The Fifth Sunday of Easter
3 May 2015
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 10.30am
My dear friends,
Older people never tire of telling the young how much life has changed. People used to visit each other’s houses much more often than they do today. They came together to make their own entertainment. They came together in the “meitheal” to help each other with the hay and the turf. They borrowed from each other rather than going to a bank or financial institution.
In today’s world we are always on the go. We are content to let the television, the iPod and the games consul provide the entertainment. We don’t visit our neighbours as much as we used to. If truth were told, we might not even know our neighbour’s name. Community togetherness has been replaced by a more individualistic way of living.
This change in the pattern of living has been happening too in the practice of religion. Years ago our churches would have been packed for Sunday Mass. Today things are different. Many people no longer feel the need to come together as a community to pray. They are happier and more used to going it alone. They will come to Church for Baptisms, for First Communion, for Confirmation, for Funerals and Weddings. That’s it, by and large they are just happy to do their own thing.
In a small cliff side village called Frais in Northern Spain, visitors are welcomed by the aroma of steaks, chops and sausages grilled on a bed of intertwined grapevines. The vines that once yielded rich juicy grapes on terraced hillsides are now even in death expressing their usefulness in unity. They give a unique flavour to what is cooked on them and burn much more cleanly than charcoal or wood.
Today’s Scripture Readings remind us that grapevine branches are inextricably bound to and interwoven around the vine. This is what gives the plant its strength and fruitfulness. If we believers are one with Jesus Christ in faith, vision and purpose we will be graced individually and as Church to be enabled to love “not just in word or speech but in deed and truth” (as the second reading puts it). In good times and in bad, when they agree and especially when they disagree, all members of the community, like branches entwined on a vine, are told to remain united with one another in their union in Jesus Christ.
In Southern India a wealthy landowner had four very quarrelsome sons. Jealous of one another they were constantly at odds, much to their father’s annoyance. When he sensed that death was near, the father called his sons and divided his property among them. Then he called for some sticks to be brought and tied tightly into a bundle. Then he asked each of his sons in turn to break the bundle. Not one could do it. Then the father asked for the sticks to be taken out of the bundle. “Try now”, he said and with very little effort, they could break each stick. “Strength comes from unity”, he told them.
You will have noted no doubt in the Scripture Reading that after his conversion experience Saul (who was later called Paul) was treated with distrust by the disciples and even feared on account of his former activities which included persecuting Christians. Barnabas spoke up for him and defended him. Is Jesus or the Scripture writer suggesting that every community needed their Barnabas in the sense of a person with insight, someone who will be open to the surprises God may send us or who will allow others to prove themselves rather than judging and dismissing them. Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.
The branch that cuts itself off from the vine withers because it has lost the life-giving sap that flows from the roots of the vine. The Christian faith is not about going it alone; we are part of a community of believers. True religion is not about individualism. It’s about togetherness in community, togetherness in the Eucharist and togetherness in Jesus Christ.
+Liam S. MacDaid
3 May 2015