5th Sunday of Easter (Acts 9:26-31; Jn 15:1-8) “If We Do Not Abide in Christ…” PDF Version
Homily for the 5thSunday of Easter, Year B (2018): Acts 9:26-31; Jn 15:1-8
During the Last Supper, Our Lord shared a number of final parables and teachings with the Apostles to prepare them for their mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Salvation to the four corners of the earth. Just prior to consecrating wine within a polished stone chalice that would become the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, Jesus offered this parable of the Vine and Branches, revealing to the Apostles that the only way they could abide in Him and He in them is if they believed and lived their lives in such a way that they knew that without Him they could accomplish nothing!
If they did not have communion with Him, if they did not abide in Him through the Precious Blood they were soon to consume, if they lived like branches detached from the living giving Vine, they would spiritually perish, trying to go about the work of God but in vain because they relied on their own strength and talents to do so and not on the grace that Christ was offering them.
Most Christians can intellectually comprehend the truth that without God we can do nothing. But many Christians live in such a way that they do not continually go to God for assistance or they figure that by their will power alone they can do anything. I know that I do this all the time! I am faced with a challenge that feels insurmountable and I immediately try to figure our how to solve this problem, but without first turning to God in prayer, asking for His wisdom and guidance and humbly admitting that without Him I cannot face or overcome the challenge put before me!
Our faith has grown and flourished when Christian men and women abide in Christ and confess that without Our Lord we will not succeed. Our faith has floundered and diminished when we seek to confront the world’s problems without God, saying that yes we believe He is in heaven but that we can get out of whatever mess without having to bother Him.
We heard how in the early days of the Church, the first disciples were able to proclaim the Gospel to others and bring many to the waters of baptism because they “lived in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, [thus] increasing in numbers.” Their total reliance on Christ, the true vine, allowed for them to become life giving branches, having been pruned of all that was sinful or were obstacles to becoming vessels of God’s grace. This was seen most powerfully in the witness and conversion of Saint Paul.
The man who had once been the enemy of Christ, a branch filled with vigour for having lived as a zealous Pharisee and lover of God’s Law but who had detached himself from the True Vine when he began to persecute the Church, would by God’s mercy be once again grafted back onto the True Vine who is Christ, learning to rely on Him alone and willingly suffer and be pruned of selfishness and self-reliance to become that great missionary to the Gentiles. He is a powerful example of if one is willing to undergo this necessary pruning, of being stripped away of all that separates us from the love of Christ, then after this painful pruning is complete, we can abide totally in Christ and accomplish great deeds for the glory of His name.
Our Church also remembers another disciple of Christ this weekend that a lived as a living giving branch who wanted only to be united to Christ, the true and life giving Vine of God’s love and grace. Her name was St Catherine of Siena and we celebrate her feast day on April 29th.
Though she only lived to be 33 years old, at a young age she asked Christ take her as His mystical bride, allowing herself to be united to Him and Him alone, accepting whatever sufferings might come by being pruned of selfishness and set aflame with divine love. This pruning meant she would bear on her body the stigmata, the mystical wounds of Christ, and was accused of being a witch and enemy of the Church for her zeal to reform corruption among the clergy and immorality and hate among the Christian people.
She was the chosen branch that Christ sent all the way to the papal palace in Avignon, France, where she boldly ordered the Pope to end his exile in France and return to the city of Rome that had fallen into decay and immortality in his absence. No one in all of Christendom possessed the courage and zeal of St Catherine and because she wished only to abide in the True Vine and do all that He asked of her, she triumphed and brought the Pope back to Rome and passed away from this world at the same age that Our Lord died upon the Cross and Rose to the newness of resurrected life.
While the life of St. Catherine of Siena is truly exemplary and it is possible that no one quite as courageous as she will arise among the Christian People again, what she teaches us is that to believe in this profound truth of our faith, that without God we can accomplish nothing, but to abide in God we can accomplish all things in Him who strengthens us, is a truth that we must struggle to live in our daily Christian lives.
I invite each of us to take time this weekend to pray on this matter. One way could be to present before the Lord a very difficult situation in our life and tell Him that we trust in Him and that without Him we cannot possible face the challenges that lie ahead. Another way to pray is to ask our Lord’s forgiveness for all the times we lived far from Him, neglecting to abide in His grace and foolishly relying on our own strengthen and not His comforting love.
Let us ask St Paul and St Catherine of Siena to intercede for us and teach us how to abide in Christ as they so humbly did, so that we too will be strong and grace filled branches that rely on goodness of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that comes from the heart of the True Vine, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.