29 April 20185 Easter

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
5 Easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cycle B
John 15:1-8

Michelangelo enters his studio. He examined the canvases of his pupils. A few he complimented. He advised some to keep their day jobs. Finally he came to his star disciple. The man was working on a small canvas. Michelangelo took up a brush. Across the picture, he wrote the Latin word "amplius." It means "larger." The maestro felt his pupil was playing it safe. He was not working up to capacity. He wanted him to start all over again. The artist did and he painted an exquisite canvas. Psychiatrists argue we leave this world with large portions of our brains woefully undeveloped. But there is no argument that this is entirely true of our spirits. Spiritually we are capable of being more interesting Christians than we are. What we lack is boldness. Had we chutzpa, we could become spiritual masterpieces. Jesus must often be tempted to write the word "amplius" over the lives of so many. We are good as far as we have gone. But we have not gone far enough. Our spiritual canvases are too small. We are capable of so much more in the spiritual life. The lives of our spirits need constant repainting. The Teacher would tell us the larger canvases and brushes that we need are sitting on the benches before us. They are ours for the taking. "The greatest tragedy," wrote Leon Bloy, "is that each of us is not a saint." Is there anyone who thinks Christ would disagree with that judgment? Saints, we are told, make Jesus real. The same Christ who in today's Gospel says, "...every branch that does bear fruit He prunes to make it bear even more." Our limited vision, says Christ, needs constant updating. But He does not tell us to grow fruit. In five verses, He tells us eight times to abide in Him. That's the secret.

A saint said, 'Aim for the stars and you at least reach the mountain. But aim only for the mountain and you never get out of the mud." The goals of many of us are too limited. We remain spiritual pygmies. Jesus tells us, "Launch out into the deep." Too often we attempt to go it alone in the spiritual life. This is not brightness personified. Take the geese for openers. Check them in flight. You will notice they fly in splendid formation. Centuries ago they learned the hard way that they could fly more easily and at greater distances as a group. We would do much better at our faith if we acted in concert with other believers. Think of the use of spiritual directors, reading of the spiritual masters, retreats, days of recollection, etc. A second trick that the clever geese have to teach us is about leadership. When the leader of the famous "V" formation gets tired from fighting the strong headwinds, he or she drops back for a breather. Immediately, another goose comes forward to lead the pack. How much more effective our parish and we as Catholics would be if everyone carried his or her share of the burdens. As the geese would be the first to tell us, the age-old cry "Let George do it!" is not good enough.

There are some of you reading these lines who have great contributions in leadership to offer the Nazarene. You must come forward and take risks. Christ needs you and wants you. Hey, so do we. But the geese have more to teach us. They encourage and support each other. When they fly in their formations, they honk away. This is especially true if they fly through storms. The honking keeps the group in tight formation and serves as a beacon for strays. Would that we might learn to support and encourage one another - but especially our strays. Mark Twain reminds us encouragement is oxygen for the soul. He said he could live for a month on one good compliment. We all believe in booster shots to protect us against physical diseases. Why then do we not indulge in booster words? They are the compliments that will pick up the spirits of others. We need one another's help. The Christian life, said one master, isn't hard to live. It's impossible. Only one person has pulled it off - Jesus. But He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us. The master reminds us the Holy Spirit can make a great finish out of a slow start. He can make us run well even in mud. Some misguided strays say, "I'd be a hypocrite if I started going to church again." To them Fulton Sheen said, "Come back. There's always room for one more." 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
5 Easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter: Mary and Molly and the Experience of Christ

Mary tried too hard, but she didn't try hard enough. Let me explain. Mary grew up in a Catholic family that took their faith very seriously. Only sickness kept them from Mass. They even said bedtime prayers together most nights, calling them family night prayers when the kids got older. Mary was quite active in the Youth Group when she was in high school. She joined the campus ministry program in college. But during her sophomore year she found herself too busy to be a regular attendee at Mass. By her senior year, the only time she went to Mass, or prayed at all, was when she was home. Six months out of college, Mary finally got a job in her field. She always wanted to help others, make a difference in people's life, so she had studied to be a social worker. After a number of unsuccessful interviews, an agency in a big city up north hired her to work the phones and occasionally visit some of the elderly poor confined to apartments in the city. It wasn't exactly what Mary trained for, four days a week she sat in an office calling fifty clients, making sure they had food, heat, took their medicine, arranging transportation to the doctor, etc.

