Fr. Rick’s Homily – 5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday in Easter B – Fr. Rick Sherman; May 2, 2021

Acts 9:26-31; Ps. 22:26-32; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

“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.” John 15:1-8 

Thank you for your VERY generous donations to last week’s Home Missions collection.  You donated $1,684!!  Bless You.

This year Bishop Solis has directed us to put more emphasis and preparation into our celebration of the Solemnity of Pentecost, which will be observed on May 23.  Pentecost marks that great event of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles and bestowing on them the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  If those gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord are genuinely RECEIVED and then cultivated, we will bear the FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. 

This brings us to a couple very critical lines in today’s Gospel:  “The Father will take away every branch that does not bear fruit.”  And then, “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.”   I hate to emphasize the negative, but it’s hard to gloss over such a stark and glaring point. What could He possibly mean by the fire?  Hell perhaps?  The hell of eternity or perhaps the hell we create here on earth.  The branches are thrown into the fire, after they have been thrown out and withered.  This is not a threat from God, but rather it is an inevitable consequence.  Use it or lose it.

If we do not use, cultivate, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will not produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit and we wither and die.  These fruits do not always come so easy though as we venture through life.  We get to many points where we realize that we need more Wisdom and Understanding and Fortitude.  That’s where the pruning comes in. We should expect to need lots of regular pruning along the way.  We should be aware of our need to be part of a community that can help us see our need and potential for growth and then get us properly pruned.  Not always fun, but essential …. at least according to God speaking through the Gospel of John today.

It’s important to emphasize a couple other points here:

First, remember that God is not just calling us to a private “me and Jesus moment”.  We are branches on the same vine.  We are called together as a Church to be fed and nourished and to become ONE.  We call this radical coming together the Eucharist, the Mass, the heavenly banquet.  Usually banquets are held for lots of people.  (Today Aubree will not just receive the Body of Christ, but she will join a community of believers who are striving to BECOME ONE BODY, ONE SPIRIT IN CHRIST).  After Mass we are then sent out to produce the fruit that the world desperately needs.  Aubree’s generation deserves a world with a strong moral foundation that actually comes from God.  The apostles received the gifts of the Holy Spirit shortly before they were sent out to create that world; to build that Kingdom. We are called and sent to do the same.

The second point I want to make is that it’s fairly easy to identify which fruits are most needed in our individual lives as well as in our society.  Recall that the Church identifies 12 specific fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Just consider for instance the fruits of:  charity, patience, kindness, chastity and temperance.  It’s probably not too hard for most of us to feel convicted on patience and kindness.  These require a daily awareness and a cultivation of Knowledge and Understanding for starters.

But let’s focus in on temperance today.  Just imagine what the world might look like if we had all consciously born the fruit of temperance.  We live in a society that is surgically effective at enticing our appetites.  Our appetites for food of every kind, for pleasures of the flesh, for fun, for ATTENTION, for every conceivable form of indulgence and consumption.  Our whole economy depends on our INABILITY to temper our appetites.  We have developed a culture that requires us to keep running around at an ever more frantic pace to feed those appetites … or try to satisfy those others with perhaps the biggest appetites.

I can think of a long list of things that would be dramatically different if we had produced more of the fruit of temperance.  For one thing I would probably be SKINNY–ER.

If we could all temper our appetites for excess, there would be plenty of everything to go around including food and parental attention for our children.  We could have envisioned the many alternatives needed to avoid the ecological and sociological catastrophes that we have largely created over the past 60 or 70 years.

We wouldn’t need so many food and childcare subsidies from the government because they would already be provided by communities of faith developing all their gifts and sharing the bounty.  We could hold each other accountable without legislation and also provide the personal support that all people need.  We could actually avoid problems BEFORE they are created.  With the God-given Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding we would take the time to learn what we really need and how a more careful consideration of God’s commandments would guide our many decisions.

The First Letter of St. John instructs us today that, “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.”  In short, if we apply the Gifts of God’s Understanding, Wisdom, Knowledge and Strength our hearts will condemn what God condemns and we will desire what God desires.  And in that sense, when we ask for what we desire we will receive it.

So far we have closely considered only temperance!!  This is going to be great fun as we move toward Pentecost and consider more closely our need for the rest of the fruits of the Spirit.  There is no need for anyone to wither or get thrown into the fire.

Let us now proceed with the banquet that God has prepared for us and with Aubree Sanchez especially in mind as she receives her First Holy Communion.