Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
God has created us in His own image and likeness in order that we might share His care and love with others, particularly with those who, because of Jesus Christ, are no longer strangers to us, no longer our competitors. Christ’s love is not exclusive, it is inclusive. Do we, Christ’s followers, exclude others from our care and concern? Who did Jesus exclude? Who do we exclude?
The root meaning of the word “religion” is this: “to bond together”, “to re-ligament” that which has been fractured, dislocated, and broken apart. To share Christ’s love means we should join Him in bringing us all back into a holistic union with each other, a holistic union with all of nature, with the world’s natural resources, with our world, 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.
When it comes to our occupations, our businesses and our professions, productivity is a concept with which we are all well acquainted. Productivity is also a concept found in the Gospels. We might be surprised to discover the number of times it appears in the parables and teachings of Jesus. But the question is, of course, what kind of productivity?
The answer is complex, multiple, and many layered. Basically the answer revolves around stewardship – stewardship that recognizes the truth that all we have we hold in response to God’s gifts to us. We are productive when, in response to God’s call, we return our broken world back to Him healed, whole and complete.
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 gave us 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.
In all honesty we must admit that we cannot do it all by ourselves. We will not be useful, productive, or successful unless we go about our task and accomplish our mission in the power of Jesus Christ, Spirit-filled and 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. 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 if you will, 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 not only in our own individual lives but in 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.
We must never forget that the Church is not simply a voluntary association of like-minded individualis who have, on their own, decided to band together to form a legal and social association known as the Roman Catholic Church. The Church, we must realize, is not of our making; it is not the product of our hands; it did not come from human hands. No! The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. It comes to us from God. It is God’s gift to us. It is we who enter it and belong to it. The Church is not something that we allow to enter into us so that it belongs to us. The Church is that common-union into which we humbly enter in response to God’s call in response to God’s invitation to us. The Church is that common-union into which we surrender our individual autonomy over into the care of God so that He can manage us and thus, through us, reach out into our world to reshape it, to reform it, and to redeem it.
For 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, created to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.
We have His commitment, His covenant to be with us no matter what. We have God’s Presence among us, even 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 Jesus Christ Himself in his glorious and Spirit-filled risen Body and Blood. It is in that, and only in that, that our lives will be useful and productive. It is 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 efforts, with value added by our response to His invitation that comes to us in Christ Jesus?