HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B
HOMILY THEME: PRUNED AND FRUITFUL BRANCHES
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
There is a new version of Jack and the Beanstalk. One night, Jack had a dream. He saw a very huge vine going up to heaven. He saw angels giving instructions to people. Each one was given a chalk, and they were told that as they go up, they will see the sins they have committed in their lifetime. Each sin halts the person’s ascent. In order to proceed, he has to mark the vine with the chalk for every sin. So Jack started to climb the vine. Not long after he began his ascent, he saw his father coming down. He asked, “Dad, why are you coming down?” The reply came: “Son, I need more chalk.”
We all want to go to heaven. How we wish there is a stairway, or an airplane, which can fly all the way up there. But there is none. There is only one way to heaven: Jesus. This Sunday, he gives us the formula to go to heaven: “Remain in me as I remain in you” (Jn 15:4). And so he gave this metaphor: “I am the true vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
We should be forever grateful to God, for through the sacrament of Baptism we were incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church. That is the easy part. The tough part is to remain with Jesus, so that we continue enjoying the fullness of life that he has come to give us. That, in fact, is the only way to be a true Christian – like Christ – being united with him like a branch to a vine.
How do we do this? First, we obey all the commandments of God. And the greatest commandment of all is love. Jesus said: “By this shall all men know you as my disciples: your love for one another.” Second, we follow the will of God in our lives. We should never insist on our own will. Like Mary, we must always respond to God: “Be it done unto me as you say.” Third, we receive the sacraments regularly, especially the Eucharist and Penance. St. Alphonsus Ligouri said something about this: “When our dear Savior left this world, he did not wish to leave us alone, and therefore he devised a means of remaining with us in the Holy Eucharist to the end of time, that even here below we may enjoy his sweet company.” In the Eucharist, we truly become one with Jesus. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “Receiving the Eucharist means adoring the One whom we receive. Precisely in this way and only in this way do we become one with Him.”
Doing all these three steps will give us the Sanctifying Grace, the grace whereby we share in the very life of God – we are more and more conformed to the image of God. That is what true holiness is all about. And Jesus promised: “If you remain in me, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (Jn 15:7). But this Sanctifying Grace, our sharing in the divine life, is lost the moment we fall into grave sin. And although we may not be always aware of it, this happens so many times in our life. We lose our connection with God – we are like branches cut off from the vine – dead and dry branches, ready to be thrown into the fire and burnt.
That is the first point we must consider today. We are fortunate to be incorporated into Christ through Baptism. But because of our sins, especially pride and selfishness, we often are cut off from him. There is the need for us to go to the sacrament of Penance in order to be reconciled to God, and regain the Sanctifying Grace.
But Jesus does not only talk about remaining in him. He also talks about bearing much fruit. A branch cannot continue getting sustenance from the vine without bearing fruits. Jesus said: “My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit.” (Jn 15:1-2).
But again, Jesus is talking not only of bearing fruits, but bearing more fruits. This can be achieved by pruning: “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.” The unnecessary twigs and leaves have to be cut off from the branch so that the nutrients do not go to waste but can be channeled directly to the fruit-bearing parts. This is a painful but necessary process. This involves a lot of self- denial, detachment and sacrifices on our part. There are many unnecessary twigs and leaves in our lives. What are these? These could be our unhealthy vices: smoking, alcohol, gambling, gossiping and many others. Or these could be the things we are attached to but we can do without: expensive electronic gadgets and many fancy little things that fill our drawers and cabinets. These could also be the fruitless activities, which consume precious time: watching garbage TV shows, Internet surfing, idle talk, computer games and the like. And finally, these could also be our unhealthy and sometimes immoral relationships and attachments.
Have we ever thought why there are trials, crises and problems in our lives? Well, perhaps God allows them to happen so that we learn to prune all these unnecessary twigs and leaves, and be able to distinguish the superfluous from the basic essentials in our life. Driving around Metro Manila, I noticed one billboard with a shocking message. It says, “The family that Facebooks together, stays together.” The people behind this billboard made fun of the long-time motto of the Family Rosary Crusade by replacing the word “prays” with “Facebooks”. For them, Facebook is more essential than prayer. What a pity! We are now about to enter the month of May, the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We honor her by offering her fragrant flowers and our filial devotion, especially by praying the Rosary. May we look at Mary as the perfect example of a healthy and fruitful branch of the true Vine, Jesus her Son. She remained with Jesus all her life by her total obedience to the will of God. Her life as a simple woman of Nazareth should inspire us to live a life that is free from the superficial and ephemeral, but rooted in the one and only essential and eternal reality – Jesus Christ our Lord.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422
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