Fifth Sunday of Easter
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sunday May 10, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“Without me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Today being Mother’s Day, my thoughts turn to my own mother. She has been deceased now for thirty-six years. I remember her with affection in part because I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. She taught me at a very early age a great deal about love and life. She was a lady of common sense and practicality who taught me about God and how to pray, to read and to appreciate books before I ever entered school. She loved her family and was totally dedicated to her marriage. I am sure what I am saying could be said of your mothers as well. In effect, our mothers passed on to us a tradition, in the best sense of that word, displaying a motherly love that communicated how important it was to be part of a family. And while all of our experiences are different, the sense of belonging that family brings and mothers communicate is something no one can take from us. This attachment is as much a part of us as the sap that flows from branch to leaf in a plant. Perhaps this is why Jesus chose it as an image to teach that belonging to Him we needed to be attached to Him.
Jesus introduces us to that image in the Gospel today. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower,” Jesus says (John 15:1). Like a vine grower, the Father prunes the vine, taking away the branches that do not bear fruit. The branches that are left are completely united to the vine and bear fruit. “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” Jesus continues. “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me” (John 15:4). The whole idea and the essence of what Jesus is saying is union.
The fact that the prophets had spoken of the People of God as a vineyard is not lost on Jesus and his listeners. Isaiah, to cite only one example, had spoken of this, when he wrote, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his cherished plant” (Isaiah 5:7). The idea is that God has summoned a People to be His own. He is a caring and protective God. The vineyard is His. He nurtures and gives growth to that vineyard. He prunes and fertilizes. The vineyard is one and intact.
Jesus fulfills this rich image of the vineyard. The fulfillment comes with the establishment of a new vineyard. We call this the Church. This People of God is established in Jesus Christ, through a Word that is passed down, like sap from vine to branch. That Word is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus will say in this Gospel, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
From time to time, I have heard some say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” When I have asked them to explain what they mean, they say that they pray but they do not think they have to be attached to a tradition or a religion. They have a relationship with God and need no guidance or support keeping in touch with God.
This attitude strikes me as being a bit like adolescence. To return to my earlier analogy of the mother and the family, there comes a time in our adolescence where we want to be on our own. We want “to live our own lives”, as we say. We rebel and break loose. We think we don’t need family ties or the advice of parents. Such independence, however, has its limitations. We could continue living in a state of perpetual adolescence, but at some point reality steps in. God willing, we mature. We realize that the family has given us far more than we have given it, and we return to our roots.
We hear a great deal these days about “Gospel values.” I read nothing in the Gospel that says anything about the virtue of “rugged individualism.” I never hear the Lord speaking about “self-actualization” or “doing it on my own.” Instead I hear Jesus speaking of sheep united in a flock (John 10) or a branch united to a vine (John 15). Indeed, without him we can do nothing (John 15:5). I hear Jesus speaking of his new family (Matthew 12:50). I hear of Him wishing to establish a church (Matthew 16:18). If we wish to return to the fundamentals, then these are they. It is, in the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, “... one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4).
As we give thanks today for our mothers and all they have sacrificed for us, selflessly giving of themselves and passing on a tradition of family, let us pray too for our Mother the Church, established by Christ to do the same. Let us ask the intercession of Mary, the Mother of the Church, she who prompted the first miracle of Jesus at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1ff) and stood by Jesus at the foot of the cross to be revealed as our mother (John 19:27).
Mary, as a model for the Church, is my mother and yours, as Gerard Manley Hopkins compared her to the “air we breathe.”
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my forward eye
With sweet and searless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer;
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.
“The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe”
By Gerard Manley Hopkins