5.2.18 Wed. 5th wk of Easter (II)
Acts of Apostles 15: 1 – 6
Gospel of John 15: 1 – 8
†Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” The Gospel of the Lord.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Branches United to Christ
Today’s Gospel is truly ‘Good News’! The image of the ‘Vine and the Branches’ beautifully describes the Church. Joined with †Jesus – we share in the life of Christ – in His life! The same Spirit in †Jesus – is in us – capable of producing the same fruits – the ‘Fruits of Holiness’.
Here’s what Pope Francis writes in his latest Apostolic Exhortation on ‘Holiness’. “Holiness (is) present in the patience of God’s people; in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant”. (Gaudete et Exsultate, 7) God makes us more alive in the Risen Christ, if – as †Jesus says: “Whoever remains in me and I in him – will bear much fruit”. (Jn.15: 5) You see, in the Church we experience true union with Christ in two ways.
First as an individual; “I am in †Jesus and †Jesus is in me”. †Jesus says: “Remain in me as I remain in you” (Jn.15:4); and these words of †Jesus must become part of us; †Jesus remaining in us – and we in †Jesus. And how do we remain in †Jesus? (questioning the students) Praying – and how else? Going to mass, by loving – that’s right. These are some of the ways that we remain in †Jesus. We also find this throughout the Scriptures. St. Paul reminds us: “In Him we live and more and have our being”. (Acts 17:28) In the first Letter of John we read: “The way that we know that He remains in us – is from His Spirit that He gives us” (1 Jn.3:24); by keeping His commandments. By loving as He has loved us we witness to His Spirit in us.
In the Gospel †Jesus says: if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. If I am united with Christ, I have an absolute right to ask for whatever I want. Don’t be timid – if you want something, ask it from †Jesus and if it will benefit your holiness and is in God’s will, He is going to say: “Yes”! But if it is not good for you – what is He going to say? He is going to say: “No”, because He loves us! Sometimes He doesn’t answer our prayers as we want Him to answer them. But this is all “Good News” because we are invited to share in the life of the Risen Christ – and in the Risen Christ – we too – are a new creation. ‘I am one with the vine’.
Now the second way to union with Christ – is to remember that the vine has more than one branch. Not just us. Christ has many members and the Lord wants us all to come to Him – not only as individuals but united as His people – united in His Mystical Body. We can’t separate ourselves from the community. We all journey to the Lord together because we are part of the same vine. I am part of God’s people when I produce good fruit. Just like sap that runs through the branches – the Spirit of Christ flows through us, bearing good fruit for others. And we are to love one another as †Jesus commanded. Again from the first Letter of John: “Those who keep His commands remain in Him and He in them”. (1 Jn.3: 24)
Now, there is some bad news in the Gospel today. Get ready! The dead branch will be trimmed away. If I don’t bear fruit, the kind of fruit that †Jesus wants – I am not part of the vine – I am a dead branch! And †Jesus says the Father, the vine dresser, will come and cut that branch right off. You see, Christ’s Spirit is not to be wasted – His vine must produce fruit and †Jesus prunes away the barren branch for burning. Let’s face it – each of us has barren branches in our life – come on – we are all sinners – right? (I have a lot of those barren branches.) We become unfruitful because of our own self-centeredness, our selfishness, our sin. But these have to be pruned back for growth, and sometimes, through suffering. God doesn’t will that we suffer, but sometimes He allows us to suffer because He sees – that through the suffering, we will die to ourselves a little more, so, we are pruned back. There may be a little more ‘sacrificial times’ in our life as He trims away the unproductive areas. This is not punishment, God does not punish – but sometimes He allows us to walk in penance as a way to grow, as He cuts off and prunes away those unfruitful parts of our life so we don’t waste Christ’s life within us. Pruning makes space for new fruit, suffering and sacrifice creates openness for the grace of the Holy Spirit – to share in the fullness of the Life of Christ and His death and resurrection.
Fr. Urs von Balthasar…. (a famous spiritual writer of the last century) writes as if †Jesus were speaking directly to us. He wrote (as if †Jesus said): “I sweat my precious blood, my golden vine. This blood, this wine, this is you! I am the vine, you are the wine that I have wept”. (from: Heart of the World; Ignatius Press, 1979) Isn’t that beautiful? “You are the wine that Christ has wept”. We must not put off this pruning, this running from sacrifice; otherwise we risk becoming barren.
Look at the example of the early Church. The early Church suffered great persecutions but the Church flourished and we see that throughout history. Our sacrifice removes the barrenness, the barriers to Christ’s life; His life giving grace in us; therefore the Spirit can then move freely, healing us and producing good fruit.
One other image – as branches on the vine we live a Eucharistic life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. Just as the Holy Spirit changes this bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ; the Holy Spirit changes us into the Life of Christ. “Bread broken and wine poured out – the Body and Blood of Christ – is the food that nourishes us. It is truly Christ in the Eucharist – it is the vine giving life to the branches”.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.