HOMILY FOR MASS FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B - St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
29 Apr 2018

HOMILY FOR MASS FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B +
'PASCHAL EUCHARIST' FOR NEOPHYTES
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 29 April 2018

 
There's an old story about a man caught in a flood who determinedly stayed in his house when all the surrounding ones were evacuated, insisting he would trust in God. As the waters rose, people in a car stopped to offer him a lift, but he told them 'God will save me'. As the flood reached higher, he made for the upper storey of his house; this time a police boat came by to offer him a ride, but he said 'No thanks. God will save me.' When the waters were so high he had to climb onto his roof, an emergency services helicopter tried to rescue him, but again he said 'No, God will save me'. And so he drowned. When he came before God he complained: "Lord, I always had faith in you; right to the end I was convinced that you would save me: why did you let me drown?" God looked at him and said, "I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter - what more did you want?"

Declarations of faith, the story highlights, are not enough: God gives us a body with which to act, a mind with which to ponder how we should, a will with which freely to choose so to act, and communities of family, church and society to assist us; through all these He mediates His grace to us. In our first reading (Acts 9:26-31), when the apostles learnt Paul's life was in danger from the Hellenists, they didn't just entrust him to God; they moved him to a safe-house in Tarsus. As the fourth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom, pointed out, "In this story you can see that God does not do everything directly, by means of miracles, but frequently acts indirectly, through His disciples, when they act according to prudence... So let us follow their example and use all of our natural abilities to work with grace for the salvation of our brethren."  1

Making a similar point in his Epistle this morning, St John the Evangelist insists that love has to be more than a feeling, more than 'mere talk'; to be real it has to be 'active' (1Jn 3:18-24). Commandments, too, are for living, not just reciting. The New Testament is full of this insistence: natural talents, virtues, faith, Church, law, sacraments - all are gifts to enable Christian action, not excuses for being spiritual pew-potatoes. As St Augustine (or maybe St Ignatius Loyola) put it: "Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you." 2

Which brings me to our Gospel. Jesus famously loved to party, so much so that His detractors rumoured He was a drunk (Lk 7:33-34). That was a lie, but it was undoubtedly the case that he transformed water into wine and wine into His Precious Blood, and told stories of vines, vineyards, wine-making and drinking (Mt 7:15-20; 9:14-17; 21:33-46; 22:114; 26:27-29; Mk 14:23; Jn 2:1-11). In the background were the Passover toast and the Old Testament use of vines and vineyards as a metaphor for the Jews (e.g. Ps 80:8-16; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21; Ezek 15:1-8; 17:5-10; 19:10-14; Hos 10:1). But today He identifies Himself with the vine (Jn 15:1-8; cf. v. 16). To become a Christian disciple, as our neophytes did at Easter, is to be grafted onto Christ, the true vine, and to draw that sap or life we call 'grace' from Him.

Not that joining up is enough. Soldiers don't join an army just to list it amongst their affiliations; gardeners don't graft cultivated roses onto root stocks just for fun. No, being is for doing, faith is for fruit, love is for action. The active disciple is celebrated this morning as a fruitful branch of Jesus the Vine. But lest we think such a life will be easy, Jesus warns that both fruitful and fruitless branches will be clipped. What's that all about?

Well, clearly there are two kinds of pruning. Some branches draw no life from the stock of Jesus and are fruitless, so the Vinedresser prunes them, collects them up and consigns them to the flames. There are intimations of death, judgment and hell here, but that's for another day. Today we might focus on the second kind of pruning...

Jesus knows His viticulture. He knows that even branches that bear good fruit need periodic pruning. But the Greek word to prune, kathairo êáèáßñù, also means to purify. Baptism is deep cleansing, but even good Christians remain works in progress. For some, humility only comes through humiliation; letting go of avarice, envy or grudges requires some shock or grief; sorting out what matters most to them may only come when they are in danger of losing everything.

When people experience pain and suffering, disability and dependence, danger or dying; when they lose their friend or trust or self-respect, their job or project or dream; then they may cry out: why, God, why? The problem of suffering is the ultimate existential question for believers and non-believers alike. And Jesus offers a partial answer today: when you face that grief or angst, that loss of comfort and security, that challenge to virtue and vice, attention and distraction, that is the moment of kathairo êáèáßñù - pruning, cleansing, catharsis - from which, by God's grace, new life will bud.

Jesus spoke of a terrible Baptism that He and His must suffer (Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50; cf. Heb 5:8), which is why we associate Baptism with the Paschal season rather than the Christmas season that end with the Lord's Baptism in the Jordan. But after our Easter cleansing in Baptism there may well come many more trials and transformations, tests and conversions, makings and remakings, until the final catharsis, that purgatory that readies us for heaven. If we endure these prunings in good spirit and remain grafted to Christ by prayer and penance, word and sacrament, so that His life informs ours, He will bring forth a rich harvest in us. Unlike the man in the flood, we do our bit as God does His. Our faith and love, obedience and salvation are His gifts tested in the trials of life and we respond with a fruitful faith, an active love.

May God the Father, who is the Vinedresser, keep us faithful in His vineyard. May God the Son, who is Jesus the True Vine, give life to us His branches. And may God the Holy Spirit, who is the new wine of the kingdom, be given us to drink abundantly!


INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B +
'PASCHAL EUCHARIST' FOR NEOPHYTES
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 29 April 2018

Welcome to St Mary's Cathedral. This morning we greet in particular the neophytes, our newest Christians, who were elected for Baptism here at the beginning of Lent and were Baptised into the family of God in their parishes at Easter. We welcome you back, no longer as the elect but now as our dear brothers and sisters in Christ, every bit as truly Christians and Catholics as are your archbishop and priests, sponsors and fellow parishioners. Today we join you in giving thanks to God for the gift of faith, and to those who accompanied you on your journey to Easter 2018 for the gift of the Church. I look forward to hearing from you after Mass how your first Easter season has gone.

Welcome also to all our visitors and more regulars to this Solemn Mass of the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

1 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. On Acts, 20

2 "Sic orate ac si totum a Deo dependeret, et sic laborate ac si totum dependeret a vobis" - commonly attributed to St Augustine or to St Ignatius Loyola. See CCC 2834.