Saint Angela calls us to prayer and to seek the true vine in Jesus

(Photo above of “Christ the Vine” by Lorenzo Lotto, 1524, Suardi Chapel, Trescore Balnegrio, Province of Bergamo.)

By Sister Nancy Liddy

As we begin a year of celebration to mark the anniversary of our foundation, we have an opportunity to reflect on the words of Saint Angela contained in the theme selected for the occasion. One hundred and fifty years after the first German Sisters of our community arrived at Maple Mount, Angela’s words can inspire us during this sacred season of Lent and throughout the year.

“Never cease to prune this vine which has been entrusted to you.”

Saint Angela Merici, Eighth Counsel

As Jesus contemplates his departure, he shares the parable of the vine and the branches (Jn 15:5-8). As branches united in him, his followers will bring fruit pleasing to God, the vine dresser. Separated from him they can do nothing. This passage from the Gospel of John became increasingly popular in Italy during Angela’s time as divisions during the Protestant Reformation threatened unity in Christ, the true vine.

The vine imagery is extended in Angela’s writings on prayer. The longest chapter in her Rule pertains to prayer. In Chapter V, Angela recognizes the “continuous need for God’s help” – the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine. In verse 22, she cries out to God in her growing awareness of the inadequacy of relying on her own strength. Angela confesses she “cannot even discern good from evil” (v.39). Again, her words echo the parable, “without me you can do nothing.”

In 1524, the Renaissance artist Lorenzo Lotto completed a series of frescoes in a private chapel in northern Italy. At the center of the north wall is a striking figure of Christ the Vine (pictured above). Lotto’s representation of Christ is “dynamic and alive” with arms raised in a soft posture of prayer. From Christ’s fingers, living vines shoot upwards encircling the images of the Saints. “I am the Vine, you are the branches” is inscribed in Latin above this remarkable depiction of Christ. Lotto had created an entirely new image of Christ in the art of the western world. It is likely Angela would have known or seen these frescoes which perhaps influenced the creation of a new way of life for women of her time.

As we continue another Lenten season, we wonder if our resolutions will bear fruit. The Church teaches that Lent is, above all, a time of prayer. This is nothing new, yet, once again, we must be reminded that these 40 days invite us to give the time needed for lasting growth in prayer. Angela assures us that she herself has been slow to begin (v.27). She encourages us no matter how late in life and no matter what is lacking in us we can know it is God that produces the fruit and not the other way around.

Something to consider in this year of celebration:

“How do we receive God’s care? Will we, like branches grow? What sort of fruit will our lives bear to fill the vine with grapes to share? What kind of wine will flow?”

-From the Hymn text “God has Planted Christ the Vine”




  1. Angela

    Thanks for your sharing on the Vine and St Angela, as well as the art work and the hymn text. A very rich article!

  2. Angela

    Thanks for your sharing on the Vine and St Angela, as well as the artwork and the hymn text. A very rich article.

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