HOMILY for Wed 5 of Easter
The Scriptural image that most often comes to mind when we think of Christ and his Church is that of the Head and his Body, or the Bridegroom and the pure Bride. And yet, neither of these are images used by Christ himself. The one he does use is the one we repeat in today’s Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”. So that the “me” in whom we must abide is not just the person of Jesus Christ in some spiritual way but also the visible person of the totus Christus, the entire Christ, which is his holy Church. As the Second Vatican Council put it: “the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing”.
As long as we are united to Christ through the Church, then we draw from his truth and love, and we are made fruitful with the sap of his life-giving grace; we share his nature and his divine life. But notice that we the branches also have such freedom that we can grow extraneous leaves, tendrils, and offshoots that restrict the fruitfulness of the vine. As such, the Church may develop ideas, customs, and practices that limit the fruitfulness of the true Vine, or the maturation of its fruit. So that those who come to taste its fruit find only small, unappealing, sour grapes.
For the Vine needs to be pruned by the divine Vinedresser so that the fruit will receive maximum exposure to the sun, and that the fruit can sweeten, mature, and ripen, and then be turned into wine. Hence the Church undergoes a period of pruning every now and again, a period of reform, and this reform begins in our own hearts as we are pruned and renewed in our baptismal fidelity to Christ. I think it is fair to say that for some decades there has been such freedom in the Church that laity and clergy alike have, in some quarters, been allowed to develop ideas, spiritualities, ‘theologies’, and attitudes which might stem the flow of truth and love from Christ the true Vine. And so, some branches may have become unfruitful, or what fruit there is has not been sweet and appealing as the fullness of Truth can be, and others still may even have become cut off from the Vine. We see this kind of thing happening in today’s First Reading, and where new teachings arise, they have to be considered by the “apostles and elders” of the Church, and if necessary, corrected.
So, these exuberant growths are now being pruned, which is seldom a pleasant experience. And the shrinkage of the Church in the West can be seen in this light. The Father prunes the branches so that the Church may bear more abundant fruit; a sweet fruit that will attract many souls to Christ, and that will produce a new wine that will intoxicate many more people with the joy of the Holy Spirit, that is, the wine of Christ’s wisdom and Gospel truth, and, so, cause many of our generation, we pray and hope, to become saints. And sanctity begins with you and me, in our own hearts.