One day a week, though, she was able to leave the office and visit the people. With fifty clients, she only could see people once a month, but it was something. It was also a day she enjoyed. Except when she had to visit Molly McPherson. Molly was not nice. In fact she was downright nasty and sometimes even rude. The first time Mary visited, Molly complained, "They send me a kid with her pretty smile and empty head and think that I should be pleased. And then you say you can't stay too long because you have others to see. Well, don't bother with me. I didn't ask you to come." That was how the relationship started. It got worse. It became an absolute struggle for Mary to knock on Molly's door. Mary went home for Thanksgiving and was able to get an appointment to speak with her pastor. She told him about her problems with Molly. She went on an on. Finally, she stopped and waited for his response.

"So, Mary, how active are you in the faith when you are not home?" he asked. "Do you pray every day? Do you go to Mass every week?" "Typical priest," Mary thought. "He's missing the whole point why I'm here." So she answered, "I don't know what that has to do with this, but I'm still looking for a Church." "It has everything to do with this, Mary," the priest responded, "how do you expect to bring the love of Christ to others if you are not overflowing with it yourself? You see, Mary, you are trying hard, but you are not trying hard enough. In some ways you are doing too much, thinking that you can do it all yourself. You need to be thoroughly united to Christ and then let Him to the work." Mary didn't expect to get that sort of a talking to, but she did take the priest seriously. She started praying every day, and found a parish near her apartment. Actually, it was just down the block, but she never bothered to notice it. She went back to her younger days, and became active there, lectoring at Sunday Mass.

One day at the end of January the temperature had raised up to 45 degrees. Now that might seem cold to us Floridians, but when you are living in 20 to 30 degree temperature for months, 45 degrees feels like summer. They call this the January thaw. Mary visited Molly and decided to use the warmer weather to try to get off on a pleasant foot. "It sure is nice outside, Molly. Why don't you take a stroll before winter kicks in again. I'll walk with you." That just started Molly up again. "You think that just because you have a coat and scarf and gloves, that everyone can go outside. I haven't been out since September. And here's why." Then Molly took out a coat that was so threadbare it couldn't even serve much use as a blanket. Molly then hissed, "Why don't you just go back to your fantasy land. I've had enough of you for today." As I said, Molly was not nice. Mary ran to the Church in tears and asked God to help her not be bitter to the elderly lady. The next day was Mary's pay day, a whole $800. She could barely pay her rent and food out of that. Mary cashed her check and then she had a wonderful thought. She still had a little graduation money in the bank for emergencies.

She could use some of that to get by. Mary thought about Molly. She put $200 in an envelope, and sent it anonymously to the bitter old lady with a note, "Please buy yourself a winter coat." A few days later the agency received a letter addressed to young Mary. The letter contained $50 and read, "I know that you must have sent me the money, because no one else knew about my coat. I'm sorry for being so mean. I was able to find a coat for $150. Please give the other $50 to someone else who has needs. Looking forward to your next visit, Love, Molly." Mary thought that Molly could have used that extra $50 herself. She also thought that Molly could have continued her mean streak, but instead she wanted to be generous to someone. Mary realized that Christ had indeed worked on Molly. Molly had been touched by the love of Christ. Molly now felt the love of Christ in her own life. Now this love was flowing through her and needed to touch someone else. Molly wanted someone else to have that $50. We hear the message of the vine and the branches every year at Easter time.

