5th Sunday of Easter Year – B

                                5th Sunday of Easter Year – B

                         Acts 9:26-31, 1.Jn.3:18-24, Jn.15:1-8

THE STORY is told about a mother who said: “My married life has been like the mysteries of the rosary. When we were newly married, it was joyful. 

When my husband’s vices came out, it was sorrowful. When he died, it was glorious. And now I am single again, it is light and luminous!”

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” This is the secret of perseverance and endurance: To remain in God, no matter what. 

Whatever “mysteries” we go through in life, if we hold on to the Lord, we will continue to live, grow and, yes, bear fruit.

It is easy to hold on to the Lord in joyful, glorious, and light moments, but all the more we should hold on to Him on our sorrowful moments. In fact, there’s only the Lord to really hold on to at such moments. 

Instead of letting go of God, we must hold on to Him and not succumb to misery, despair and hopelessness.

It is not enough to just exist. We must grow, and persist. Somebody once compared a Christian to a basketball player.

“To be a good player,” he said, “it’s not enough that you know how to dribble or avoid getting fouls. What matters most is to be able to shoot, to make points and to be productive.”

Yes, we must remain in God and bear fruit. We must not just be living branches. We must be fruit-bearing branches. For those who are still alive, and who perhaps are living abundant lives, the question remains: 

Am I living a fruitful life? Have others benefited from my life? Ask anyone who has been “pruned,” and he/she will tell you how difficult it is to accept it in the beginning.

“Why?” “Why me?” “Why now?” These are the questions that are usually raised, and many times, there are no answers. Right away, anyway. 

And so, one can put up a fight and say “Unfair!” or one can stay still and say, “OK, Lord, I trust you. Prune me!” The sooner we say the latter, the sooner the healing and the moving on.

“Why me? I am a good person? Why do I receive these trials and sufferings?” Perhaps the answer to this age-old question can be answered by Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel:

“He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit.”

Last Sunday, we heard of the image of Jesus as Good Shepherd. Today, we hear another image of Jesus, that is, the vine. 

The Old Testament literature often speaks of the people of Israel as God’s vineyard producing sour grapes because of their infidelity. (Is.5; Jer.2:21; Ez.15)

When Jesus applies this as his personal image, he contrasts Himself to Israel’s infidelity; he affirms his faithfulness in bearing the fruit of God’s work. God finds true fidelity in Jesus a fidelity which culminated in his self-donation on the Cross.

Let us try to reflect on what this image of the vine can help us in living out the Christian life that is expected of us. First, the image of vine-branches demonstrates what the Church should be. 

As a Body of Christ, the members should remain united with their head who is Christ. The Christian’s union with Christ should be seen as something “personal”.

Second, the fruit of the vine-branches relationship is intimacy. Intimacy is something we can gain in this kind of relationship. 

Intimacy suggests knowledge about the “other,” so much so that one can speak on behalf of the “other.” We also have heard this in last week’s gospel wherein Christ said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

Intimacy demands a quantity of time, as well as a “quality time.” We can only be intimate with Christ if we search for him regularly, and likewise, if we seriously spend time with him in prayer and in reading the word of God.

Third, if we reflect further, the word “abiding” is significant to our reflections. Abiding is “dwelling” or “living” in the other. 

We can find this in the life of the Trinitarian God, in which one person dwells in the other. For instance, Jesus once said, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.”

In the same way, our relationship with Christ asks for indwelling. We should live in Christ and, equally, Christ should live in us. The second reading gives us a form of indwelling: love.  

When we show love to our brothers and sisters, God can be seen in us because of the fact that God is love.

This vine-branches relationship that we have reflected so far can be applied to marital relationship. The man and wife are called to live as one. 

A key to its fulfillment is, first, to live in intimacy which brings knowledge for each other. As years go by, each spouse should have known each other more deeply. 

If a wife comments this way, “Actually, my husband remains a mystery to me,” this shows that intimacy is not in a picture.

But if she says, “I don’t react that much because I know that in five minutes he would calm down,” that is an index of intimacy. Moreover, husbands and wives should “dwell” in each other so that they could live as one. 

This takes a long process though. When both husband and wife have already lived with “one mind and one heart”, there the intimacy and indwelling happens.

Even a well-pruned branch cannot bear grapes unless it abides in the vine, drawing water and minerals from the main trunk and transporting food prepared in the leaves to the main trunk and to the roots.  

Jesus reminds us that we cannot bear fruit either, unless we abide in him just as he abides in us. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

What Jesus means is that by abiding in him we will bear much fruit, and that apart from him we can do nothing. Abiding in Christ means that God has to be inside us and we have to be inside God. 

