"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
May 2, 2012: Fifth Sunday of Easter
• Acts 9:26-31
Overview: "No man is an island entire of itself,” wrote John Donne (died 1631). This week’s readings stress the importance of maintaining the connection between ourselves and Christ and each other in the Church. We belong to the Catholic, that is to say the “whole” Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 830).
The first reading describes how Paul (still called “Saul”) sought out the apostles in Jerusalem so that his relationship to them might be confirmed. Paul could have gone off on his own, but he knew how vital it was to be connected to the body of Christ. The apostles were, understandably, afraid of Paul and reluctant to accept him because they had heard of how he had persecuted the Church. But Barnabas interceded for him, enabling Paul to join the disciples.
The communal nature of the Church is brought out again in our second reading as St. John exhorts us to “love one another just as he commanded us.” It’s no good to just say we love one another. Love is communal by its very nature and must be expressed in tangible ways: “in deed and truth.”
Finally, in this week’s Gospel Jesus explains the importance of staying connected to him. Using imagery that his audience could easily relate to, Jesus compares our relationship to him as branches to the vine. The vine can live without a few branches, but the branches cannot live without the vine. We must stay connected to the vine—that is Christ—in order to receive the divine life, which comes to us in his word and sacraments. It is vital that we stay connected to Christ and remain in him, for without him the soul withers and dies and we can do nothing.
Key verse: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: ““The fruit referred to in this saying is the holiness of a life made fruitful by union with Christ. When we believe in Jesus Christ, partake of his mysteries and keep his commandments, the Savior himself comes to love, in us, his Father and his brethren, our Father and our brethren. His person becomes, through the Spirit, the living and interior rule of our activity” (No. 2074).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Charity in truth is a force that builds community, it brings all people together without imposing barriers or limits. The human community that we build by ourselves can never, purely by its own strength, be a fully fraternal community, nor can it overcome every division and become a truly universal community. The unity of the human race, a fraternal communion transcending every barrier, is called into being by the word of God-who-is-Love” (“Charity in Truth,” 34).).
Life application: It is vital that we stay connected to Christ for it’s only through him that we receive the life-giving Spirit who enables us to grow in faith and love. We know we’re supposed to “love one another” but without the grace of God, that’s impossible. We need to remain in Christ in order to draw life-giving nourishment from his body so that we can love “in deed and truth.” How do we do that? We remain in Christ by staying connected to the Church through daily prayer, reading Scripture, regular confession, participation at Mass and keeping the commandments.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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