It seems so obvious to us that we need to be united to Christ to bring him to others, but then we get so busy in doing things for our family, our spouses, or others, that we forget where the real Power of Love comes from. Like Mary, we try too hard, but we don't try hard enough. Instead of strengthening our union with Christ and letting Him work though us, we go about a myriad of tasks without spending time on the work that really matters, growing in the love of Christ. We have God's life, God's love within us. When we are united to this love, even the mean old Molly's of the world, or the mean old Molly's of our families, will come in contact with the Love of Christ. And once the Love of Christ flows into them, it will flow through them to others. What really matters in our lives? Is it the way others treat us? Often that motivates us to return negative for negative. But what others say and do is really secondary to what really matters in life. What matters is the Love of Christ that we have been empowered to make real in the world. When that love becomes our focus, then we really don't care about ourselves. We just want others to experience this love. During Easter time we celebrate the gift of the Lord's life we received at Baptism. We need to be determined to strengthen this life within us. We need to be more faithful, more prayerful. We need to try harder in our prayer life. That is how we are called to bring God's love to others. He is the Vine, we are the branches.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
5 Easter
Material Relation with Jesus
(April 29, 2018)

Bottom line: Your Annual Catholic Appeal pledge expresses part of the material relation we have with Jesus and each other.
At the end of this homily we will have a presentation on the Annual Catholic Appeal. I want to connect the Appeal with what we have seen about the relation with Jesus - the Risen Jesus. As we saw on Easter Sunday the empty tomb indicates that the Resurrection is more than Jesus' soul going to heaven. No, he physically rises from the dead. Jesus shows Thomas his hands and his side and invites him to touch the wounds. He underscores this physical reality by taking a piece of baked fish and eating it in front of them. Because of his physical reality Jesus becomes present in the breaking of bread - the Eucharist, the Mass. Pope Benedict says that Jesus Resurrection represents an "evolutionary leap" - a new dimension of existence. We participate in that reality by baptism, belief and the Eucharist. This mysterious relationship can be expressed with various images: He is the Good Shepherd and we belong to his flock.

He is the head and we are cells or organs of his body. He is the groom and the Church is his bride. Or as he tells us this Sunday he is the vine and we are the branches. Joined to Jesus we have an intimate relationship not only to him, but also to each other. We depend on Jesus and we depend on each other. Could we have a better Gospel for the Annual Catholic Appeal? Your Annual Catholic Appeal pledge expresses part of the material relation we have with Jesus and each other. Some members of Jesus' body are experiencing robust health. Others are going through hard times. We need each other. Those doing well need the prayers of those brought low. The Bible says God hears the prayers of the brokenhearted. Those in difficult for their part need the sacrifices of those doing better. Paul told the Corinthians to give generously for the needy in Jerusalem. Sooner or later we all need a helping hand. That's what the Appeal is about. To explain more I ask you to give your full attention to _________________________.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
5 Easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Classic
John 15: 18

Gospel Summary
In this passage from the Last Supper Discourse (John 13: 31?17: 26), Jesus reveals to his disciples and to us that he is the true vine planted and cared for by his Father. We are the branches, depending on Jesus for life just as branches depend on the vine. "Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing." Separated from Jesus we cannot bear fruit: like a useless branch we are cut off and soon wither. To be certain that we have some sense of how radical the gift of sharing his life is, Jesus adds two astonishing statements. If we ask for anything, our Father will give it to us because of the communion of life. It is as though his own beloved Jesus were asking. "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me," Jesus prayed before restoring his friend Lazarus to life (John 11: 41?42). Further, if we bear much fruit from the new Christian life that we have been given, the Father will be glorified in us as he was through Jesus.

Life Implications
At our Eucharist today we hear the gospel as the Christians of John's community at the end of the first century heard it, not with the incomplete knowledge of the disciples before Jesus' death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We have heard the complete good news beginning with the response of Jesus to the question two disciples asked, "Rabbi, where are you staying? He said to them, ?Come, and you will see'" (John 1: 38?39). Throughout the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus reveals that he dwells in the Father and the Father dwells in him. And he reveals further that he dwells in us and we dwell in him like a vine and its branches. John's placement of the "vine and branches" saying in the context of the Last Supper reminds us of what Jesus said after feeding a large crowd with bread and fish: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (John 6: 56?57). If we had only the image of the vine and branches, we might draw the conclusion that our finite human life is totally absorbed by infinite divine life. Rather, the good news is that the communion of life in Christ is a communion of love. "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love" (John 15: 9).

