The image of the vine and branches is a vital union. Without the vine, the branches will die. In Jesus’ final I Am statement of the Gospel of John, Jesus claims I am the vine, which is the constant source of life for the branches.
And so, what is Jesus saying to us this weekend other than, I am your source of life. I am what gives you life! A question I wonder is how does Jesus give us his life today?
Jesus gives us his life today through the Eucharist. Our seminarian, Danny, loves to compare the spiritual nourishment we get from the Eucharist to the physical nourishment we get from food. Our bodies, need food and water to survive. Without food and water, we would die. We need both in order to live. The same is true in the spiritual life, all of us need the Eucharist in order to live spiritually. We need the graces of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, to be filled with God’s life and love, and to be nourished by Jesus who gives us life. He is the vine, we are the branches, we draw our life from our Lord.
With this in mind, I want to focus for a moment on how important weekly participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy, that is, the celebration of the Mass, is for each one of us. A couple of months ago, I was giving a talk to the parents of the kids receiving their first communion this year. One of the young Mom’s asked, “Father, is it really a “grave sin” to miss Sunday Mass?” I said, nervously (because I knew there was a reason she was asking) well yes, but let’s think about the reason. And so first I clarified, there could be a just reason to miss Mass such as your son/daughter was sick with the flu and you were taking care of him/her. An example where it wouldn’t be okay to miss Mass would be staying home to watch the Lions play if the game is on in the morning (which could happen if they are playing in London. The church certainly doesn’t want to overburden us with guilt. So, why does the Church encourage us to go Mass? The answer lies in our Gospel. Jesus said he is the source of life! Thus, it is participating in the weekly celebration of the Mass that fills us with the life of Christ. And so, I think the best way to encourage people to commit to Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, is by reminding them exactly what Jesus tells us today -that this is the place to remain with Jesus – the source of our life.
And this is how we are to remain with Him. Our lives need to hear the Word of Christ proclaimed and preached in our lives. Our spiritual lives are nourished both in the hearing of the Word of God and in reception of the Holy Eucharist. And then Christ sustains what we have heard and received at Mass in our prayer-life throughout the week. Our prayer life is an essential element to remaining with Christ. This allows us to reflect on and give God thanks for what we have received each Sunday.
But it can’t stop here. Something else needs to happen. Christ says, whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. A couple of weeks ago I was discussing the importance of the Eucharist with a young man, who is Protestant. He is interested in the Catholic Faith and has asked to meet with me periodically to answer some of his questions. And one of his questions, about the Eucharist, specifically was, “why do Catholics seem hyper-focused on the Eucharist”? And I said, “can you explain what you mean by that?” He said, “I just feel that Catholics say the reason they go to Mass is all about receiving the Eucharist, but not as much about Evangelization.” And I said oh man you hit on a very important point. Yes, Catholics absolutely have a sense of the importance of the Eucharist, but it cannot end with receiving Jesus. There is a response!
I said to the young man, look when Mass on Sundays begin, often we process in with the Book of the Gospels, then we are nourished by Christ’s Word and by Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. When Mass is over we do not process out with the book of the Gospels, because we are now called to literally be the procession of the Good News into the world. Our lives are to be so filled with Christ’s life and love, and even transformed, that the experience of Christ love from the liturgy bears fruit in the world. In other words, as Catholics we have been called to bring the very Jesus we have received into our bodies into the world. And this is why we as the branches must remain close to Jesus through the Mass (the living Word and the Eucharist); “for [we are the] branches to bear fruit, [we] must stay attached to the vine. If the [we] are to produce works of love, [we] must remain in communion with Jesus: Remain in me, as I remain in you.”
In Christ’s love and friendship,