24 April 2024

'Such is the Church, this communion of life with Jesus Christ and for one another . . .' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B


The Red Vineyard
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel  John 15:1-8  (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Vineyards with a View of Auvers
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Today’s gospel was the one used by Pope Benedict when he celebrated Mass in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on 22 September 2011. In his homily the Pope used these striking words [emphases added]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.

So many are caught in a ‘Jesus and me’ mentality, which ignores the reality of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation, words from the Second Vatican Council that Pope Benedict quotes.

As I was reading the Pope’s homily I was thinking that he could have been speaking directly to the people of my native Ireland where there is a deep crisis in the Church. He says to the congregation in Berlin, Many people see only the outward form of the Church. This makes the Church appear as merely one of the many organizations within a democratic society, whose criteria and laws are then applied to the task of evaluating and dealing with such a complex entity as the ‘Church’. If to this is added the sad experience that the Church contains both good and bad fish, wheat and darnel, and if only these negative aspects are taken into account, then the great and beautiful mystery of the Church is no longer seen.

It follows that belonging to this vine, the ‘Church’, is no longer a source of joy. Dissatisfaction and discontent begin to spread, when people’s superficial and mistaken notions of ‘Church’, their ‘dream Church’, fail to materialize! Then we no longer hear the glad song ‘Thanks be to God who in his grace has called me into his Church’ that generations of Catholics have sung with conviction.

The Virgin of the Grapes
Pierre Mignard [Web Gallery of Art]

I sometimes feel discouraged at happenings in Ireland. I sometimes feel discouraged at happenings in the Philippines, where I spent most of my life as a priest, especially within the Church.

But Jesus tells us clearly that separated from him we can do nothing. Each of us has to decide whether or not we wish to remain united to the life-giving vine who is Jesus himself. Pope Benedict says, Every one of us is faced with this choice. The Lord reminds us how much is at stake as he continues his parable: ‘If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned’ (John 15:6).There is nothing of the ‘meek and mild’ in these stark words of Jesus.

Yet the Gospel, the Good News’ is by definition a message of joyful hope, as the Pope reminded the people in Berlin:

The decision that is required of us here makes us keenly aware of the fundamental significance of our life choices. But at the same time, the image of the vine is a sign of hope and confidence. Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we ‘abide’ in Christ, in the vine. The evangelist uses the word ‘abide’ [‘remain’] a dozen times in this brief passage. This ‘abiding in Christ’ characterizes the whole of the parable. In our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding, when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile and short-lived, when in our need we cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!’ (cf. Luke 24:29), in this present era, the risen Lord gives us a place of refuge, a place of light, hope and confidence, a place of rest and security. When drought and death loom over the branches, then in Christ we find future, life and joy. In him we always find forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again, to be transformed as we are drawn into his love.

To abide in Christ means, as we saw earlier, to abide in the Church as well. The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another. We stand firm together against the storm and offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, we believe with the whole Church of all times and places, with the Church in heaven and the Church on earth.

Pope Benedict finished his homily in Berlin with these beautiful words: Dear Sisters and Brothers! My wish for all of you, for all of us, is this: to discover ever more deeply the joy of being united with Christ in the Church, with all her trials and times of darkness, to find comfort and redemption amid whatever trials may arise, and that all of us may increasingly become the precious wine of Christ’s joy and love for this world. Amen.

Sébastien Stoskopff [Web Gallery of Art]

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon (Cf John 15:1,5)

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

Traditional Latin Mass

Fourth Sunday after Easter

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-28-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: James 1:17-21. Gospel: John 16:5-14.

Apostle St James the Less

St James the Less, first Bishop of Jerusalem, is considered to be the author of the Letter of St James.


Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
Whomever remains in me... so valuable and especially towards the end of our lives.
Such as Pieter is going through right now.
He is at home with me but in hospice care.
A very tough road to travel and also sleep depriving for me, his caretaker.
Pieter has given his ALL for taking care of me post accident and I'm by far not 100% but I have no choice but to do it alone.
Our souls will forever be together and no doubt he will watch over me from heaven... like so many other angel turned loved ones have done.
Please pray for us!

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Mariette, know that you and Pieter are in my prayers. The Lord who walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus continues to walk with you both as do Mary and St Joseph who walked with the Infant Jesus into exile in Egypt and back again.

With m love and prayers,

Father Seán

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
Yes, we both know that and it is our strong Faith that supports us most during this very difficult time. Also lots of prayers from around the world.
Yesterday was another tough day, like April 13 when he collapsed on the kitchen floor and was bleeding so much from his face. Yesterday he collapsed again when he tried to go to the bathroom and bled severely. Called the night hospice care and their nurse came, cleaned him up and had to call the ambulance. Again a CT scan from the head, no further issues and he did not need stitches this time. Will have a 2nd black eye and lots of bruises but the cuts were not that deep.
Had someone stay with me during the night but had to call for another strong male for getting him off the floor again. Will pick up a strong younger man from Church in a while and he can assist him. We need more provisions for him in order to bypass this risky walk to the bathroom, with his oxygen on.
Thanks for the prayers!