5th Easter [B] 2012
Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
Do you know what a ligament is? Perhaps we gain a greater appreciation of a ligament and realize its importance when we have one that’s torn. Ligaments hold our bones together at their joints; things get disjointed and painful when our ligaments can’t do their job.
The word "religion" means "to bond together again,” to “re-ligament" our essential relationship with God that that has been fractured and torn asunder. To share Christ’s love means we should join Him in bringing us back into a holistic union with each other, with all of nature, with the world's natural resources, and with our Creator. The work of religion goes way beyond our own private, personal, and individual relationship with God. The work of religion and our response to God's call moves us into Christ's care and concern for all others around us and for the world God has given us. Our concerns as Catholics are always communal; our concerns as Catholics involve us in the lives of others. Our concerns are catholic and universal, taking us beyond our own personal selves into the Church's universal and all-encompassing love, care, and concern for the whole world and all who live in it.
The world we know is quite broken, dislocated, and fractured. The process of globalization is not bringing us together. Quite the contrary: it is tearing us apart. The United Nations organization reveals a world that is very much disunited, not united. Here in our country, diversity is celebrated over unity. How, then, are we going to bring unity and community into our world as we now find it?
Left to our own devices, that would be impossible. But with God all things are possible. This is particularly so since God gave us His only Son, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit, in order to empower us to heal our fractured and broken existence, and return our world back to God as His kingdom – to return it healed, mended, and restored back into His dominion. That is the goal of re-ligamenting our broken world. That is the work of religion.
We cannot, in all honesty, do it by ourselves. We will not be useful, productive, or successful unless we go about our task and accomplish our mission with the power of the Spirit-filled Christ risen from the dead. Without the power and gifts of God's Holy Spirit we will accomplish little of anything – nothing in fact of value. We must acknowledge that we are branches of the main vine, Jesus Christ, who tells us in today’s gospel account: I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from me you can do nothing. A man who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch that is good for nothing. And if you live and me and I in you, He tells us, you will live a life of meaning, purpose, direction, and of infinite value.
The mythic symbol, the icon of the true American, is the individualistic cowboy who accomplishes anything and everything; who with his six-shooter can restore right order and justice in his part of the world. We should carefully note, however, that it applies only to the cowboy’s individual and particular part of the world. We, as Catholic Christians, are to apply the powers we have, powers that come from God, to heal, redeem, and thereby sanctify and bring wholeness not only our own individual lives but the world around us. We can do that only as members of a worldwide, Universal Church. For, you see, we're all in this together. Ours is a communal world; ours is a communal religion; ours is a commonly shared life in the life and faith of Jesus Christ as members of His universal Mystical Body.
Recent polls indicate that many people are searching for spiritualties that are unique to themselves. Distrusting organized religion, people glean bits and pieces of the teachings and practices from many religions, thinking perhaps that any spirituality will do; thinking that one spirituality is just as good as another.
But is that true? If God sent us His only begotten Son in order to share His life with us, then should not our holiness be found in Christ’s holiness; our sanctity found in His? Isn’t what Jesus taught about the vine and branches to be taken seriously? Our sanctity, our wholeness, our holiness is not ours, it is Christ’s. What is necessary for us is to incorporate our lives into His life. That’s what the sacraments are all about. The Holy Spirit comes forth from the nature of Christ and into our nature through the Sacraments of His Mystical Body, the Church.
Left to ourselves, we can accomplish nothing. Human history shows us that our “do it yourself” record has left behind it nothing but human wreckage and misery. We stand in the shoes of the disciples who, when Jesus told them to feed the crowd of five thousand people exclaimed: “Lord, all we have is five barley loaves and two fish. What can we accomplish with that?” The answer, of course, is that left to ourselves we can accomplish little if anything, faced as we are with the task that lies ahead of us. Just any spirituality will not do; just any spirituality we construct for ourselves will be fashioned from human effort, not God’s. We need the spiritual power that comes from God to us in Jesus Christ.
We are created in the image and likeness of God in order that His dominion, power, and glory can change and reshape the face of the earth by changing and reshaping the face of what it means to be human. We are created to know, love, and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next. Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead in order to fill us with God’s creating and life-giving Holy Spirit that we might reveal and realize God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. That is the goal of our religion.
We have Christ’s commitment, His covenant to be with us no matter what. We have God's Presence among us and living within us when we receive the Body and Blood of His only Son Jesus Christ, in order that we might be a part of accomplishing His work. Without that we cannot hope to live useful, meaningful, and productive lives, lives having meaning that will last far beyond our own individual and isolated selves.
With that vision, then, we now enter into Holy Communion and together receive our Blessed Lord in His glorious and Spirit-filled Body and Blood. It is in that, and only in that, that our lives will be useful and productive. It is in only in that our lives will make any sense at all.
All that we have comes from God. All that we have is destined to be returned to God. The question is: Will we return our lives and our world back to God with value added by our Spirit-filled efforts, with value added by our response to God’s invitation that comes to us in Christ Jesus? Religion isn’t all about me, it is about us.