you. God wants to bless you. He wants to answer your prayers. He wants to shower good things down upon your life. But if you are picking and choosing which Catholic teachings you wish to embrace while rejecting those with which you do not agree, you are forcing Him to turn His ear away from you when you pray, and you are tying up His hands so that He cannot pour out His blessing upon your life.
We need to repent in the Catholic Church and start living like Catholics are commanded by God to live. To obey the Church is to obey Christ, who is the Head of His Church. When we reject the teachings of the Church, we are rejecting what Christ Himself commands, and we do this to the detriment of our soul.
To the extent that we are living in obedience to the things which Christ commands through His Church is to the extent that “His words remain in us.” If His words remain in us, then He Himself has promised to give to us whatever we ask. But if they do not remain in us, then we will not receive what we ask of Him, and we are in danger of being cut off from the Vine.
He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
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