6th of May. 5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31. Barnabas introduces the converted Paul to the Christians living in Jerusalem. They accepted him – nervously, perhaps – but he is so outspoken that some Jewish zealots tried to kill him.
1 Jn 3:18-24. If we wish to live as God intends we must keep his commandments, especially the commandment to love one another.
Jn 15:1-8. Christ uses the image of a vine and its branches to illustrate the closeness of the ties that exist between him and his disciples. Close to him, our lives will be very fruitful and pleasing to God.
Theme: Today’s Gospel calls us to be active, disciples of Christ, fruitful branches of his Vine.
It’s seldom I am required to preach a homily in Irish, but since I have one for next Sunday, let me give it here too. Would any of our regular readers be interested in having, or preparing, an occasional homily “as Gaeilge” for inclusion with the Sunday Homily Resources? Fr. Pat Rogers
An Fhiniúin Fíor
Tá an bhéim sa sliocht soiscéal níos mó ar Íosa mar an “finiúin fíor” ná ar Dhia mar an garraíodóir. San Sean Tiomna, is minic a bhí trácht ar Dhia mar garraíodóir. Núair a chruthaigh Dia an domhan, is mar gháirdín a dhéan Sé é. Agus i leabhair na bhfháigh freisin tá íomhánna ar an fhíonghoirt nó finiúin ar fáil chomh maith chun cúram trocaireach Dé a chur i bhfeidhm do’s na bhfiréan Iosrael. Glac Íosa ar an íomhá chéana núar a deir sé gurbh é féin an fíor Fhiniúin agus go bhfuil a chuid dheisceabail mar craobhacha de’n chrann torthúil chéana. Cuireann sé in iúl dúinn gurbh é tri bheith páirteach leis a thagann an saol ó Dhia isteach in ár n’anam.
Má tugaimid aird ar a gcuid focail, úsáideann sé an aimsir láithreach chun cur síos ar an méid atá fíor i gcás dá dheisceabail; go bhfuil muid cheana féin in aontas leis, agus nach mór dúinn ár ndícheall a dhéanamh chun fanacht san aontas torthúil sin.
Le Íosa mar an fhiniúin, is féidir le daoine ó gach cúinne de’n domhan, agus gach uile náisiúntacht, a bheith mar craobh nó mar bhrainse leis. Is féidir le duine ar bith páirt a bhaint le pobail Íosa agus a fháil, tríd an finiúin, an saol tugann sé dúinn ó Dhia. Sin an méid a deireann Naomh Pól dúinn, a raibh trácht air san chéad léacht inniú. Eisean, Apostolos Gentium, Aspal na Stráinséiri, dhéan sé a seacht ndicheall chun tioncur agus dea-sgéal an fhiniúna sin a leathnamh amach ar an domhan uile. Agus muidne, toisc go bhfuilimid ceangailte go teann isteach san fhiniúin, is é torthúlacht den sórt chéana a guímid go mbéadh ar ár gcreideamh, agus an méad is féidir linn a déanamh, chun saol an fhiniúin a leathnú – sin e, daoine eile a thabhairt isteach i bhfoinse na beatha dhiaga.
Tá an glaochaint agus an freagracht sin ag gach deisceabail fásta inniú freisin, orainne a bhaineann le h’Iosa – go bhfuil “torthaí” le dhéanamh againn ar son Dé. Conas is féidir linn é sin a dhéanamh? Chun fanacht ceangailte leis an agus torthúil ní mór dúinn saol grámhar a chaitheamh. Is é an grá na chéad torthaí nó an chéad tortha gur choir dúinn a íoc. Ag an Eocairist ceiliúraimid bás íobartach agus aiséirí glormhar Chríost – an gniomh is gramhara a cheanadh riamh ar an domhan seo. Sníonn shaol an finiúin dos na bhrainsí. Chumasaion sé dúinn chun cónaí a gcaradas leis, agus grá a thaispeáint le daoine eile ina ainm. I bhfad nios mo ná aon easpag nó an pápa, fear-ionad le Naomh Peadar, is é Íosa féin a léirionn dúinn conas is fearr an bheatha a stiúradh ins an domhan seo. Guímís inniu go mbeidh Sé i gconaí adhraithe agus gníomhach in ár measg!
Seasaímís anois, agus deirimís le chéile Cré na hEaglise Críostaí.
A Gardening Culture
Most of the gardeners I know are part time ones, like the ones I meet when I take my daily walk down towards Blackrock. As they quietly work away at cultivating and pruning, weeding and planting, it seems that there is something sacred about the way in which new life flourishes under the guidance of these home grown gardeners.
Whether we like gardening or not, and (in very rare cases) whether we like gardens or not, we can claim to belong to a gardening people. Right from the beginning, the One whom Jesus calls Father was documented as being the first gardener – and not a part time one at that. In today’s Gospel, God’s more specialized talents are highlighted. Not just a gardener of flowers and fruit, God is also a wine producer and knows about cultivating vineyards and producing the best wines.
As gardeners know, a lot of hidden work gets done (in the shade so to speak) before fruit and flowers flourish. God’s into that unseen business too. And for those of us whose home is in this crackling and tinder dry country where bushfires are not an uncommon occurrence, we know that even from ashes, an abundance of tender new shoots appear.
