Preacher’s Sketchbook: Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2012
Each week, a Dominican member of the Provincial Preaching Advisory board prepares this Preacher’s Sketchbook in anticipation of the upcoming Sunday Mass. The idea of the Preacher’s Sketchbook is to take quotations from the authority of the Church–the Pope, the Fathers of the Church, documents of the Councils, the saints–that can help spark ideas for the Sunday homily. Just as an artist’s sketchbook preserves ideas for later elaboration, so we hope the Preacher’s Sketchbook will provide some ideas for homiletical elaboration.
John Paul II, Christifideles laici 32
Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion. It is always the one and the same Spirit who calls together and unifies the Church and sends her to preach the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Ac 1,8). On her part, the Church knows that the communion received by her as a gift is destined for all people. Thus the Church feels she owes to each individual and to humanity as a whole the gift received from the Holy Spirit that pours the charity of Jesus Christ into the hearts of believers, as a mystical force for internal cohesion and external growth. The mission of the Church flows from her own nature. Christ has willed it to be so: that of “sign and instrument… of unity of all the human race”(120). Such a mission has the purpose of making everyone know and live the “new” communion that the Son of God made man introduced into the history of the world. In this regard, then, the testimony of John the Evangelist defines in an undeniable way the blessed end towards which the entire mission of the Church is directed: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1Jn 1,3).
John Paul II, Christifideles laici 57
The vitality of the branches depends on their remaining attached to the vine, which is Jesus Christ:”He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15,5). People are approached in liberty by God who calls everyone to grow, develop and bear fruit. A person cannot put off a response nor cast off personal responsibility in the matter. The solemn words of Jesus refer to this exalted and serious responsibility: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn 15,6). In this dialogue between God who offers his gifts, and the person who is called to exercise responsibility, there comes the possibility, indeed the necessity, of a total and ongoing formation of the lay faithful, as the Synod Fathers have rightly emphasized in much of their work. After having described Christian formation as “a continual process in the individual of maturation in faith and a likening to Christ, according to the will of the Father, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”, they have clearly affirmed that the formation of the lay faithful must be placed among the priorities of a diocese. It ought to be so placed within the plan of pastoral action that the efforts of the whole community (clergy, lay faithful and religious) converge on this goal”(209).
Benedict XVI, Homily Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Thursday, 22 September 2011
The decision that is required of us here makes us keenly aware of the fundamental significance of our life choices. But at the same time, the image of the vine is a sign of hope and confidence. Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we “abide” in Christ, in the vine. The evangelist uses the word “abide” a dozen times in this brief passage. This “abiding in Christ” characterizes the whole of the parable. In our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding, when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile and short-lived, when in our need we cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!” (cf. Lc 24,29), in this present era, the risen Lord gives us a place of refuge, a place of light, hope and confidence, a place of rest and security. When drought and death loom over the branches, then in Christ we find future, life and joy. In him we always find forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again, to be transformed as we are drawn into his love. To abide in Christ means, as we saw earlier, to abide in the Church as well. The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another. We stand firm together against the storm and offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, we believe with the whole Church of all times and places, with the Church in heaven and the Church on earth. The Church, as the herald of God’s word and dispenser of the sacraments, joins us to Christ, the true vine. The Church as “fullness and completion of the Redeemer”, as Pius XII expressed it (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35  p. 230: “plenitudo et complementum Redemptoris”), is to us a pledge of divine life and mediator of those fruits of which the parable of the vine speaks. Thus the Church is God’s most beautiful gift. Therefore Saint Augustine could say: “as much as any man loves the Church, so much has he the Holy Spirit” (In Ioan. Ev. Tract. 32:8 [PL 35:1646]). With and in the Church we may proclaim to all people that Christ is the source of life, that he exists, that he is the great one for whom we keep watch, for whom we long so much. He gives himself, and thus he gives us God, happiness, and love. Whoever believes in Christ has a future. For God has no desire for what is withered, dead, ersatz, and finally discarded: he wants what is fruitful and alive, he wants life in its fullness and he gives us life in its fullness.