30 April 2015

'I am the vine, you are the branches.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

Today's Gospel, John 15:1-8 [0:00 - 1:22]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

The Virgin of the Grapes, Pierre Mignard, 1640s
Musée du Louvre, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

Around this time twenty years ago I paid my only visit to the Holy Land, at the insistence of a friend of mine, Ninfa, whom I had met at a charismatic gathering in Tagum, Davao del Norte, Mindanao, in 1977. When Ninfa worked for a family in Israel she began to organise pilgrimages to the holy sites for her fellow Filipino workers, Overseas Filipino Workers, or 'OFWs', as they are known here in the Philippines.

Ninfa had arranged for us to stay for some nights in Jerusalem in a school run by Salesian Sisters. It was during the long vacation so there were no students there. During dinner the first evening I discovered that among the 14 or 15 visitors in the dining room, pilgrims from many parts of the world, all strangers, apart from Ninfa, there were three who knew persons I knew. Not for the first time I felt in a very personal way the reality that we as Christians truly are one. I am the vine, you are the branches.

Pope Benedict, in a homily during Mass at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on 22 September 2011 reflects on this: 

If we consider these beati and the great throng of those who have been canonized and beatified, we can understand what it means to live as branches of Christ, the true vine, and to bear fruit. Today’s Gospel puts before us once more the image of this climbing plant, that spreads so luxuriantly in the east, a symbol of vitality and a metaphor for the beauty and dynamism of Jesus’ fellowship with his disciples and friends – with us.

In the parable of the vine, Jesus does not say: 'You are the vine', but: 'I am the vine, you are the branches' (John 15:5). In other words: 'As the branches are joined to the vine, so you belong to me! But inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another.' This belonging to each other and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ. Such is the Church, this communion of life with Jesus Christ and for one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist. 'I am the true vine' actually means: 'I am you and you are I' – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, with his Church.

This last week here in the Philippines brought people together in prayer for an OFW, Mary Jane Veloso, the mother of two young boys, who was due to be executed by firing squad in Indonesia, along with eight others, all having been found guilty, in separate cases, of bringing illegal drugs into that country or trying to smuggle them out. Most people, including myself, believe that she was duped and was unaware of what she was carrying in a new suitcase given her. She had been led to believe, like many others, that a good job awaited her. At the last minute, some hours after she had said goodbye to her family and was preparing for the worst, she was told that the execution had been postponed because of new information from the Philippines. An hour after she learned this the other eight, involved in different cases of smuggling of illegal drugs, were taken out and shot.

One of those was a Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, apparently did not understand that he was to be executed. This was told by Fr Charlie Burrows OMI, who has been working in the area where the executions took place since the 1970s. He has been present at executions in the past. He also told how guards present when Mary Jane Veloso was bidding goodbye to her children broke down crying.

I discovered that Fr Burrows is from Dublin, is the same age as myself and went to the same school, though he was a year behind me and I can't claim to have known him. But again I was struck by how we are related through our baptism. An Irish priest in Indonesia spending so much time with a Brazilian facing execution there and apparently spending time with Mary Jane Veloso, though there were Filipino priests who were helping her and her family. I am the vine, you are the branches.

All of these were united through their faith in Jesus Christ, a faith received as a precious gift at baptism.

During the last visit of her family to Mary Jane they prayed together and sang, at her request, a hymn written for the Great Jubilee of 2000 by a namesake, Mary Jane C. Mendoza, better known as Jamie Rivera.

Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery
That we are all together as one family.
I am the vine, you are the branches.

 Antiphona ad Communionem Communion Antiphon Cf. John 15:1,5

Ego sum vitis vera et vos palmites, dicit Dominus;
I am the true vine and you are the branches, says the Lord.
qui manet in me et ego in eo,
Whoever remains in me, and I in him,
hic fert fructum multum, alleluia.
bears fruit in plenty, alleluia.

Rosary and Scapular [Wikipedia]

The month of May is traditionally one of special devotion to Our Blessed Mother. That is still very strong in the Philippines. It used to be very strong in Ireland. The late Irish tenor Frank Patterson here sings a very popular hymn to Our Lady.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)

Attributed to Mary E. Walsh in 1883

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Oh, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue


Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o'er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.



thomas said...

Thank you Sean



Jackie Parkes said...

Love the hymn - reminds me when I was blessed to crown Our Lady :)