A Code to Guide Us
It is extraordinary the fascination which the history of ancient Egypt and its Pharaohs has for people of modern times, and this not only by reason of the wonderful edifices and sculptures they left behind, but also from the social and religious point of view. For here we had a whole people organised for one purpose, to secure the continuation of the Pharaoh in the next world. They surrounded the burial of their ruler with a set of customs, of laws, of ritual ceremonies, the purpose of which was to create the impression that the Pharaoh was still alive. They even placed food in the tomb for him, together with his favourite furniture, chariots, games and weapons. But the most striking thing about mummies, whether royal or not, is that they are very, dead indeed.
The lesson from all this is that religion which has degenerated into code and cult, into a matter of laws to be kept, and ceremonies or rites to be carried out, that such a religion will in time become dry and musty, and like the mummies utterly without life. I recall a person on a T.V. religious programme being asked about the effect of religion on his life, whether he would be happier without it, and he said, “Yes, sometimes, but then it is always a guide to help one get through life.” In other words for him religion was a code to regulate his conduct. But whereas people of that mind do not want their consciences being upset or disturbed, neither often do they want their freedom restricted. They want religion to be mummified, to be static in their lives. But, if it means anything, Christianity has got to be a living, a vibrant force in one’s life. Not only does Christ live on in the community of believers, he also, through them, carries on his mission of ministering to souls who are in need of his mercy and love.
In those who spread the words of the gospel to others, whether in the mission fields, in the parish, in our schools, we have the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper, “That they may know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” In every instruction in the faith, given and received, we have a figure of Christ restoring his sight to the poor man, who at first beheld people dimly, as if they were trees, and then came to see clearly. In every sinner who comes to repentance we see, as it were, Lazarus raised once more from the dead, casting off the shroud of sin that enveloped him. In every coming together around the Table of the Eucharist, we, like the Apostles are witnesses before the whole world to the task, entrusted to us by Christ, of proclaiming his death and resurrection until he comes at the end of time. Christianity is not, and never should be, mere code or mere cult.
If you see Christianity as a code – “you must do this, you must avoid that, you must be present at this Mass” – is one often heard – then it is possible to begin to credit your account before God by claiming, “I attend Mass, I observe this law, I have progressed so much on the way you require of me.” It is possible to reach the stage where you begin to see yourself as being perfect, with no further need of a saviour. But, alas, such an assessment of one’s standing before God is precisely that of the Pharisees, of whom Christ said to his listeners, “I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). True Christianity is the vision of ourselves as being encompassed by God’s love, that despite our faults, God loves us to the point of foolishness, to the point of death on a cross. If we believe in Christ, God is ready to regard us as his children and friends. Friends do not ask for literal commands, but from their personal acquaintance with the one that loves them, they try and understand his half-words. From love of him they try and anticipate his wishes.
If we see our lives as a response to the immense love God has for us, then there will no longer be constraint. Rather will religion have a liberating effect in our lives. We will enjoy what scripture describes as “the liberty of the children of God.” But then again, so great is the love of God for us that we will see our efforts at responding to that love as always falling short of what we desire. The trouble with those who see their lives as blameless is that they have limited vision. They do not raise their eyes above themselves. Why should we continue to strive after something which seems beyond us? The answer from St Augustine is that we must do so because we have an inbuilt need for God, and nothing short of him will ever satisfy that inner seeking which is with us all our lives.
Admirers have suggested that the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s plays was only surpassed by that of his conversation. He was a superb raconteur whose conversational offerings were heavily laced with irony. He had a penchant for parables, recounting them in the style of the gospel narrative. He is reputed to have recounted the following:
One day, an unknown man walked down the street. It was the first hour of daylight and people had not yet gathered in the market place. The man sat down by the wayside and, raising his eyes, he began to gaze up to heaven. And it came to pass that another man who was passing that way, seeing the stranger, he too stopped and raised his eyes to heaven. At the second and third hour, others came and did likewise. Soon word of this marvellous happening spread throughout the countryside and many people left their abodes and came to see this stranger. At the ninth hour, when the day was far spent, there was a great multitude assembled. The stranger lowered his eyes from heaven and stood up. Turning towards the multitude, he said in a loud voice: “Amen, amen~ I say unto you. How easy it is to start a religion!’
To start a religion, as Oscar Wilde wittily pointed out, may not be that difficult, but to ensure its survival is quite another matter. People are gullible. Futurists predict a growth in religious activity in the 21st century. For them it forms part of the leisure industry which is expected to expand dramatically. Whether one should greet this prediction with joy or apprehension is a matter for debate. A purely statistical increase in church membership is a dubious gain. What counts for Christianity – indeed, what ensures its survival – is not external but internal growth. What is required is not more members of the Catholic Church, but better disciples of Jesus Christ.
Mere membership and full discipleship are worlds apart. Christianity has always suffered from a surfeit of members and a shortage of disciples. Humans are social animals and crave to be associated. In a world grown cold and depersonalised the churches offer a comfortable ambiance of friendship and security. Often the gospel is diluted to accommodate the prejudices and lifestyle of the parishioners. Few preached fearlessly enough, like St Paul, to risk their livings, let alone their lives. The radical Christ is made into a benign bishop and the collection plate registers members’ approval. Too many withered branches remain un-pruned.
St John tries gently to prod us into discipleship. “My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” You won’t meet Christ in your Sunday liturgy, if you haven’t rubbed shoulders with him in the office, in the factory or in the kitchen. You won’t hear his message from the altar, if you were deaf to his call at your office desk. Jesus put it simply and bluntly: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and then you will be my disciples.”
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31
When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Second Reading: First Epistle of St. John 3:18-24
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment: that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Gospel: John 15:1-8
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 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.