At his Mass of Solemn Inauguration as Pope (April 24th, 2005), Pope Benedict XVI commented on something that the tremendous attendance at Saint John Paul II’s funeral showed the world: the Church is alive, and the Church is young. Our Lord today, describing his relationship to his disciples and his Church, presents us an image of the Church alive and young: a vine.
In today’s First Reading we see that the life of Christ reaches the most unlikely people, just like a vine is difficult sometimes to trace to its trunk: Saul the persecutor through Our Lord became Paul the apostle. Paul being a believer after all the trouble and mayhem he caused among the first Christians was difficult for Christians to believe. What if it was as ruse?
Barnabas, however, had seen the signs that Our Lord was present and active in Paul. “Saul” had undergone a profound conversion in Damascus and his preaching there was just the beginning. After meeting with the apostles he pursued his mission with such zeal that he had to leave Jerusalem or risk death. Through hardships too numerous to list he stayed rooted in Our Lord and, as Paul himself said, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
In today’s Second Reading we’re reminded by Saint John that the decision to stay rooted in Our Lord is ultimately ours, and there is only one way to abide in the vine. John knows from past experience that there are “religious” people who just go through the motions and do not love in “deed and truth.” If we love in deed and truth we know Our Lord will take care of us. John summarizes abiding in Our Lord as believing in him and loving one another. Our Lord doesn’t leave us alone in striving to believe in him and love one another. His Holy Spirit communicates the grace we need to abide in him.
Jesus in the Gospel today invites the disciples, like he invites us, his disciples, to remain in him. Jesus is that true vine, that trunk, from which the Holy Spirit flows and gives us life, as the readings remind us of today. However, just abiding in the vine is not enough. The vine is not just drawing life from the trunk; with its leaves it is gathering life from the sun and with the water to give life to the rest of the vine as well. Which is why Jesus reminds us that the sign of any healthy vine is its fruits. When God sees we’re putting out feelers or heading in fruitless directions, he nips those feelers in the bud. That can hurt, but, just like a doctor poking and prodding at what ails us, it is a necessary pain.
The life of Christ reached Paul in an unexpected way, but it didn’t stop with him. It transformed the zeal of a persecutor into the zeal of an apostle. Paul knew Our Lord wanted him to go out and help the life of Christ reach others. As he said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Woe to us as well if we do not preach the Gospel. A vine spreads through its branches and the Heavenly Father, as today’s Gospel reminds us, expects us to bear fruit in his Son. Ask yourself today whether you are sharing the Gospel with anyone.
Readings: Acts 9:26–31; Psalm 22:26–28, 30–32; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8.