Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter
Year B: Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Charismatic persons motivate to action, for better or worse, by their ideas, statements and even mere presence. They affect others from the outside in. Jesus Christ also wants to affect and motivate to action. But only for good, and by working the other way; inside out. In fact, Jesus seeks such a close and intimate union with us, so that hislife, literally, can flow in us, making it impossible to see where one begins and another ends. I.e. turning us into saints.
“I am the vine, you are the branches”, we heard him describe in today’s gospel, repeating his pervading and clear claim to be something much more than a mystic or a wisdom teacher – viz. God in person. No other religious founder has made such a self-claim, and this, we know, also led to his death. Buddha, Mohammed and all the others have claimed to convey knowledge of true life. Jesus says that he is the true life. Therefore, he is always controversial – try e.g. to mention his name at a dinner and compare the reactions of mentioning Buddha! All understand that taking Jesus seriously is not due to all “nice” things he says about forgiveness and love, but due to trust in the fact that he actually is God who walked here on earth; thus, forgiveness and love mean something much more than we can achieve, and then nothing in our lives can just “roll on”; he must become the centre of everything!
In baptism, the Church grafts us as branches onto Christ, the vine. We then have a responsibility to do what we can, in order to remain united to the vine. Our yes or no to taking on that responsibility affects our eternal life, something Jesus also clarifies in the gospel passage we just heard. To explain away his words is to deny him. The vine will of course never force itself on us after our death, if we in life here consciously cut us off from him.
To live in one’s baptism is to try to remain grafted onto the vine, and to allow the Father to cut away everything, which our deficiencies make dry and lifeless; enabling us to bear fruit. I.e. so that more of God’s will is allowed to work within and through us, and we might love with a love that is “something real and active” in that we “keep his commandments” and live as “he wants”, as we heard described in our second reading from the First letter of St. John. If we are firmly anchored branches, our lives will be permeated by Christ and thus testimonies of God’s plan with, and the truth about, creation and ourselves: our relationships, to ourselves to begin with and then to each other; and further on, everything we do in and with our lives: our professional life, our free time and entertainment, our way of being citizens, our relationship to material things, what we do with our bodies, and so on. Everything can become sweet grapes if we allow the vine to nourish us.
In order for this to happen, we first need a steady prayer life. Prayer is mainly about being able to see more and more in our life, and in our world, with God’s eye. Short but regular prayer sessions that can be kept and enlargedwhen possible, are better than to never be able to make that long meditation one had hoped for.
Secondly, receiving the sacraments of the Church will physically keep us united to the vine. Regular Holy Communion, unfortunately more difficult for many in the pandemic, however obliges to a regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, i.e. Confession, where God tends all that is dry and not bears fruit in us, allowing the life-giving sap of the vine to flow more freely. To see everything in one’s life that needs forgiveness, presupposes seeing what is sin, i.e. big or small no:s to God’s revealed will. The devil’s best help to make us cut ourselves off from the vine, is theological ideas, from within Christianity itself, claiming that sins might not be sins if we think or feel differently. But then one has made oneself, one’s own interests and deficiencies, to God, and made conversion to something only applicable to others, on certain areas.
And so, we arrive at the third factor uniting us to the vine: a loving obedience to the commandments of the Church. Our ability to such an obedience is strengthened by the grace conferred by the sacraments, directing and giving power to our will. Loving obedience means that we listen to the commandments of the Church and try to internalise them, i.e. making them our own, because Christ has given the Church he founded, the Catholic Church, the authority to speak on his behalf at all times.
This is especially true for commandments that we do not understand or like. The devil wants us to reject what does not fit, but our vocation is to live increasingly in the trust that God, who has created us, loved each one of us into existence, knows better than anyone else, also than we ourselves, what will turn us into them we were meant to be; what we need, which is not always what we want, in order to live truly and therefore happily, no matter what sufferings and difficult sacrifices awaiting us in life here. The Council of Trent has stated that the grace to keep the commandments of the Church is given to each one who is prepared to receive it in humility, trust and readiness for self-sacrifice. What a challenge! Yes, actually, what an adventure; the path to holiness!
As the deficient creatures we are, this is a process of two steps forward and one backward. But then we find consolation in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles about the conversion of Saul, the future Apostle Paul. No-one, not even the most hateful persecutor of Christians, can be so lost that reconciliation would be impossible. No, on the contrary it shows that the life of the vine finally can flow into everyone’s branches, and be shared with the world through good fruit.
The Swedish Carmelite father and author Wilfrid Stinissen once described the image of the vine, and the human hesitation whether to be fully attached to it or not, as an invitation to see life, not as a struggle, not as something that I myself or others construct, but as God’s gift: “The life flowing through the branch is a gift from the vine. ‘Why do you want to produce your own life?’, Jesus asks. … ‘Open yourself to me, remain in me, and I will give you my own life.’ Do you prefer your life over his?”
 Stinissen, Wilfrid: Idag är Guds dag, Libris (Örebro), 1994, Meditation on April 19 (”Life Is A Gift”)