We all long to be independent.
It starts at an early age. Little kids will scream, "No! I'm doing it!" when someone tries to help them. As we get older and especially in our teen years, we want to distinguish ourselves from our parents and our families. We want to make decisions for ourselves.
Even when we come into adulthood, there is always that need to "be our own person" - to take care of ourselves and set the course of our own lives.
Anytime that we're sick - even with something as simple as a cold - we hate not being able to do what we want to do. One of the most frustrating things about being in the hospital is having to rely on other people for everything.
People face that challenge in the later parts of their life as they find they can't do everything they used to be able to do. Others have to help, and that can be frustrating.
We long for that independence - and it's a pretty normal part of human life. We should learn to be our own person, to make the choices that matter for us.
But that desire can also be a serious obstacle in our spiritual lives. It's easy to settle into a version of Catholicism where we think, "As long as I do all the stuff I'm supposed to, I'll be good with God."
Jesus tells us something in today's Gospel that should really shake us to the core. Every time we find ourselves feeling proud or independent - not needing help from anyone - we should remember these words:
"... without me you can do nothing."
Let those words sink in - "without me you can do nothing."
If we take that truth to heart, then our whole world needs to be changed. As much as we'd love to see ourselves as strong, independent people, Jesus tells us that that road is doomed to failure.
Our faith is not just a list of things to do, that, if we just have the willpower, we can accomplish on our own. Our faith is about union with God.
Remember that. It's the most important thing I'm going to say today and I need to hear it too: Our faith is about union with God.
But what does that mean?
Jesus gives us a great image to understand it: He is the vine and we are the branches.
A branch only has life as long as it is connected to the vine. Everything it has, it's very existence, flows from that vine. If a branch decided to separate itself, it might seem to be alive for a little while, but eventually it would wither up and die.
Our relationship with Jesus is that close - to the point of being one living thing, we are His body. So if you are feeling lost. Or if your life seems to lack meaning; it's time to look at your relationship with the vine and ask yourself: "Am I trying to do this on my own? Am I trying to be my own source of life?" Any attempt to have a life without him is doomed to frustration and ultimately to failure.
So how do we stay connected to Jesus? How do we stay attached to the vine?
There are all the standard (and extremely correct) answers: the Scriptures, prayer, and the sacraments. Those may not be surprising answers, but they shouldn't be: they are what Jesus gave us so that we could be united to Him.
One thing in particular should stand out: the Eucharist. Jesus spoke these words that we heard today in the context of the Last Supper. Within that event where he gave His apostles His body and blood for the first time, he tells them and us that to be alive and bear fruit, we must be united to Him.
There is no closer union to Jesus than what we do here at Mass. He becomes a part of us so that we can become a part of Him.
"Without me you can do nothing."
Hearing that shouldn't discourage us. It should wake us up.
Despite our human tendency to struggle for independence, we are made to be in union with God - and it's only in that union that we can be fully alive.
We must stop trying to do this on our own, stop fighting an endless battle that we can never win, and give everything we are to the God who gave us everything.