Our shared roots are deep
Posted: Thu, 29 Apr 2021 13:33
Today we are presented with a very familiar parable on unity—essential if we are going to work together to beat the pandemic and make our world a safer and happier place. Today's Gospel is the 'Vine and the Branches', and Jesus explains to his disciples that he is the vine, and we are the branches, with his Father as the caretaker, the gardener, the dresser of the vineyard. Last week, Jesus told us that he was the Good Shepherd, that he names us and calls us by name, that he comes to lead us into green pastures, that he will always be with us, that he will never abandon us, that he will see to all the things that cause us pain. When we call upon him, he will heal us, and he will be near us, and he will never abandon us. As the biblical scholar, Megan McKenna reminds us, it is the context that adds a certain kind of drama to his parable of unity; for these are the words at the end of the Last Supper.
Immediately after the 2016 terrorist attack in Brussels, Pope Francis took part in the traditional Holy Thursday liturgy where we washed the feet of Muslim, Hindu and Christian refugees seeking asylum in Italy. He contrasted the act of war in Brussels with the act of solidarity being played out in the sacred liturgy—a visible sign of unity that was needed. His words on that occasion point to the sense of unity that the gospel wishes to promote:
We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace. (24/03/2016)
Jesus is inviting his listeners to remain with him, to be the branch that 'bears fruit in plenty.' The disciples have to endure the pain of loss and separation that we are all too well aware of these days. Even if we have access to zoom and all the latest technology, it is not the same as that deep hug or firm handshake of friendship. The analogy of the vine and branches implies a connection and a sense of togetherness that has been taken from us by the virus. Even those lucky enough to attend Eucharist in church feel a sense of isolation as we are physically distanced from each other; we cannot sing or share the sign of peace; we cannot gather for social time. In this global horror that has infected every part of our lives, today's gospel is a strong reminder that our roots go deeper than any COVID-19 pandemic. It is precisely because of those deep roots of connectedness that we can move forward in faith. We faithfully follow the protocols regarding social distancing, sanitising and wearing face masks because we care about our neighbours. Today is a celebration of our unity that can only be destroyed if we allow it. We are people who are filled with the life of God in an intimacy that will last for all eternity.
Today we invited to 'make our home' in Jesus, to see as Jesus sees and to act as Jesus acts. We are told that we shall know true Christians by their 'fruit', by the way they act and treat others. My nana warned me about those Catholics who spend their days 'chewing down the altar rails' and have no time for others. There is a real danger in spending all our time in church, at prayer meetings and following the latest devotional fad, that we could become disconnected from the real world—a world created in goodness by God and further blessed by incarnation. Going to mass or attending a prayer meeting can never be an escape from facing our responsibilities in the life we share with others. The final words of the Eucharist, proclaimed by the deacon, if you are blessed to have one, are so relevant, 'go in peace to love and serve the Lord.' Our connectedness at mass and in our prayer groups MUST impact our connectedness in the wider community if we are to truly live our faith.
No matter what happens, no matter what the difficulties are in your life, what the difficulties are around you, you must answer with goodness, kindness, forgiveness and faith. Faith in yourself, faith in other human beings, and faith in God. In these days, we have had to dig deep into our faith reserve to help us through the issues, problems and 'wobbles' that this past year has brought us—many have claimed that this union with a living God has helped us get through the pain and suffering. Malcom Guite tries to capture this sense of unity in his poem 'I am the Vine':
How might it feel to be part of the vine?
Not just to see the vineyard from afar
Or even pluck the clusters, press the wine,
But to be grafted in, to feel the stir
Of inward sap that rises from our root,
Himself deep planted in the ground of Love,
To feel a leaf unfold a tender shoot,
As tendrils curled unfurl, as branches give
A little to the swelling of the grape,
In gradual perfection, round and full,
To bear within oneself the joy and hope
Of God's good vintage, till it's ripe and whole.
What might it mean to bide and to abide
In such rich love as makes the poor heart glad?
'Parable and Paradox'
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB