Reading 1: Acts 9:26-31
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
Reading 2: 1 John 3:18-24
Gospel: John 15:1-8
Out of the Mouths of Babes.
One of my favorite things about the Easter season is how in many parishes the celebration of the sacraments is in greater abundance than at any other time of the year, and the parish where I serve is no exception. Recently, as part of the children’s preparation for the reception of the First Eucharist in my parish, those of us charged with their faith formation organized a retreat for them. As can sometimes happen, one of the catechists leading a session experienced an emergency that morning and could not attend, so I had to step in at the last minute. Realizing that speaking to (or at) 9-12 year old children for 20 minutes would not be the best use of our time, I noticed there were a significant number of teens from our youth group on hand who were invited to help in different ways. I decided to ask three of them if they would help me by being part of a panel where I would facilitate a conversation between them and these 9-12-year-old children, who would be coming to us in groups of about 20 throughout the morning. They agreed.
The first of four groups came to us that morning, and I started the panel by asking the teens questions about their involvement in the parish. The teens spoke about how their engagement in service in the parish made them feel useful and good about themselves, and how their participation in the youth group makes them not only feel connected to other youth but helps them make new friends. Earlier that morning, the children had heard from one of our deacons, who spoke to them about faith by using the image of seeds planted and watered and the fruit that seeds can produce. Trying to make a connection with the deacon’s reflection, I asked the children to tell me about their favorite fruit and they all listed such fruits as apples, cherries, grapes, and so on. One girl, however, quietly responded by simply saying, LOVE. The group decided that the most important fruit we can bear is LOVE. It quickly became clear to me that these children and youth provided me with the message I wanted to convey that morning. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we accept his commandment to live our lives connected to him and to each other so that we might love.
Today’s gospel is but one part of Jesus’ monologue at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, in which the author touches upon the themes of friendship, service, and love. Here, Jesus uses the images of the vine, the branches, and the pruning gardener to help us see Jesus as the vine, his disciples as the branches, and God as the pruning gardener. Pruning could perhaps be a good way of describing the catechetical process of sacramental preparation. This is not a time in which the work is finished, but rather a time that prepares one for a life in Christ. The faith community collaborates with God, the skilled gardener, who knows the vine and knows what branches need to be cut away or pruned, and which ones need God’s love and attention in order to produce. This is an invitation into an ongoing relationship to remain in him and to bear fruit. This metaphor of the vine and branches can help us understand what it means to live our life in Christ, a life in which we are to bear abundant fruit, later summarized in verse 12 of this same chapter: “love one another as I have loved you.”
In the reading from Acts, we witness how Saul’s love of Christ is at its initial stage, still not enjoying the trust of the apostles, though it seems he’s already befriended Barnabas. Apparently the “vine grower” has begun Saul’s pruning process. In the second reading, John’s message to the children of God is to “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” This is not a complicated message at all, and yet how we struggle in today’s world to adhere to it. We struggle because allowing ourselves to be pruned can be so difficult. Perhaps this is because we prefer to march to the beat of our own drum and not God’s, or because if we disconnect from others, we feel we don’t have to be accountable to anyone, much less to God. But allowing ourselves to be pruned gives us the opportunity to cut away all that keeps us from God’s love and from our sisters and brothers. As we start to get a glimpse of a post-pandemic world, how will we strengthen the vine so that the entire vine can produce? Jesus wants us to “remain in him” so that we stay connected to each other and bear fruit. How might we live this? As for me – I plan to stay connected to the children and youth at my parish.
Marco Lopez, MTS
Director of the Romero Scholars Program