Life in Christ is a gift freely given, and a gift freely accepted. Tragically, because there is freedom, the life and love of Christ can be rejected. The fearful possibility of separation from Christ is a consequence of freedom. It is the possibility of seeking an illusory life that the world separated from God offers. The archetypal figure of the disciple Judas, who succumbed to greed in betraying Jesus, is a graphic reminder of that possibility for all of us. We are meant to live in the peace and joy of the Easter gospel, however, not in fear and uncertainty. "Without me you can do nothing," Jesus tells us. But with him we can do anything. If we remain in his life and love, we can ask anything of the Father and it will be given. Mindful that Jesus out of love for us, and that his Father might thereby be glorified, he did not ask to be saved from his hour of suffering (John 12: 27). We too will always ask to live in his truth and love. In confident hope that the supreme grace of remaining in Jesus will always be given, we can keep his commandment to love each other as he loved us. Thus, the Father's goodness will also be revealed in us for his honor and glory. "And the way we know that he [Jesus] remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us" (second reading, 1 John 3: 24). In this knowledge of faith and hope is our peace and joy.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.

5th Sunday of Easter, Modern
Lectionary 53

An appreciation for humor, irony, and laughter are authentic signs of a Christian, I believe, since we are only able to truly laugh?to laugh with joy, not the nervous bluster of the arrogant or insecure?because in Jesus Christ we see the definitive answer to the otherwise confounding inanity and tragedy that so often mark our world. The frustrations, sufferings, embarrassments, and missteps that leave many people who have no faith despondent can be seen by Christian believers as part of the irony of human existence. We have the chance to see a bit of "divine humor" in today's readings when Paul, having just made one of the most dramatic religious conversions in history, from Pharisaical Judaism to Christianity, struggles to find acceptance among his new Christian fellows. "When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26).

One can hardly blame those who shunned Paul's first inroads into the Church community; after all, till recently, he had been an energetic persecutor of these very same Christians. Still, his situation has something of a tragi-comic cast to it as he tries to meet and affirm new friends in Christ while they desperately flee from him. Some earnest intervention from Barnabas saved the day for Paul, and he eventually became a pillar of the early Christian Church. The humor we might find in Paul's plight in Jerusalem gives us a chance to reflect on coming into the Church and the way we are welcomed when we try to do so. Catholics are rightly proud of our home parishes and churches, our schools, our Altar Guilds, Men's Clubs, and our CYO leagues, all of which ought to remind us of the catholicity and universality of the Church. Yet we may have experienced less than an opened-armed welcome at one point or another when joining a new parish or a group within our parish. Catholics are famous for this sort of territoriality, which is very often built on lines of ethnic identity and which can be seen in the proliferation of small Catholic churches in an ethnically rich area like our own.

A sure way to celebrate our rightful Catholic identity and to make sure that it does not become parochial or unwelcoming is to see to it that our identity is rooted first in Christ, "the true vine" (John 15:1) and then in the more particular cultural or regional expressions of our Christian identity. This proper ordering of values gives the Church its catholicity?the unity in diversity that has been part and parcel of its existence from the earliest days and which continues to strengthen the Church today. The "mark" of catholicity (do you remember the four "marks" of the Church?) should be kept in mind both when we graft ourselves onto a new branch of the Church by joining a new parish or Catholic organization, and when we encounter others trying to make their way in the Church. If we do this faithfully we show that we properly understand the relationship between Christ, the vine, and the many branches that make up his living body, the Church. Welcoming others into the Church is eventually part of the experience of every Catholic, and doing so consciously is a sharing in the apostolic work Paul himself began with great difficulty in Jerusalem. His evangelical efforts eventually paid off in spite of his humorous misadventures, and ours will be sure to "bear much fruit" (John 15:8) if we keep our eyes centered on Christ the true vine.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
5 Easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel text last week Jesus is quoted as saying: I am the Good Shepherd. In this week's Gospel he says: I am the true vine.
Last week's text was all about the role of Jesus in guiding and protecting his flock. The words of Jesus were very comforting and reassuring. They make us feel that we can leave the initiative to him and need merely to follow where he leads us. We know that he will care for us, that he won't lead us into error and that we can feel safe. It also speaks about the great sacrifice that Jesus makes; as the Good Shepherd he gives his life for his sheep. The accent is all on him and his role in our salvation. We are the passive recipients, the objects of all his love and concern. However, as if to restore the balance, the Church presents us with quite a different emphasis today and the accent here is on our role. In the Bible, and especially in the Gospels, we find many analogies of the Christian life. No single one can give us an adequate picture. Like any good teacher Jesus uses many examples to get across his point. This Parable of the Vine is a particularly apt one. Jesus says: I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser... I am the vine; you are the branches.

