FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fifth Sunday of Easter ( B )
Acts 9:26-31 | Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32 | 1 John 3:18-24 | John 15:1-8
Our readings for the Fifth of Easter offer us images that are both beautiful and challenging. As Christians, we want to be good disciples of Jesus. This Sunday’s Gospel reading helps us know what will make us good disciples.
Fr. Matthew Chu Li-teh, S.J. was arrested and put in prison in Shanghai, China. His crime was preaching in his church. He immediately began to share Christ while he was in prison. He had a trial. It was a mockery of justice, and he was sentenced to 27 years. He did his 27 years, got out, and wrote these words: “Both prisoners and jailers asked many questions, and we had a more fruitful ministry there than we could have expected in church. God was better served by our presence in prison than if we had been free."
The default setting of Christian discipleship is persecution. In our first reading, we reach the point in Acts where Paul, now converted to Christ after seeing the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, attempts to join the Christian community in Jerusalem. The disciples were unwilling to believe in Paul's radical conversion. They were understandably afraid of Paul because of his reputation as one who had fiercely opposed them and hounded them. But then they come to see he has changed and is now himself a victim of persecution. Those who speak boldly for Jesus will usually — like Paul — find themselves facing stiff opposition from the rest of society. Do we want to be persecuted? Certainly not. But we cannot flee persecution and be faithful to the Gospel. We will face persecution and will be hated by many for standing up for Christ. We will be falsely accused of being hypocritical, self-righteous and judgmental. Let us find comfort and consolation in the words of Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, the saintly Poor Clare in EWTN, "If you're not a thorn in somebody's side, you aren't doing Christianity right."
While civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi was a practicing Hindu, Christianity intrigued him. In his reading of the Gospels, Gandhi was impressed by Jesus whom Christians worshiped and followed. He wanted to know more about this Jesus that Christians referred to as “the Christ, the Messiah.” In one of his travels to South Africa, Gandhi decided that he would visit one of the Christian churches. As he came up the steps of the large church he was stopped at the door by the ushers. Since he was not part of the high-caste Indians nor a white person, he was turned away at the door of the church. Unwelcomed. Once when Methodist missionary Eli Stanley Jones met with Gandhi, he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, you quote the words of Christ often, would you consider becoming a Christian?" Gandhi replied, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Our actions must support our words. Underscoring the perennial discrepancy between human speech (the talk) and behavior (the walk), Saint John urges believers that Christian faith must be lived: "Let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” He reminds his readers that love is keeping the commandments and doing what is pleasing to God. How do we know where we stand before God? How do we know if our actions are right or wrong? Saint John has some good advice: Listen to your heart. God does not have to condemn us when we sin — our hearts do the job. We will feel a lack of harmony between our own hearts and that of the Lord, and the discomfort will make it clear that we are on the wrong track. We can harden our hearts and refuse to listen, but in the end, we will have no peace.
Nestor was going to a costume party dressed as the Devil--red suit, pointy tail and pitchfork. As he walked it began to rain and he looked for shelter. The only place was a little country church, so in he went. It just so happened they were holding a Spirit Empowerment Seminar that night. When people turned and saw the Devil they dived for the exits. One poor fellow's coat got caught on a pew. As Nestor approached he turned and cried "Mr. Devil, I've been a member of this church for 25 years, but I've been on your side all along."
Today we want to talk about faithfulness to Jesus. The importance of not only remaining in the church, but remaining in Christ Himself. An iPhone or android device depends entirely on the power cable that connects it with the power source. The mobile device is kept alive by the energy that flows through the power cable and if it were severed, battery would be depleted. Jesus made a similar point with his analogy of the vine and the branches. As Jesus tells us today in the Gospel, Jesus, the vine, is the source of life for his disciples. As branches on the vine, abiding in Christ, we receive our very life from the nutrients that flow into us from Christ. What Jesus means is that he wants us to stay close to him and follow his teachings. This means being the best we can be, loving each other, and loving the beautiful world he has given us. If we keep our life connected to Jesus, we will grow. Our life will produce beautiful leaves and delicious fruit. But if we are separated from Jesus, our leaves will wither and die and we will never bear any fruit. <enrique.ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum