Being Intimately United to Jesus

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B); April 29, 2018

Acts 9-26:41   Ps 22   1 Jn 3:18-24   Jn 15:1-8

Deacon Jim McFadden

        Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus during the Last Supper, in the moment He knows that his death is close at hand. His ‘hour’ has come and this will be the last time that he will be with all of his disciples and he wants to impress upon them a fundamental truth: even when He is not with them physically, they will still be able to remain united in Him in a new way, and thus in and through Him bear much fruit. Everybody can be united in Jesus as we participate in His very being. We are part of His body: there is an organic relationship between Jesus and His disciples that does not obtain in any other religion.

If on the contrary, one should lose unity with Jesus, one would become sterile. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit unless it remains on the vine, we cannot live fruitful human lives unless we are in union with Jesus. Or, more dramatically, “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

These statements run counter to our inclusive sensibilities, in which the great vice of our society is exclusivity; that’s why Catholics are often regarded with suspicion, if not disdain. So, when we stand behind these statements that “unless you remain in Jesus, you can do nothing” or “apart from Jesus you can have no life because Jesus is Life itself,” that strikes many as being insensitive and exclusive.

Is Jesus really saying that unless we are rooted in him, we can’t be saved or if we don’t dwell within him, then we are a useless branch only suitable for the fire. Put bluntly, He is saying that. But, to understand these radical statements, we have to put them into context.

Jesus is the power by which God makes and sustains the whole world. Hearken back to the Creation story: how did God create the world from nothing? He SPOKE His Word, which is the power that God makes and sustains the whole world. It means that anything that exists at all, exists in and through Him. We hear this in John’s Prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came to b e through Him and without Him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3a). So, if Jesus wasn’t as John proclaims, then it would be exorbitant to make all these claims. But, if Jesus is the Word made Flesh, then we attest that we find our very being in Him.

The Logos, the Word of God, is that power through Whom we exist from moment to moment. As the Logos, the perfect self-reflective Thought of the Father, Jesus is the foundation of the order and structure of the universe. To convey this radical contingency on the Logos, Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches: Just “as a branch cannot bear fruit 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 and you are the branches” (Jn 15:4-5).

With this image, Jesus teaches us how to abide in Him, to be united in Him, even though He is not physically present.   Jesus is the vine, and through Him—like sap in the tree—the very love of God, the Holy Spirit is passed through the branches. That why we need to be united with Jesus. Cut off from the vine, we are not self-sufficient, but depend totally on the vine, in which the source of our life is found. Why? Because Jesus is LIFE itself: through Him everything comes into Being and is sustained in being. So, it is with Christians: we are grafted onto Jesus.

How does that happen? At Baptism we are initiated into Jesus’ very Body, the Church, through which we receive new life. Thanks to Holy Mother the Church, who nurtures us, we are able to remain in full communion with Jesus.   We grow in intimacy with the Lord through prayer, listening and being docile to His Word, especially in the Gospels, and participating in the Sacraments, especially, the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

When we are united with Jesus, we will enjoy incredible blessings, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are—as St. Paul tells us—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). These are the blessings we receive when we remain united with Jesus; and therefore a Christian who is united in Him does so much good for neighbor because the Risen Christ is working in and through him. In fact, that is how one can recognize a true Christian: generosity—“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” The fruits of this profound union with Jesus are wonderful: our whole person is transformed by the grace of the Spirit; we gradually become more and more like Jesus. We receive a new way of being; the life of Christ becomes our own: we are able to think like Him, to see the world through His eyes. We are able to love like Him, beginning with the poorest and those who suffer the most, as He did and love them with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As we stay grafted onto Jesus, we will bear the fruits of goodness, of charity, and peace in our world. May we enthusiastically be living branches in the Church and witness our Faith in a consistent manner—consistent in our thoughts, words, and deeds—knowing that all of us, according to our particular vocation and ministries, participate in the one saving mission of Christ Jesus. Amen.

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“I Lay It Down on My Own”

4th Sunday of Easter (B); April 22, 1018

Acts 4:8-12   Ps 118   1 Jn 3:1-2   Jn 10:11-18

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison, SJB

 

Two lovers look at one another and say without any reservation: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life” (Rite of Marriage (Roman Catholic), #25).

A father holds his newborn daughter and from some vastness within him says, “I would die for you.”

(for the prison) A friend holds the hand of a terminally ill “cellie”

and says, “Don’t worry; I’m not going away.”

When we first hear the phrase “unconditional love,” it seems a beyond-reach ideal—something that can only be attained in heaven. But actually we all have moments of unconditional love. In these moments we open ourselves unreservedly to another and commit ourselves totally to the others’ well-being. Like Jesus in John’s gospel, we often reach for “laying down our life” language to express what, at this moment, seems so clear and undeniable to us. Unconditional love means everything and is forever. We know it’s possible because Jesus has done it for us and, as the Body of Christ, the Church, we are simultaneously called to do the same.

Let’s look at this passage closely: 17 “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”

            Unconditional love necessarily entails laying down one’s life for the other. It’s important that we get this right because this passage touches on the meaning of redemption.  Sadly, there are some people who believe that Jesus paid the price to earn the Father’s love. Some people believe that Jesus paid the price to convince his Father that we were worth loving, which tells us that the Father does not love us very much and ends up making the Father a ogre, who demands blood money before he’s going to love his children.

 

Jesus is not proving himself to the Father; he’s not convincing his Father that we’re lovable; he’s not paying some kind of blood money, where the Father sees it and says, “O.K., I’m convinced; I’ll allow these people into heaven.” That could never be, because the Father is perfect Love, which does not break or cause pain but rather heals and transforms the other.

When Jesus died on the Cross, he is revealing to us that the Cross is somehow already in the heart of the Father. The Father is the unconditional Lover and Jesus is the beloved Son who is receiving the Father’s love. The Son is becoming for the world Who the Father eternally has been. The Son is becoming in space and time who the Father is. That’s why Jesus is also known as Immanuel: God is with us.            Sisters and brothers, love is simply redemptive, healing us at our very core; self-giving is redemptive and Jesus is God’s self-giving in the world. As John would say in 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for our salvation.” When we enter into this unconditioned loving energy through Christ, uniquely present in the Eucharist, we’re becoming liberated, redeemed, and freed.   Jesus lays down his life of his own free will because he has seen the Father do the same for him for all eternity. No other life than self-giving is real, true—it is being who the Father is.

So, it is with us. The understanding of who we are as the beloved children of God, who are the People of God, the Church, challenges us to keep our visionary commitment to “love all the days of my life” and “till death do us part.” We continue to gaze on our children, grandchildren, and friends and reaffirm that just as Jesus has done for me, I will do for you: I lay my life down for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witness

3rd Sunday of Easter (B); April 15, 2018

Acts 3:13-15,17-19   Ps 42   1 Jn 2:1-5   Lk 24:35-48

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

         In the mid-‘80s the Australian director Peter Weir (Mosquito Coast, The Truman Show) did his first American film, a successful thriller Witness (1985), which starred Harrison Ford (in his only performance that earned him an Academy Award nomination). The movie is about a young boy who sees the murder of an undercover police officer by corrupt coworkers and he’s hidden away in an Amish community for protection. As the story unfolds he recalls what happened by putting the pieces together, then he tells the Ford character named John Book (note the Gospel of John symbolism). The movie contains the marks of a witness: one sees, recalls, and tells.

In today’s readings the term ‘witness’ is mentioned twice. The first time is on the lips of Peter in our first reading of Acts. After the healing of a paralytic at the Door of the Temple, Peter exclaims: You “killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15).

The second time it is on the lips of the Risen Jesus. On the evening of Easter he opens the minds of the disciples to the mystery of his death and Resurrection, saying to them: “You are witness to these things” (Lk 24:48). The Apostles who saw the Risen Christ with their own eyes, could not keep silent about this incredible experience. Jesus had shown Himself to His innermost circle so that the truth of the Resurrection would reach everyone through them. What’s true for the Apostles is true for us because we are members of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ. So, Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).

The only way we can enthusiastically and steadfastly embrace this Mission is that we have seen through the eyes of Faith that Jesus is Risen, that Jesus is alive and present among us. As missionary disciples we testify that Jesus is alive.

That’s what a witness does. We have seen through the Eye of the Soul the reality that Jesus is Risen and that He dwells within His Church. We see this reality not indifferently, but we become involved as we experience the Risen Christ through the Church and the Sacraments. From that starting point we recall the meaning of Jesus’ public ministry, culminating in salvation to the world. Once we grasp the profound meaning of the Resurrection, then we tell the Good News to the world. We do so not in a nonchalant, detached way, but as one who is profoundly grateful for being called into an intimate relationship with Jesus. A Christian witness is one whose life has been radically changed and they want to share with others what they have received in such abundance.

The content of a Christian witness is not promulgating a theory of living; it’s not about an ideology of self-realization; it’s not a complex system of theological propositions or moral prescriptions. No; what we tell to the world is the message of salvation, a real event. Our witness is about a Person, Who is the Risen Christ, the living and only Savior of the world. The Risen Jesus can only be effectively testified by those who have a personal experience of Him, which was initiated in Baptism and Confirmation. Their experience of the Risen Christ is nourished through the Eucharist in which they really receive His Body and Blood, His soul and divinity.

Christian witnesses are not perfect, to be sure; but, they do embrace conversion, which is reflected in their regular practice in Penitence through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Thanks to this journey into the mystery of Faith, every Christian can be an effective witness of the Risen Jesus. And, his or her witness is more credible, if their life is lived according to the Gospel, which results in a joyful, peaceful, gentle, and merciful life. As a Christian surrenders more and more to the Risen Christ, they let go of the vanities of the world with all of its self-absorbed conceits. A self-referential Christian cannot be an effective witness because he or she has become tone deaf and blind to the Resurrection; therefore, one is incapable of communicating the living power of Jesus and His tender mercy.

So, during the Easter season, let us resolve by the gift of Faith to be witnesses of the Risen Lord and to bring the Paschal gifts of joy and peace to the people we encounter. Amen.