FIRST READING (Barnabas reported to the Apostles how Saul had seen the Lord on the way.)
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles (9:26-31)
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. —The Word of the Lord.
- Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32)
- I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people. (Ps 22:26a)
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!” (R)
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; all the families of the nations shall bow down before him. (R)
To him alone shall bow down all who sleep in the earth; before him shall bend all who go down into the dust. (R)
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. (R)
SECOND READING (This is his commandment: that we may believe and love.)
A reading from the first Letter of Saint John (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. —The Word of the Lord.
- Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Jn 15:4a, 5b)
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me will bear much fruit. (R)
GOSPEL (Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John (15:1-8)
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.” —The Gospel of the Lord.
- Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
“I WILL PRAISE YOU, LORD, IN THE ASSEMBLY OF YOUR PEOPLE!”
When I was majoring in English literature during my university years, one of the short stories we read had a great impact on me. It was written by the 19th century writer Edward Everett Hale, entitled “The Man Without a Country.” In this tragic tale, the principle character is an Army lieutenant named Philip Nolan, who at the height of a trial for Aaron Burr renounces his homeland. The tragedy is in the anger of the judge who, sentencing Nolan for his outburst in court, grants him his wish “I wish I may never hear of my country again!” The tragedy was not only that he was forbidden to ever set foot in his country again, or even hear even to ever hear anyone around him speak the name of his homeland. The worst part was that, in his anger shouting out this wish, the judgment meant that he did not belong to a nation of people anymore. He was literally a man without a country.
As the tale unfolds we see how he came to realize what we all eventually realize: that as independent as we would like to think we are, as human beings we desperately need to belong. Our readings today form a sort of triptych, a three-paneled illustration depicting what it means to belong in a post-resurrection community. As in all triptychs, the three panels are interconnected with the central panel giving the main point, illustrated by the two side panels.
Our first panel, then (say on the left side) is our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It tells the story of Paul, shortly after his dramatic conversion, arriving in Jerusalem with Barnabas. While Paul may have been eager to join the group of disciples, they – knowing Paul’s previous history, were understandably suspicious of him. After all, from the time of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, Saul/Paul was a notorious persecutor of Christians. But, on the word of Barnabas today, the Christian community accepted Paul into their number, and eventually protected him. This was indeed a remarkable community! They not only FORGAVE their former persecutor, but they actually EMBRACED him.
How many communities do you know that today exercise the same sense of reconciliation? How many communities open their hearts and their doors to people whose sins have become public? Jesus did not hold Paul’s past against him, and so, following the example of the Lord, neither did his followers.
Our second panel (to the right) from the Letter of St. John alerts us to the two-fold bond that unites all members of the Christian community. We are called to BELIEVE in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and to LOVE one another. This “love for others” is not something that is based on our own choice or personal preference. Rather, it is based on our faith in the Risen Lord. We first BELIEVE in the Risen Lord, and then this faith manifests itself in and through LOVE for those we encounter.
This is not an easy or romantic love. It is not love merely in word or speech but it is a love lived out and seen in DEED and TRUTH. It manifests itself in ways that we might call heroism. This is a heroism that would include accepting back those who may have betrayed us, hurt us, It may mean opening our hearts and our arms to those whose lives we may see as different; it means welcoming the stranger or those who are in any way vulnerable or threatened. This is why the wider community embraced the parents of the little child, Alfie Evans who died yesterday. Such love, inspired by the Spirit, is evidence of the Risen Lord in the post-resurrection community.
And now we turn to the central panel of the triptych. Our Gospel.
Jesus’s declaration “I am the true vine… you are the branches” is really the focal point of the other two panels on the characteristics of the community. While the first two smaller panels illustrate the bonds that unite the members of the community, the central panel illustrates the bonds that unite us with THE RISEN LORD.
The metaphor of the vine and branches is quite dramatic: it vividly characterizes the intimate nature of this relationship between Jesus and his followers.
A vine is made up of its branches, and the life of the vine is the life of the branches. Jesus’ life flows through the branches to each smaller branch and leaf, and because of this life, the branches produce fruit. As important as the branches are, the vine is not totally dependent on any single branch or group of branches at all. Sometimes, dried up branches need to be pruned or cut back to add strength to the rest of the vine.
In the face of such pruning, Jesus declares, “Remain in me, as I remain in you!” Don’t separate yourself from me; don’t try to make it on your own; don’t renounce your membership in me. You are not a person without a country; you are not without a community; you are not without a source of life.
We are all branches of the true vine, joined to this vine and to each other through the same vine. If the life of Jesus flows through our “veins” we will bear much “fruit.” We will indeed shine forth like a light to our world as a community called together and enlivened by the power of the resurrection. We will be a reconciling community, open to others and able to show the world that reconciliation with even our enemies is possible. We will become a community bound to each other by LOVE and able to bring genuine love to a world consumed in hatred. We will be the “fruit” the evidence of the living, Risen Lord.
Celebrant: Christ says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.” Let us pray confidently, inspired by his words and promise.
READER: That the unity which comes from Christ the true vine may draw all Christians to his Church, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That the peace which God gives to us may touch the heart of nations involved in war, terrorism, inner turmoil or in the persecution of Catholic and Christian faithful, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That the hope which comes from the risen Lord may strengthen those who are afflicted by suffering of body, mind or spirit, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That the forgiving love of the Spirit within us may free us from fear and guilt, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: [SMC only:, and] For the sick, those who mourn, and for the faithful departed that they remain in the presence of Christ for all eternity, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Almighty Father, the risen Lord Jesus dwells in you and he is the perfect mediator of our prayer. Hear us through him, who lives and reigns for ever and ever, (all) AMEN.