FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (B) APRIL 29, 2018
By: Jude Siciliano, OP
The sound of the pruning shears does not sound very pleasant, in fact, it sounds quite stark, threatening and painful. Keep that vinedresser from my door! Perhaps the vinedresser isn’t the one to blame when we have to make a painful readjustment in our life. When we realize we have made wrong decisions, the changes we must make, though necessary and fruitful can be difficult. We realize periodically in our lives that life has had a way of seducing and then disappointing us. And we have been taken in by its false allure. The pain comes from the letdown after our inflated expectations come to naught, or when the path we choose leads to a dead end – a lifeless career; a relationship that turns to ashes; a dream bubble that bursts under trial, etc. Such dead ends are painful and quite frequently we have no one to blame but ourselves.
It is in the disillusionment and letdown that we have an opportunity to choose a more lasting, or eternal way of living, by turning to Christ. It is not on our own, but through God’s grace that we come to our senses – that’s how God "prunes" us; that’s how we can "bear fruit." If we are wise we will remain on the vine, connected to Christ, so that, despite the pain and disappointment life might dish out for us, we will not feel let down by God. In fact, we will feel blessed, like a fruitful branch drawing life from the vine.
Are we connected to the divine life? Yes. Can we prove it? Not by the measurable signs most people call "blessings." But if we disciples stay connected to Christ, letting his words live in us and his body and blood feed us, then our faith, not our senses, will tell us that the life Christ had from God is living and breathing in us and even our disappointments have the potential to bear much fruit. When we see signs of that fruit, then we know that the vinedresser has been at work.
The gospels over the next weeks are drawn from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s gospel. The season is Easter, after Christ’s resurrection. But these readings take us back to the table when Jesus shares a meal with his disciples, speaks his departing words to them and then is snatched away and killed. Frequently in John, Jesus describes himself in, "I am..," terms. Today he says, "I am the true vine...I am the vine...." When we reflect on the metaphors he uses to identify himself, we learn more and more about who Jesus is in our lives. Now we are reminded that life from God flows through Jesus to all those connected to him, the "true vine." If we are to have a life that bears fruit within us and our world then, Jesus advises, we must "remain" in him.
It can sound like a "quid pro quo." If we do the right things, we will receive our reward. Following this line of thought, the "haves" of the world seem to be blessed by God – they have "fruitful" lives, beauty, health, wealth and strength. They must be doing something right; they must be really good branches on the vine and liked by the vinedresser. Unlike the "have-nots," who seem to be on the outs with God, at least when measured by how well they are doing in life. These people might wonder if God has stopped listening to them, or if they have done something to turn God’s face away from them. But they, who may feel cut off the vine, have a companion in Jesus who cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Upon deeper reflection on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we realize our connectedness to God through Christ, does not guarantee that life will be a cake walk. No one was more connected to the "vine grower" than Jesus, yet he had to walk through the "valley of the shadow of death." Look at how much fruit the "vinedresser" brought out of Jesus’ life through his suffering. Feeling abandoned may be a natural feeling when we are suffering; but faith in Jesus reminds us that we are not cast off and that, through Christ, we are in a powerful and meaningful relationship with God.
I have moved residences a lot over the years and my current itinerant ministry keeps me on the move. While living for a time in one location, I have made friends and then had to leave them. There were the farewell parties and the inevitable, "Let’s stay in touch." We say that to each other at such times because "staying in touch" will keep a relationship strong and growing. If we "lose touch" chances are the relationship dwindles and eventually disintegrates. The same is true in families. We may not move from one part of the country to another; we can be living in the same household and still "lose touch’ with one another and cause a once warm relationship, to chill.
When Jesus reminds us to "remain in me," he wants us to "stay in touch" with him. But we know that we don’t have to move away to lose touch. We continue going to church regularly, but lose touch with Christ when we just go through the motions of religion, without our heart and mind being fully in it. In fact, we are not "remaining" in him; his words don’t nourish and direct us. We also lose touch with Christ when we partition our lives into two parts; our coming to church being one small section, with the rest of our lives forming a separated and out-of-touch-with-Christ part. Instead our lives need to be more unified as we earnestly seek to remain connected to Christ in both prayer and action. How we fashion our lives, what we do and how we think, should not be disconnected from what we profess here at worship.
Jesus doesn’t spell out how we are to "remain" in him. Coming to church to hear his Word and be nourished by his life-giving food constitutes one way. Learning from the example of our sister and brother believers is another. There are many more, daily religious practices that strengthen our ties with Christ. We will have to choose one or two: reading and meditating on scriptures; receiving the sacraments; praying the rosary with its focus on events in Jesus’ life; attending special church services; joining a reflection group, etc.
Activities outside the usual religious settings are also practices that help us remain in Christ. There we can try to put his love for people foremost in our daily lives, especially his love for the poor, ill and outsider. The possibilities are many and each of us will have to find our own way to "remain" in Christ. These ways will also change over the years, so we need to be open to the new possibilities the Spirit blows our way. We know one thing for sure: our gathering here each week is a central way to keep the ties with Christ and his other branches strong, so we do the best we can to participate fully.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042918.cfm
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
We are so blessed to live in a country where the church is not persecuted. It is not so in many parts of the world. The USCCB reports (http://www.usccb.org/news/2017/17-105.cfm) that in mid- June of 2017, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, presented an oral report to the full body of bishops on the situation of religious discrimination and persecution in Asia and the Middle East. During that year, Bishop Cantu took part in solidarity visits to Sri Lanka, India, Iraq and the Holy Land, where he met with bishops, refugees and persecuted people. He also learned about concerns in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Malaysia.
"Tragically, religious persecution and harassment is not limited to one or two regions in our world," said Bishop Cantú. Citing statistics from the Pew Research Center, Cantu noted that "Christians are harassed in the largest number of countries, 128, followed closely by Muslims in 125 countries. This is partly due to the fact that Christians and Muslims are the largest religious groups in the world." Harassment consists of both social hostilities and government restrictions. It can include physical assaults, arrests and detentions, desecration of holy sites, and discrimination in housing, employment and educational opportunities. "At times, it rises to persecution and genocide," Bishop Cantú said. He invited Catholics in the USA, who wish to help, to:
1.Pray for those suffering from persecution.
2.Become aware of the Christian presence in the Middle East and of an accurate understanding of Islam with openness to dialogue with Muslim neighbors. Resources are available at:www.usccb.org/middle-east-christians .
3.Donate to non-profit Catholic organizations such as CRS, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus.
4.Advocate with the U.S. government for assistance and the dignity of refugees.
Bishop Cantú also shared with the bishops the research study "In Response to Persecution", conducted by the University of Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture, the Religious Freedom Institute, and Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Research Project. The study is available at:http://ucs.nd.edu/assets/233538/ucs_report_2017_web.pdf
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Remain in me, as I remain in you."
When Jesus reminds us to "remain in me," he wants us to "stay in touch" with him. But we know that we don’t have to move away to lose touch. We might continue going to church regularly, but lose touch with Christ when we just go through the motions of religion, without our heart and mind being fully in it. In fact, we are not "remaining" in him; his words don’t nourish and direct us.
So we ask ourselves:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation
to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in
whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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