“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
O God, send forth your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may perceive, into my mind that I may remember, and into my soul that I may meditate. Inspire me to speak with piety, holiness, tenderness and mercy. Teach, guide and direct my thoughts and senses from beginning to end. May your grace ever help and correct me, and may I be strengthened now with wisdom from on high, for the sake of your infinite mercy. Amen.
Saint Anthony of Padua
Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism
may, under your protective care, bear much fruit
and come to the joys of life eternal.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
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.
Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles,
and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord,
and that he had spoken to him,
and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem,
and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.
He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.
And when the brothers learned of this,
they took him down to Caesarea
and sent him on his way to Tarsus.
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
Although the verses of today’s reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, begin with Saul and his first visit to Jerusalem, the point of interest for us is the growth, and marvelous spread of the Christian faith among the Jews of Palestine. “The Church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up.” If we were dealing with human achievement and human endeavor only, we would have an incredible story in those few words. During his public life of over two years Christ had traveled around Palestine. He had worked many miracles, but evidently these were soon forgotten. He had stated that he was the promised Messiah, but very few, if any, believed him. On many occasions he had referred to his sonship with the Father, but even his disciples did not grasp that. The leaders of the Jews were against him from the very beginning, and the people followed their leaders. Like their leaders, the Jews of that day were looking not for a spiritual kingdom after death, but a prosperous, wealthy kingdom here on earth in their own lifetime. So, with the few exceptions, all his calls to repentance and to love of God and neighbor fell on deaf ears. His death at the hands of his enemies was the last straw – that proved the absurdity of his claims to be the Messiah and the Son of God.
Yet what do we find a few years later, after the apparent failure of Calvary? Thousands of those same Jews who ignored or derided Jesus while he was amongst them, were becoming his fervent followers and ardent admirers. They were spreading his teaching among their neighbors. There is no natural explanation for such a change of attitude in a whole people. There is, of course, a supernatural explanation for this change of mind: the resurrection. This fact alone explains the change of outlook on the part of thousands of Jews: this alone explains the fearless courage of the Apostles – the one-time timid group who huddled in an upper-room behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” Now they were confronting the very Sanhedrin in their stronghold, preaching the risen Christ in the streets of Jerusalem and throughout the land of Palestine. Their power of working miracles, and the visible assistance of the Holy Spirit was moving not only the ordinary laity but many of the priests and leaders in Jerusalem itself, to accept Christ and Christianity (see Acts 6: 7).
This fact. the resurrection of Christ, is the very foundation stone of our Christian religion. If it had not happened, no Jew would have been converted in Palestine, no Apostle would have the foolhardiness to preach of one who had failed. The Church which Christ promised would have been stillborn and would never have survived. But it did exist and it spread. It is still in existence and will be, as long as men are on earth who must be directed to heaven.
The resurrection of Christ is not only the solid basis of our faith, it is also the guarantee for us that we too shall rise, in glorified bodies like his, one day. That day will be our real birthday, the day we are born to unending life. Let us thank God for his love and mercy; he could have ignored us and left us to our fate, but his infinite love did not let him do so. His goodness moved him to share his eternal happiness. That we shall do, if we do what is asked of us while we are here below. When the crosses of life come our way (and who can avoid them?), let us grasp them firmly. We want, and we hope, to be like the risen Christ hereafter; we shall if we, like him, carry our cross cheerfully whenever he asks us to do so.
Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.
I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the LORD.
The lowly shall eat their fill;
they who seek the LORD shall praise him:
“May your hearts live forever!”
I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.
All the ends of the earth
shall remember and turn to the LORD;
all the families of the nations
shall bow down before him.
I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.
To him alone shall bow down
all who sleep in the earth;
before him shall bend
all who go down into the dust.
I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.
And to him my soul shall live;
my descendants shall serve him.
Let the coming generation be told of the LORD
that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born
the justice he has shown.
I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.
1 Jn 3:18-24
Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.
Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 208 Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Before the burning bush, Moses takes off his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness.1 Before the glory of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah cries out: “Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.”2 Before the divine signs wrought by Jesus, Peter exclaims: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”3 But because God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him: “I will not execute my fierce anger. .. for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.”4 The apostle John says likewise: “We shall. .. reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”5
CCC 1781 Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice. The verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God:
We shall. .. reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.6
CCC 2631 The first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness, like the tax collector in the parable: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”7 It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer. A trusting humility brings us back into the light of communion between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and with one another, so that “we receive from him whatever we ask.”8 Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer.
CCC 2778 This power of the Spirit who introduces us to the Lord’s Prayer is expressed in the liturgies of East and of West by the beautiful, characteristically Christian expression: parrhesia, straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved.9
CCC 2822 Our Father “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”10 He “is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish.”11 His commandment is “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”12 This commandment summarizes all the others and expresses his entire will.
CCC 2845 There is no limit or measure to this essentially divine forgiveness,13 whether one speaks of “sins” as in Luke (11:4), “debts” as in Matthew (6:12). We are always debtors: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”14 The communion of the Holy Trinity is the source and criterion of truth in every relation ship. It is lived out in prayer, above all in the Eucharist.15
God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord, and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.16
1 Cf. EX 3:5-6.
2 Is 6:5.
3 Lk 5:8.
4 Hos 11:9.
5 I Jn 3:19-20.
6 1 Jn 3:19-20.
7 Lk 18:13.
8 1 Jn 3:22; cf. 1:7-2:2.
9 Cf. Eph 3:12; Heb 3:6; 4:16; 10:19; 1 Jn 2:28; 3:21; 5:14.
10 1 Tim 2:3-4.
11 2 Pet 3:9; cf. Mt 18:14.
12 Jn 13:34; cf. 1 Jn 3; 4; Lk 10:25-37.
13 Cf. Mt 18:21-22; Lk 17:3-4.
14 Rom 13:8.
15 Cf. Mt 5:23-24; 1 Jn 3:19-24.
16 St. Cyprian, De Dom. orat. 23: PL 4, 535-536; cf. Mt 5:24.
The sincere, active faith and charity which St. John demanded of the first and second generation of Christians in Asia Minor is still demanded of all of us today. Nineteen centuries have elapsed since John wrote that letter, but the essence of the Christian faith has not changed in all those years. If anything, the need today for a living faith, that is, a faith lived daily, and an active charity, is greater than it was in the first century after Christ. The opponents of the Christian faith (the unbelievers, the Agnostics and the humanists) are more numerous in our world today than they were then in Asia Minor. What these opponents of our faith need is not rhetoric or apologetics or logical argument but the living example of sincere Christians. There is far too much counterfeit Christianity – a nominal adherence to Christ – while he and everything he taught are denied in practice. Perhaps, therefore, unbelievers and others have some excuse today for despising the Christian religion.
But what they are despising is the counterfeit, the false currency, which is being passed around as Christianity. Some of them, it is true, may not accept the real faith if it is put before them in the lives of true Christians, but many will, and we have, therefore, a grave obligation to put it before them. Instead of denouncing atheistic communism, humanism and all the other substitutes for the truth which men have invented, let us show them the truth by living it to the full. Let us convince them that the future life which God has planned for us, and made available to us through his divine Son Jesus, is a fact of which we are certain and for which we are ready to sacrifice every earthly power, pleasure and gain. If we are true Christians we must desire and hope that all our fellowmen will become obedient to God, for this is God’s desire. That is why his divine Son became man. But, as St. John tells us today, it is not enough to desire and hope for this blessing for all our neighbors, we must show our true desire “in deed and in truth.”
This we shall do if we ourselves live up to the teaching of our Christian faith. There are many historical explanations for the loss of the true faith in many of the once Christian nations of the Western world, but the basic cause is the lack of a living, active faith and charity in those who by their position, education and influence, were the leaders of the people. The “isms” of today, the substitutes for true religion, would never take root in a truly Christian soil; they took root and they spread where Christianity was but a name, or worse still a veneer which covered injustice and corruption.
