Fr. Charles Irvin
Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
You know what a ligament is. Perhaps you gain a greater appreciation of a ligament when you have a torn ligament and then realize it’s importance. Ligaments hold our bones together at their joints.
The word “religion” means “to bond together again,” to “re-ligament” essential parts that have been fractured and torn asunder. To share Christ’s love means we should join Him in bringing us back into a holistic union with each other, with all of nature, with the world’s natural resources, and with God Himself. The work of religion goes way beyond our own private, personal, and individualistic relationship with God. The work of religion and our response to God’s call moves us into Christ’s care and concern for all others and for the whole world. Our concerns as Catholics are always communal; our concerns as Catholics involve us in the lives of others. Our concerns are Catholic and Universal, taking us beyond our own personal selves into the Church’s universal and all-encompassing love, care, and concern for the whole world and all who live in it.
The world as we know it is quite broken, dislocated, and fractured. The process of globalization is not bringing us together. Quite the contrary: it is tearing us apart. The United Nations organization reveals a world that is very much disunited, not united. Here in our country, diversity is celebrated over unity. How, then, are we going to bring unity and community into our world in its present condition?
Left to our own devices, that would be impossible. But with God, all things are possible. This is particularly so since God gave us His only Son, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit, in order to empower us to heal our fractured and broken existence, and return our world back to God as His kingdom – to return it healed, mended and restored back into His dominion.
We cannot, in all honesty, do it our selves. We will not be useful, productive, or successful unless we go about our task and accomplish our mission in the power of the Spirit-filled Christ risen from the dead. Without the power and gifts of God’s Holy Spirit will accomplish little of anything – nothing of value in fact. We must acknowledge that we are branches of the main vine, Jesus Christ, who tells us in today’s gospel account: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from me you can do nothing. A man who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch” that is good for nothing. And if you live and me and I in you, He tells us, you will live a life of meaning, purpose, direction, and of infinite value.
The mythic symbol, the icon of the true American, is the individualistic cowboy who accomplishes anything and everything; who with his six-shooter can restore right order and justice in his part of the world. We should carefully note, however, that it applies only to the cowboy’s individual and particular part of the world. We, as Catholic Christians, are to apply the powers we have, powers that come from God, to heal, redeem, and thereby sanctify and bring wholeness not only our own individual lives but the world around us. We can do that only as members of a worldwide, Universal Church. For, you see, we’re all in this together. Ours is a communal world; ours is a communal religion; ours is a commonly shared life of faith in the life and faith of Jesus Christ as members of His universal Mystical Body.
Recent polls indicate that many people are searching for spiritualities that are unique to themselves. Distrusting organized religion, people glean bits and pieces of the teachings and practices from many religions thinking, perhaps, that any spirituality will do; thinking that one form is just as good as another.
But is that true? If God sent us His only begotten Son in order to share His life with us, then should not our holiness be found in Christ’s holiness; our sanctity found in His? Isn’t what Jesus taught about the Vine and branches to be taken seriously? Our sanctity, our wholeness, our holiness is not ours, it is Christ’s. What is necessary is for us to incorporate our lives into His life. That’s what the sacraments are all about. The Holy Spirit comes forth from the nature of Christ and into our nature through the sacraments of His Mystical Body, the Church.
Left to ourselves, we can accomplish nothing. Human history shows us that our “do it yourself” record has left behind it nothing but human wreckage and misery. We stand in the shoes of the disciples who, when Jesus told them to feed the crowd of five thousand people exclaimed: “Lord, all we have is five barley loaves and two fish. What can we accomplish with that?” The answer, of course, is that left to ourselves we can accomplish little, if anything, when faced with the task that lies ahead of us. Just any spirituality will not do; just any spirituality we construct for ourselves will be fashioned from human effort, not God’s. We need the spiritual power than comes from God.
We are created in the image and likeness of God in order that His dominion, power and glory can change and reshape the face of the earth by changing and reshaping the face of what it means to be human. We are created to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next. Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead in order to fill us with God’s creating and life-giving Holy Spirit that we might reveal and realize God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
We have Christ’s commitment, His covenant to be with us no matter what. We have God’s Presence among us and living within us when we receive the Body and Blood of His only Son Jesus Christ, in order that we might be a part of accomplishing His work. Without that we cannot hope to live useful, meaningful, and productive lives, lives having meaning that will last far beyond our own individualized and isolated selves.
With that vision, then, we now enter into Holy Communion and receive our Blessed Lord in His glorious and Spirit-filled Body and Blood. It is in that, and only in that, that our lives will be useful and productive. It is in only in that our lives will make any sense at all.
All that we have comes from God. All that we have is destined to be returned to God. The question is: Will we return our lives and our world back to God with value added by our Spirit-filled efforts, with value added by our response to God’s invitation that comes to us in Christ Jesus?