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Homily for Sunday, April 28, 2024

Fifth Sunday of Easter |

 


I am about to share a story that I often use at funerals. Since we have had a few funerals recently, some of you may have heard this story before. But before I get to the story, I just wanted to explain why I thought this story was relevant for today’s Mass. 


In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares our relationship with God to a vine, its branches, and its fruit. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the fruit represents those who come to faith, including, I suppose, parts of ourselves. The context here is extremely important. These are the last words of Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper, and he is trying to offer them, and you, encouragement. They are about to face a great challenge, filled with fear and suffering. Many of us today who are here are also facing great trials filled with fear and suffering. And I hope you also accept these words of Jesus with the encouragement they are given. 


Last week, Jesus was comparing himself to the good shepherd, a beautiful analogy. He emphasized that, unlike the “hired hand,” he owns the sheep, he is responsible for them, and his level of care is much more profound. But still, a shepherd and his sheep are not the same; they are two different beings. From here, Jesus takes his encouragement to a deeper level. To risk paraphrasing,


“I’m not only like a shepherd, I am part of you, and you are part of me. The only way to be separated from me is through sin, yet my mercy is everlasting. There is no need to fear, I will always be with you, and you will always be with me. You are part of me; you share my life and I share yours.” 

There are three characteristics of this relationship that I would like to emphasize: 

  1. This relationship is permanent. Nothing will separate us from God's love; this has been said repeatedly, and he says it to us again. Yes, he sometimes prunes us to bear more fruit, and if we don’t, it’s because we are disconnected from the vine. But the vine will always be there, it’s not going anywhere. It’s healthy, alive, life givine and permanent. 

  2. This relationship is also profound. Jesus is the good shepherd, to be sure, but more than that, He is part of us, and we are part of Him. In our world, we move as He does; we are the hands and feet of Jesus. This is more than an idea, a philosophy, or a self-help technique: It is life. 

  3. This brings me to the third point: this relationship is life-giving. We move and live within God; apart from him, we cannot even exist. Nothing can take that away from us except our sin. 


This is why the story I am about to share is so meaningful in this context. It isn’t only about eternal life; it is about the presence of God, who surrounds us with love and gives us life. 


“In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.” The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”


The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.” The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.” 


“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.” The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world would not and could not exist.” Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”


To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”


This is the most beautiful description of the relationship between the soul and God I have ever heard.


“I am the vine; you are the branches; apart from me, you can do nothing.” 


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