We Christians owe a debt of reparation to all lapsed Christians. We have a grave obligation to bring our brothers who have been led astray by lax and false Christians, back on the true road to heaven. Let us begin today to put our own house in order. Let us see to it that our conscience is right with God and resolve to keep it so. Then we can hope to exercise a quiet but effective influence on our neighbors who have wandered off the highway. Christ told his followers to let their light (of faith and good works) shine before men. If we have not been doing so let us begin today. There are millions groping in the darkness of spiritual despair; we can light their way to God. In God’s name let us do so!
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
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.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 308 The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”1 Far from diminishing the creature’s dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God’s power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for “without a Creator the creature vanishes.”2 Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God’s grace.3
CCC 517 Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of his cross,4 but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life:
– already in his Incarnation through which by becoming poor he enriches us with his poverty;5
– in his hidden life which by his submission atones for our disobedience;6
– in his word which purifies its hearers;7
– in his healings and exorcisms by which “he took our infirmities and bore our diseases”;8
– and in his Resurrection by which he justifies us.9
CCC 737 The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ’s faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may “bear much fruit.”10
CCC 755 “The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.”11
CCC 787 From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings.12 Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him: “Abide in me, and I in you. .. I am the vine, you are the branches.”13 And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”14
CCC 859 Jesus unites them to the mission he received from the Father. As “the Son can do nothing of his own accord,” but receives everything from the Father who sent him, so those whom Jesus sends can do nothing apart from him,15 from whom they received both the mandate for their mission and the power to carry it out. Christ’s apostles knew that they were called by God as “ministers of a new covenant,” “servants of God,” “ambassadors for Christ,” “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”16
CCC 864 “Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate”; thus the fruitfulness of apostolate for ordained ministers as well as for lay people clearly depends on their vital union with Christ.17 In keeping with their vocations, the demands of the times and the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostolate assumes the most varied forms. But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always “as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate.”18
CCC 1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches.19 The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.20
CCC 1615 This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses.21 By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ.22 This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.
CCC 1694 Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, Christians are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” and so participate in the life of the Risen Lord.23 Following Christ and united with him,24 Christians can strive to be “imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love”25 by conforming their thoughts, words and actions to the “mind. .. which is yours in Christ Jesus,”26 and by following his example.27
CCC 1988 Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:28
[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. .. For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized.29
CCC 2074 Jesus says: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”30 The fruit referred to in this saying is the holiness of a life made fruitful by union with Christ. When we believe in Jesus Christ, partake of his mysteries, and keep his commandments, the Savior himself comes to love, in us, his Father and his brethren, our Father and our brethren. His person becomes, through the Spirit, the living and interior rule of our activity. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”31
CCC 2732 The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”32
1 Phil 2:13; cf. 1 Cor 12:6.
2 GS 36 § 3.
3 Cf. Mt 19:26; Jn 15:5; 14:13
4 Cf. Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14; 1 Pt 1:18-19.
5 Cf. 2 Cor 8:9.
6 Cf. Lk 2:51.
7 Cf. Jn 15:3.
8 Mt 8:17; cf. Is 53:4.
9 Cf. Rom 4:25.
10 Jn 15:8,16.
11 LG 6; cf. 1 Cor 39; Rom 11:13-26; Mt 21:32-43 and parallels; Isa 51-7; Jn 15:1-5.
12 Cf. Mk 1:16-20; 3:13-19; Mt 13:10-17; Lk 10:17-20; 22:28-30.
13 Jn 15:4-5.
14 Jn 6:56.
15 Jn 5:19, 30; cf. Jn 15:5.
16 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 5:20; 1 Cor 4:1.
17 AA 4; cf. Jn 15:5.
18 AA 3.
19 Cf. Jn 15:1-17; Gal 5:22.
20 Cf. 1 Jn 1:3-7.
21 Cf. Mk 8:34; Mt 11:29-30.
22 Cf. Mt 19:11.
23 Rom 6:11 and cf. 6:5; cf. Col 2:12.
24 Cf. Jn 15:5.
25 Eph 5:1-2.
26 Phil 2:5.
27 Cf. Jn 13:12-16.
28 Cf. 1 Cor 12; Jn 15:1 4.
29 St. Athanasius, Ep. Serap. 1, 24: PG 26, 585 and 588.
30 Jn 15:5.
31 Jn 15:12.
32 Jn 15:5.
The words of consolation and encouragement which our Lord spoke to his Apostles on Holy Thursday night were intended to console and encourage all his followers for all time. They encourage and console us today, and we need encouragement to persevere on the road to heaven. Living a truly Christian life is never easy. We have always the attraction of the world, and the temptations by the agents of evil, to make that life less easy still. But in our own day these difficulties have increased a hundredfold. The attractions of this world have been multiplied by the increased comforts, pleasures and means of self-indulgence which science and technology have put within our reach. Human nature, always inclined to choose the easiest way out, has been given so many means of escape from the strain of self-control that even for a fervent Christian it is frequently very difficult to avoid these worldly allurements.
Having the ordinary comforts of life and the possession of some of this world’s goods, is not wrong or anti-Christian, but the natural temptation is to get more and more of these comforts and riches, and the point is soon reached where this becomes the only purpose in life. When this sad stage is arrived at God and our future life are forgotten; this world becomes our idol and our prison. The temptations which the agents of evil put in Christ’s way are also multiplied today. The communications media are now very technically improved and perfected and can be, and sometimes are, a means for good. Unfortunately more frequently they are the channels of bad example. The evil deeds of men have more “news value” than their good deeds. And it is so much easier to follow the bad example! Permissiveness, rejection of authority, glorification of unlawful sexual indulgence, drug addiction, and other such crimes are placed before the minds and the eyes of the youth of today, and are unfortunately copied by far too many.
It is indeed hard to swim against the current; it is so much more pleasant to allow oneself to be carried along without effort by the rushing tide. But when there are rocks and shoals ahead, the thoughtless and ease-seeking swimmer will end in grief. Our Lord has warned us today, as he warned his first followers, to abide in him, to remain closely united with him, as is the branch to the vine, if we hope to bear fruit worthy of heaven. He promises us that if we remain closely united to him, that is, if we strive daily to keep his commandments, he will be ever ready to answer our requests, and to heed all our prayers. The sincere prayer today of every man who is trying to lead a Christian life is for the grace to overcome the allurements of the world, the flesh and the devil. Let us take courage, then. Christ has promised to remain beside us during life if only we stay close to him. While we remain healthy branches of the vine, Christ, we will be on the road to heaven. Our daily tasks, our work as well as our prayer, our recreations as well as our rest, our joys as well as our sorrows, will give glory to God and prove that we are worthy to be called disciples of Christ.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Ignatius Press
Mary the Great Believer
Mary is the great believer who humbly offered herself to God as an empty vessel for him to use in his mysterious plan. She did not try to live according to human calculation but put herself completely at the disposal of God’s mysterious, incomprehensible design. All she wanted to be was the instrument and servant of the Word. Therein lies her true fame: that she remained a believer despite all the darkness and all the inexplicable demands God made on her. She believed even in the face of certain incomprehensible facts… Today God is still mysterious; indeed he seems to have a special kind of obscurity in store for each person’s life. But could he ever render any life as dark and incomprehensible as he did Mary’s? This is the real reason for her greatness and her being called blessed: she is the great believer. Consequently, she is represented to us not as a distant haloed figure but as for ever the young girl who entered Elizabeth’s house with the shining light of mystery on her brow and surrounded by the radiance of purity and half hope. But, like Elizabeth, Mary cannot remain silent at this moment. It is said that, even today, under the influence of a great joy simple Arabian women will improvise a song in which they pour forth the hidden poetry a simple heart composes when moved by a powerful joy. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary deflects Elizabeth’s praise from herself to God the Lord. It is he who deserves all praise. In so acting, Mary has shown the way for all future praise of herself: it is to be praise of God as he is mirrored in his graciousness to human beings.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.