We abide in Christ by drawing near to God and by experiencing His being near to us, or by living every moment as he has commanded us to do, with the radiant presence of Christ all around us.

This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the Liturgy. 

Those of us who do not abide in Jesus will wither and be thrown away, just as withered branches are thrown into the fire to be burned. Fruit-bearing in Christian life is not just of our own making. It is the sign that Christ is working in us and through us.

Let us abide in Christ and let Christ abide in us: The four Gospels teach us how to become true disciples of Jesus and how to abide in him as braches abide in the main trunk of the vine and draw their life from the vine.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen. 

 

 

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4th Sunday of Easter Year B

                                    4th Sunday of Easter Year

                            Acts 4:8- 2, 1 Jn.3:1-2, Jn.10:11-18

A soldier dying on a Korean battle field asked for a priest. The Medic could not find one. A wounded man lying nearby heard the request and said, “I am a priest.” 

The Medic turned to the speaker and saw his condition, which was as bad as that of the other. “It will kill you if you move,” he warned. But the wounded chaplain replied.

“The life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life.” He then crawled to the dying soldier, heard his confession, gave him absolution and the two died hand in hand.

As we continue to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection, the 4th Easter Sunday is called Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We celebrate the risen Lord as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

The priest in charge of a parish is called pastor because pastor means shepherd of Christ’s sheep. As a shepherd, he leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects Christ’s sheep in the parish. 

The image of God as Shepherd has its precedence in the Old Testament literature.

God has been depicted as a Shepherd in the book of Genesis (49:24), and in the book of Psalms (23, 74, 80). In our gospel today, Jesus shows us that he is the Good Shepherd. By saying so, he becomes the fulfillment of the Old Testament. 

As the gospel shows, Jesus has three characteristics of a good Shepherd: caring, compassionate, and guiding.

First, he is a Shepherd who cares for his flock. His caring can be seen in his great love for his sheep. He loves his sheep so much that he is willing to lay down his life for them. 

Here, Jesus contrasts himself from a “hired man” who abandons the sheep when the wolves come. He is different from a hired man because Jesus has concern for his sheep.

Second, he is a Shepherd who feels compassion for his sheep. Sheep are powerless in the face of wolves. He shows compassion for them by protecting them from harm. His compassion likewise goes beyond the flock that he is called to care.

Third, he is a Shepherd who guides his sheep. Sheep cannot graze on barren land, but someone must lead them to pasture, to water, and to shelter. 

They must be sought out when they are separated from the flock because they will never find a way back themselves. This is how he guides his flock.

Introducing himself as the shepherd of his flock, Jesus makes four claims in today’s gospel.

1) He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice: Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, even so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults. 

Of course the knowledge talked of here is not mere intellectual knowing but knowledge that comes from love and leads to care and concern for the other. 

He loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to receive and return his love by keeping his words. He speaks to us at every Mass, through the Bible, through our pastors, through our parents, family and friends and through the events of our lives. 

2) He gives eternal life to his sheep by receiving us into his sheepfold through Baptism. He strengthens our faith by giving us his Holy Spirit in Confirmation. 

He supplies food for our souls by the Holy Eucharist and by the divine words of the holy Bible. He makes our society holy by the sacraments of matrimony and the priesthood.

3) He protects his sheep by placing them in the loving hands of his mighty Father. Without him to guide us and protect us, we are easy prey for the spiritual wolves of this world: that includes Satan, as well as the seven deadly sins of pride, avarice, envy, gluttony, anger, lust and sloth.

In the first part of chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the good shepherd. He goes in search of stray lambs and heals the sick ones. 

Jesus heals the wounds of our souls by the sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age by the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

4) Jesus dies for his sheep:  Just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so Jesus died in expiation for the sins of all people. 

In the final part of this gospel Jesus invites those who are touched and saved by the love of the Shepherd, to shepherd and care for others.

“There are other sheep that are not of this fold and these I have to lead as well.” Though he cares for his own, he does not discriminate and ultimately dies because he cares for all peoples.

The 4th Sunday of Easter is also called “Vocation Sunday”. Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us. And if we are His sheep, we will be listening to Him and we will also follow Him. 

Yet the call of Jesus also goes further and deeper to those for whom He has a particular calling. Vocation Sunday focuses on the call to the priesthood and religious life.

Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass homily (a few years back) has this to say to those who are shepherds or preparing to be shepherds of God’s flock. 

He said that the priests are to have the smile of the Father and the smell of the sheep. He said that the priests are to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to be close to the oppressed.

So humbly I ask you, my dear people of God, to pray for us priests that we will lead you to hear the voice of Jesus and to follow Him to the green pastures of eternal life. 

Yes, pray for us priests and pray for those who are preparing for the priesthood and for those who are thinking about the priesthood. 

