Sunday, May 6, 2012

Christ the Vine

This homily originally appeared in Connect! magazine.

When personal computers first came out in the eighties, they were really nothing more than glorified typewriters and calculators. Though they made it possible to store information electronically, there was little else that they were good for. In fact, many companies still managed to stay in business without them.

Then in the nineties, the Internet was introduced. Now computers could be connected together in a web which spanned the globe. Messages could be sent electronically in an instant. We became able to use our computers to purchase goods online or to manage our checking accounts. This new phenomenon made the computer impossible to ignore. Rather than just a glorified typewriter and calculator, it became an indispensable part of business and of every household. By simply connecting computers together, the possibilities became endless.

In today's gospel, Jesus tells us that he is the true vine, and that we are his branches. Just as each branch is vitally connected to the vine, so we are each individually connected to him. And just as a computer is transformed into an engine of commerce by connecting it to the Internet, so we are transformed from mere human beings into children of God through our connection to Jesus.

Saint Paul is a perfect example of Jesus' power to transform our hearts and minds. During these Sundays in Easter, we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles which chronicles the early years of the Church after Jesus' ascension into heaven. In the first chapters of this book, Paul is a sworn enemy of the fledgling Christian community. He is even complicit in the murder of the Church's first martyr, Saint Stephen. However, while on the way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Saint Paul has a life-altering encounter with the Risen Jesus. As Christ speaks to him, he is transformed from the Church's chief persecutor to its foremost missionary. Disconnected from Christ, Paul was full of hate and violence. Now connected to him, Paul becomes an instrument of reconciliation and peace. In fact, no one except Jesus himself has done more to spread the gospel message throughout the world than this murderer turned apostle.

Jesus wants the same for each of us. He wants us to plug into him, to draw our life and strength from him so that we may live with new power and confidence. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we would be nice to each other and not hurt anyone. Rather he gave us his Spirit to transform us and to send us out to likewise transform the world. The only way we could ever hope to live this challenge of the gospel is to realize that it is only possible by our connection to the true vine, Jesus Christ.

How then do we become connected to Christ so that his power can be at work in our lives? The good news is that we are already connected through our baptism. By the gift of faith which baptism planted in our hearts, we were grafted onto Christ and are already drawing from the immense fountain of his life and goodness. That power is already at work in us and in our community to make Jesus present to the world.

I want us each to take a second to look around this congregation to the people sitting next to us. This place is filled with people who have been touched by Jesus and who draw their life from him. There are parents who teach their children about Jesus and provide an example of love because of the faith they received at their baptism. There are catechists who give of their time to form our young people in the faith because they themselves have been touched by Christ. There are those who bring communion to the sick and food to the hungry because they hold on to Jesus' teaching that whatever we do to the least among we, we do to Christ. And there are those dedicated to a quiet life of prayer who do immensely more good for the world than we can ever know. In these pews, in the eyes of our brothers and sisters, we see the branches springing from the vine which is Christ, and we see the abundant fruit of his Spirit.

None of us can do what we do unless we remain connected to Christ. And we stay connected to him by obedience to his commandments as Saint John tells us in the second reading: "Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us."

If obedience is what keeps us connected to Christ, then disobedience and sin are what make us fall off the vine. When that happens, we dry up and die. That is why we call serious sin, "mortal", because it means death for our soul since we become separated from Christ who is the source of our life. That is also why we must avoid sin at all costs. Jesus warns us very plainly in the gospel: "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." And so, when we are conscious that we have sinned, we must fly to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that the Father can prune out of our lives all that is not worthy of him and re-establish that connection to Jesus so that his life and power can begin to flow back into our lives.

Jesus promises that if we remain in him we will bear much fruit. A tree cannot eat its own fruit. Rather, the tree bears fruit for others. Just so, the fruit we bear through our connection to Christ is meant to bring nourishment not just to ourselves but to others. As we prepare ourselves to receive from the vine the gift of Jesus' body and blood, let us ponder how our faith makes a difference not only in our lives but in the lives of those we meet. And let us ask Jesus to make our connection to him stronger so that we can continue to draw our life from him.

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