Sunday, May 14, 2006

Remain in Me

(5th Sunday of Easter-Year B;This homily was given 14 May, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read John 15:1-10)

The image of the vine and the branches in this morning’s Gospel gives us a clear picture of just how radically dependent we are upon Christ for even the most basic necessities of the spiritual life. Like a mantra throughout that passage, Christ repeats those words, “Remain in me; remain on the vine; whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. Remain.”

This weekend is a timely opportunity to reflect on what it truly means to remain in Jesus. Just yesterday we celebrated the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three small children in Fatima, Portugal back in 1917. Today, of course, is also Mother’s Day, and the month of May. What better time to reflect on our Mother, Mary, as the perfect model for what it means to truly remain in Christ.

First and foremost, to remain in Christ is to remain in His word. As He says to the disciples in the Gospel this morning:

You are already pruned [made clean] because of the word that I spoke to you (John 15:3).

And then He goes on to encourage them, once again, to remain in that word.

Mary, above all the other disciples, was a woman of the word. From the beginning, at the annunciation, she was attentive to the word of God as it was given to her through the message of the angel. Her willingness to hear that word, her receptivity to the word of salvation, helped her to conceive the Lord in her heart even before she conceived Him physically in her body. All throughout her life she remained open and available to that life giving word of God and the words of her own Son. Mary was a woman of the word.

Are we that receptive to the word of God? As we listen to the gospel proclaimed here each week, are we open and available to what God is saying to us? Do we take time to read the Bible? St. Jerome, in his reflection on the word of God, says that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Scriptures help us to see as God sees, to think as He thinks. Might we be men and women of the word, remaining in Jesus by remaining in His word.

Secondly, Mary was a woman of the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #53-58). She would have been present at all the first Eucharistic feasts, those first Masses of the early Church. But long before that, she received the body and the blood of Christ when she welcomed Him into her body and gave Him life.

John Paul II says that at the incarnation—when God became man in Christ—at that mystery, Mary “anticipated . . . the Church’s Eucharistic faith” (EE, # 55). He calls her the “first ‘tabernacle’,” the first place in which the body of Christ was reposed. To remain in Jesus and to have life in Him is to remain with Him in the Eucharist.

The Main Chapel at the North American College, where I studied for the priesthood, has a unique floor design. The floor itself is made of white marble, but around the main altar where the Eucharist is celebrated each day, the marble tiles are all dark green and they flow out towards the pews and branch off to either side of that chapel. The significance is found in the very image that Christ shares with us this morning, that of the vine and the branches.

Separated from the vine—the very source of our life—we can do nothing. Separated from Christ in the Eucharist, we are like a branch that withers and is good for nothing, only to be thrown out into the fire. Like Mary, we are called to be people intimately united to Christ in the Eucharist. To remain in Christ is to remain with Him, and He with us, in the Eucharist.

Finally, Mary was a woman of prayer. Time and time again, when she encounters the great mysteries of her son’s life, we are told that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; 51). Mary remained in Jesus by keeping the mysteries of His life alive in her heart. She was a woman of great prayer.

Do we keep the mysteries of Christ present in our own lives through prayer? Do we take the time each day to be alone with God, the One who is the very source of our life and strength? To remain in Christ we must remain in prayer, able to recognize that in Him we have everything we need to live fruitful lives as people of faith.

This Mother’s Day, let us continue to look to Mary—woman of the word, woman of the Eucharist, and woman of prayer—as that perfect model of what it means to remain in Christ.

And may God continue to bless all mothers, all who have given us life and love, and most especially those who have taught us what it truly means to remain in Christ and to bear great fruit in Him.