Saturday, April 28, 2018

EASTER V [B]:  Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

Today’s Scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians to abide in Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charity and holiness.  Jesus explains to his apostles how they and their disciples can carry on when he is no longer bodily or physically present.  Jesus assures them, using the parable of the vine and branches, that the life-giving Spirit whom Jesus will send them, will be present and active within and among his disciples and their successors.
Fruit-bearing in Christian life is not of our own independent and unaided making. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us trims and prunes us, teaching us himself and reminding us of what Jesus taught. It is He who enables us to love him and to keep His words (John 14:24, 26).

In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot. Live wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit.
Cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing our commitment to Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type of self-imposed pruning expected of us. A second means of pruning is practicing self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions and aberrations.
Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us by allowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties with courage of our Christian convictions.

Abiding in Christ means that God has to be inside us and we have to be inside God.  We abide in Christ by drawing near to God and by experiencing His being near to us, that is, by living every moment as He has commanded us to do, with the radiant presence of Christ all around us. This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the Liturgy. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."

 Max Lucado explains it in these words:  “Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and a martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach. Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me. We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Just like a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowship with our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.”

And essentially what the image of the vine and the branches is telling us is that if Christ’s disciples are to bear any fruit they need to be dependent on Christ and to be pruned by the Father.

Staying united to the vine means allowing God to prune us. Jesus says that each healthy branch of the vine must be pruned "so that it bears more fruit." This pruning takes the form of suffering. It may be painful, physical sufferings, like sickness, disease, financial insecurity, or old-age. It may be hidden, interior sufferings, like losing a loved one or watching a dear relative abandon their Catholic faith. Whenever God permits these kinds of sufferings - the ones that we don't seem to have any control over - we have to let our faith remind us that they are under his control. He is the vine-dresser. He knows how much pruning we can handle (and the amount is different for each branch). And he knows how to use that suffering to unite us more deeply with Christ, who suffered on the cross to redeem the world. In times of pain and hardship, God is begging us to trust in him more and more, to pray in the depths of our hearts that beautiful prayer that he himself taught us through his revelations to St Faustina of the Divine Mercy: "Jesus, I trust in you."

Accepting the Cross, not rebelling when God tries to prune us, is the secret of all the saints. Prayer, the sacraments, loving obedience, and suffering in union with Christ are what keep the Christian sap flowing in our lives.
As we continue with this Mass, let's thank God from the depths of our hearts for uniting us to the vine of Christ. And let’s ask him for the grace to not be grudging when he prunes us so that we can bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

EASTER IV SUNDAY: Acts 4:8-12; I Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of families, drug addicts, prisoners, journalists and pro-life movement, and he is known for founding the Immaculata Movement and producing the Knight of the Immaculata magazine. During World War II, Saint Maximilian housed over 3000 Polish refugees at his monastery. He was eventually imprisoned and sent to Auschwitz, where he experienced constant beatings and hard labour. St. Maximilian died in the place of a man with young children, who was chosen by the guards for the firing squad. Kolbe is considered a good shepherd. He laid down his life for his sheep. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a good time to pray for the good shepherds as well as the bad ones; and a good time to realize that the Good Shepherd still walks with us.

The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock.   A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock—responsibilities that belong to every church leader.  The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd.
In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people.  The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd.  Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.   Psalm 23 is David’s famous picture of God as The Good Shepherd:  “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me.”

Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults. The knowledge talked of here is not mere intellectual knowing but the knowledge that comes from love and leads to care and concern for the other. 

When the emperor Alexander the Great was crossing the Makran Desert on his way to Persia, his army ran out of water.  The soldiers were dying of thirst as they advanced under the burning sun.  A couple of Alexander's lieutenants managed to capture some water from a passing caravan. They brought some to him in a helmet.  He asked, "Is there enough for both me and my men?" "Only you, sir," they replied.  Alexander then lifted up the helmet as the soldiers watched.  Instead of drinking, he tipped it over and poured the water on the ground. The men let up a great shout of admiration.  They knew their general would not allow them to suffer anything he was unwilling to suffer himself. Jesus our good shepherd does not allow us to suffer anything that he himself did not go through. He says he is not a hireling who runs away in the face of danger leaving his sheep helpless. The radical difference between a Good Shepherd and a hireling is the former does his work because he wants to, the other does it because he has to; one has his heart in it, the other does not.

Jesus the good shepherd gives eternal life to his sheep by receiving us into his sheepfold through Baptism. Jesus strengthens our Faith by giving us the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.  He supplies food for our souls by the Holy Eucharist and by the Divine words of the holy Bible.  He makes our society holy by the Sacraments of Matrimony and the Priesthood.  
In the first part of chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the good shepherd.  He goes in search of his stray lambs and heals his sick ones.  Jesus heals the wounds of our souls by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age by the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Jesus loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to receive and return his love by keeping his word. 

The universal priesthood of all believers, the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ, has received special emphasis since Vatican II. Those who are called to make a lifelong commitment to serve as ordained ministers share the ministerial priesthood of Jesus. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations   we are asked to encourage and pray for our young men to respond to God’s call to serve His Church in the ministerial priesthood.
We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers.  Parents must be especially careful of their duties as shepherds, becoming role models for their children by leading exemplary lives.
Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, religious and lay so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community, and more responsive, loving, cooperative sheep. And let’s also ask for the grace to be good shepherds to the flock that we have been entrusted with and not behave like a hireling.