Now looking at things from this angle it seems that Jesus has the more passive role and we have to do a lot more of the work. He is the vine who feeds and nourishes us, the branches. And our job is to bear much fruit. This is not quite so comforting or easy going as thinking of ourselves as sheep who merely follow in their master's footsteps.

The snag is the worry that if we are found wanting and are unable to yield fruit then we will be quickly pruned and cast into the fire along with all the rest of the dead wood. We are left with questions such as: What kind of fruit ought we to bear? And what sort of fruit is acceptable to the Lord? And how do we actually go about ?bearing fruit'?

Of course, we are using the language of analogy here; we are not talking about a harvest of actual grapes. When Jesus says ?I am the vine' he is clearly meaning a vine of a heavenly order. The fruit, is therefore surely also of a heavenly order. We realise that the harvest is one of souls for heaven. Our task is in fact to continue the work of Christ in the world. In order to know what to do we must look at his life and imitate him as best we can. He taught the truth, he spoke words of comfort, he healed the sick, he brought sight to the blind, he rebuked the devil, he spent much time in prayer and in communion with the Father. And ultimately he laid down his life for our salvation. These then are the things we must do. We must think hard and find ways to translate his actions and his words into our actions and our words.

This is easier than you think. Wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves we only have to ask ourselves the question: What would Christ do if he was in my position? Then we have a plan of action. And there is, of course, an important Eucharistic dimension to these words of Jesus. Remember that this text is part of that great ?farewell discourse' given in the upper room after Jesus washed the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper. It is no mistake that Jesus refers to himself as the vine when it is wine that is used as one of two great Eucharistic species.

Using the comparison of the vine we see that we are in total unity with Jesus. It is a wonderful analogy of the Church; one organic whole with Jesus at the centre from whom all the branches draw life and nourishment. However, the opposite is also true. When we separate ourselves from Christ we no longer receive nourishment from him and consequently the divine life within us can only wither and die.

The Eucharist is all about unity; the whole community gathered round a common table drawing life from Jesus who makes himself present to us in Word and Sacrament. Our regular attendance at mass is ?the' sign of our Christian commitment, ?the' sign of our union with each other in Christ. Yet this unity is not easy to maintain, it is frequently a struggle. Look at the trouble Paul has in the text from the Acts of the Apostles. First the other disciples didn't want to accept him, then, because of an argument, the Hellenists wanted to kill him. So, for the sake of peace, they sent him off on a mission to his own home town. It took a long time before they realised the crucial significance of his contribution. We in this parish are not always completely at one with each other. There are surely holes and gaps in our unity. But as St John says: ?Our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.'

We are the branches of the true vine; but this is not something passive. We draw our life from Christ. That word ?draw' is an active word. To draw life and nourishment from the Lord requires constant attention and effort; it won't happen by itself. Our unity as Christians is not something we can take for granted; it too requires constant attention and effort. It too doesn't happen by itself. And yet this unity is an important and vital aspect of our mission.

If we want to focus on one thing in the weeks and months ahead then let us try to put into practice the lesson of today's Gospel, then we can reflect on how our words and actions break down or build up the unity of the Church. If each one of us, even in a small way, manage to improve in this regard then we will find that this vine that we are part of will indeed flourish. This vine, which is our Church, will bear fruit in plenty and will give glory to our heavenly Father just as Jesus wants.

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