Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on May 2 and 3, 2015 at the 6:00PM (Vigil) and 8:00AM and 10:30 AM Masses
Last Friday a friend of mine asked me what I had planned for the weekend and I told him that I was going on retreat with the men from my parish and as best I could I tried to describe what a retreat is to him. When I was done he said, “That sounds absolutely awful! It would be like being in jail. Trapped all weekend in a monastery with nothing to do but sit around, go to Mass, pray, and read; with no place to go and no contact with the outside world; with no computer, television, or Penguin playoff game to watch (which in hindsight was probably one of the blessings of the weekend).
But it’s not like that at all. After the weekend one of the retreatants summed it up best. He said, “It was so peaceful and quiet. I could rest and relax without having to answer the phone or respond to an email. Work, my kids, or my wife were not bothering me; and there was no “honey-do” list. Most importantly,” he said, “I could feel that the Lord was with me!” I am sure many of the guys that were on retreat last weekend had similar feelings. I know that I did.
But it’s not just when we’re on retreat that we feel like this, it’s any time that we spend time with the Lord, whether at Mass, adoration, or even when we simply take a minute to pray before start the day, or eat, or to catch our breath before a test or an important meeting. During these times we feel the Lord’s presence. We are more loving and forgiving. We are more relaxed and at peace. I was so relaxed and at peace on retreat that I fell asleep several times during prayer and adoration.
Today’s gospel speaks about this subject very well. While today is the 5th Sunday of Easter, this reading about the vines and the branches is actually from the Last Supper Discourse, making it one of the last things that Jesus would have ever spoken to his disciples. Because of this, the disciples would have considered it to be very important. The disciples, like most people of the time, would have understood grapevines quite well and so would have easily understood the meaning Jesus was conveying to them about the vine and the branches.
My wife and I visited a vineyard in the Laurel Highlands once. In case you’ve never visited one, it’s a lot like going to a farm or a nursery except there is wine. I missed some football games that weekend, but because it was fall they had a hayride through the vineyard and on it they told us more than we ever wanted to know about grapes. For instance, did you know that grape seeds produce a variety of grapes completely different from the grapes that the seed comes from? Cabernet seeds do not produce Cabernet grapes, but something totally different. For this reason most grapevines are cut from branches from existing vines. Now if cuttings are planted on their own and are fortunate enough to survive, and many do not, they can take years to develop a root system good enough to produce even a small amount of fruit. So most cuttings are grafted onto existing vines with established root systems so that they bear more fruit faster.
The disciples would have understood very clearly that when Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” and “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” They would have understood that if they were like grape seeds or branch cuttings not grafted onto a vine, they would wither and not produce fruit. But if they remained like branch cuttings grafted onto a vine, they would bear much fruit. They knew that they had to remain in Jesus.
When we are on retreat, at Mass, or other time spent with the Lord, we are cuttings grafted onto the true vine Jesus, close to the Lord and bearing much fruit – loving, forgiving, relaxed, and peaceful. But often when we leave the monastery, church, and Jesus behind and return to our homes, to our families, friends, and neighbors, to our jobs and our schools, we produce less fruit or even no fruit at all in our lives. We are not so loving, forgiving, peaceful, or relaxed. That’s why it is so important to remain in Jesus, he is the root system that allows us to bear fruit.
Another key for a vine to bear fruit, besides a good root system, is sun exposure. Vineyards are planted in north and south rows so that their exposure to sunlight is maximized as the sun moves from east to west throughout the day. Our key to bear fruit is also son exposure, not S-U-N exposure but S-O-N exposure. We must not limit our exposure to the Son (Jesus) to a weekend retreat, a single day of the week, or a single prayer a day. Sometimes I think it’s as if we’ve applied SPF-100 sunscreen over ourselves and our spiritual lives. Maybe we think we don’t have time for Jesus in our busy lives or maybe we think like my friend that it will restrict our freedom. What we don’t often realize is that our time with Jesus allows us to bear way more fruit in less time. The more regular our intervals with Jesus the more grace we receive and the more our lives are changed. The more we remain in Jesus the more fruit we bear.
Vines bear more fruit when they are pruned and in today’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples that they have been pruned through his Word. In today’s first reading Jesus’ speaking to Barnabas enabled him to speak to all of Jerusalem. When people tell me that God is not speaking to them when they pray, I ask them if they have tried reading their Bible because the Bible is after all the Word of God. Make the reading of scripture a part of your spiritual life. His words allowed Barnabas and the apostles to bear incredible fruit and as he speaks to us through his Holy Word it guide us to bear more fruit.
As we come forward to receive our Lord in the Eucharist today, remember that after we receive Jesus he remains in us throughout our busy lives and so we should remain in him, like the branch cutting grafted to the true vine.
That’s today’s message: remain in Jesus. At the end of today’s gospel Jesus says:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
Remain in him and receive this blessing. Rejoice and be glad!