Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2)

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus tells the disciples. The image invites us to consider our relationship with the Lord in his church. The connection between vine and branches is vital. It is one that gives life, sustains it through nourishment and hydration. It is organic and natural. When it is sound and stable it enables the branches to bear much fruit.

So it is with our relationship with God. As Jesus says, he is the vine and we are the branches.

Continuing our celebration of Easter, we are reminded that we are united with Jesus “the vine” through the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. The union with Christ Jesus is real though unseen. The relationship is fortified and strengthened in different ways.

The celebration of and reception of the Eucharist is an ongoing and essential source of nourishment for the relationship. Grace is the nourishment the provides vitality to the branches. The channel is the vine, Christ Jesus.

Prayer is another way in which the relationship is strengthened and sustained. Prayer can be done at anytime and anywhere. It can be as simple as the sign of the cross or developed as a holy hour. It can be reading the Scriptures or adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. It can be done at home, in a park or in a church.

We have been hearing about life in the early church in the first readings at Mass. Since Easter they have been taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The passages witness to the proclamation of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and its reception. Many, many people in various lands from various backgrounds are coming to faith and are being baptized. They become part of the vine. The relationship is established and the branches begin to bear fruit.

This is seen in the proclamation itself, in the care and concern for others in the communion, the works of charity for the poor and needy, healing of the sick, care for the sick and dying, comfort for the sorrowful, the courage to face adversity, growth in humility, forgiveness of sin and transgressions and much more.

The account in this Sunday’s reading recalls Saul’s (later named Paul) visit to Jerusalem. This is his first visit since his conversion. Recall that prior to this Saul was persecuting the Christians. The last time he was in Jerusalem, he had even participated in the martyrdom of Stephen. Now he returns, in a sense, a new man. His life has been turned around through his relationship with Christ and his church. He was baptized in Damascus and while there the relationship was developed and grew.

Members of the church instructed him in the life and teachings of Christ Jesus. His faith grew strong and he began to preach. Now he returns to Jerusalem. Naturally the disciples in Jerusalem are apprehensive at first, knowing his past actions. Soon they realize the authenticity of his faith. His proclamation in Jerusalem joins with that of the others and many more people come to faith.

The church as at peace. And with the “consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” The gospel is being proclaimed and many are coming to believe. They are being united with the vine and now begin to bear fruit.

The second reading for today’s liturgy is from 1 John. The reading encourages us to keep the commandments of God. The author states: “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” He goes on to use the language of “remaining” similar to what Jesus says in today’s gospel passage. “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.”

Life is a gift from God. Eternal life is poured into us through Christ Jesus. He is the vine through which we continue to live. Jesus reminds us today that we will bear great fruit if we remain in him and in his love. The words encourage us to faithfulness every day, to allow that life-giving grace to animate in love, so that we can love as we have been loved.

In this, the work of the Church is accomplished, the gospel is proclaimed and the gift of life is given and sustained. And so today we are encouraged, by Jesus himself, to “remain in me, as I am in you.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.