May I request you to thank God for me and to pray for me as I am completing 23 years of my Priesthood on next Saturday 28th April.

May we lead you to believe this, which is taken from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Yes, with the Lord as our shepherd, there is indeed nothing we shall ever want. All we want is to listen to Him and follow Him.

Let us pray for vocations to priestly and religious life so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community. 

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen. 

2nd Sunday of Easter

                                                 2nd Sunday of Easter

                                  Acts 4:32-35, 1Jn.5:1-6, Jn.20:19-31

The second Sunday of Easter is called Divine Mercy Sunday. Why do we celebrate a feast for God’s mercy? Because, God is so merciful and mercy is His second name. He is merciful to the sinners and saints alike.

So, let us celebrate this feast of mercy by being overly generous with compassion – even to people who don’t deserve it. The “Eighth day” Easter had a powerful significance from the earliest days of Christianity.

This Sunday was designated as Dominica in albis – the church in white albs – referring to the presence of the newly baptized individuals in white albs in the church. 

This was the day once again the believers came together, and John’s account of the risen Lord’s appearance to the eleven was always proclaimed.  

Poor Thomas always gets bad press the Sunday after Easter. We are always focusing in on his doubts. We often think that he was the only one who did not believe that the Lord had risen from the dead.

The fact is that most of the disciples doubted the Lord’s resurrection until they experienced His presence. Only the apostle John, the Beloved Disciple, appears to have believed the Lord had risen before he ever encountered the Risen Lord.

If you remember, after Mary Magdalene reported what she had seen that Easter Sunday morning, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John outran Peter, but waited and let Peter go in first. 

When John went in, the Gospel says, “He saw, and He believed.” Peter, still, did not know what to think.

Like Peter, the other disciples did not know if they should believe Mary and John. Peter reported that the tomb was empty. Perhaps in some macabre act, someone had stolen the Lord’s body.

Certainly, there appeared to be no limit to the despicable activity of the chief priests and Pharisees when it came to the Lord. So, they all doubted initially. 

Later that day Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples, except for Thomas who was not present.

When Jesus appeared that day He came to the disciples in the same Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover the Thursday before. The door was locked. Why? The disciples were afraid, frightened to be exact.  

Jesus had not just been killed; he had suffered one of the most horrible deaths known to mankind. Would the same thing happen to them?  

They were frightened. In their fear, they began doubting the Lord. Maybe He was just a wonderful, powerful prophet, but nothing more. And then He appeared to them.  

That’s when they realized that this was more than just a new message, a new prophecy. Jesus Himself was the message. He was the Son of God. His Gospel had power, the Power of God.

Thomas was not there. He doubted the other disciples’ story. He even doubted the word of the Lord, who had said He’d rise again. 

When he saw Jesus, Thomas’ reaction was the same of the other disciples, best expressed in his statement, “My Lord and My God.”

Jesus Christ is Lord and God. There is no need to be afraid. This is true also for us. We are often afraid. This is normal, part of our human condition. Beneath the fear there is doubt.

Will God really take care of me and my family? Does He really care? Does He really exist?  Where is He now that I need Him so much?

We go through periods of joy and periods of stress. Sometimes we say, “Life is good. I love what I am doing. I have people I love. And I am loved by others.” Or you might say, “I have a great marriage.  

The children are at work, but I can’t stop smiling when I think about them, even when they are driving me crazy.” Or for our younger people, “I really like school. I have friends. I have activities that are fun. Life is good.”  

That is how we feel sometimes. And then there are times that we seem to go from one crisis to the next. We are confronted with death, sickness, unemployment, actions of others that disappoint us, and our own actions that upset us.

There is stress in relationships. And we wonder about God. “Where is He?” we ask. And, yes, like Thomas and the others, there are still times that we are afraid, that we question, that we doubt. Our Loving Lord knows and understands.  

He was one of us. Jesus knows what it is like to be afraid. He was afraid in the Garden of Olives.  He sweat blood. But He also trusted in the Power of His Father and our Father and did not let these fears change His determination to do the will of the Father.  

He sees us when we are afraid. He understands. He also gives us the ability to get up from our fears and do the right thing. 

This is Divine Mercy Sunday. The rays that come from the heart of Jesus remind us of the blood and water that came from His heart.  

The blood destroys the power that evil has over us. The water revives us through baptism. He sees, He knows, He understands. Yes, it is human to be afraid. And it is human to doubt. Perhaps we feel horrible for doubting Him.  

His mercy and compassion are stronger than our doubts. No matter what we are facing in life today, or will face tomorrow, joy or challenge, we look to Jesus; we remember His mercy and compassion, and we join Thomas in saying, “My Lord and My God.”

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.