5th Sunday of Easter B

See Commentary on John 15:1-8

Homily 1 - 2006

There are some mind-blowing statements in today’s readings from John.  There is a lot of talk about: living in Jesus,  Jesus living in us, God living in us.  God: the one who gives existence to the whole cosmos, right at this moment, is living in us, is alive in us.  Jesus: the man the Gospels speak about; the one whose radical message God vindicated by raising him to life. The living, risen Christ, is living in us, right now.

In today’s epistle, John says that all this is something we can experience if only we take the time to observe.  He says that we can know that God is living in us by the Spirit that he has given us.

Fortunately Paul has given us a further way of verifying that.  In one of his epistles he lists of what he calls some fruits of the Spirit, among them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.

When you stop and think, they are a description of a truly beautiful person, a fully mature human person: loving, enjoying life, at peace, patient, kind, under control, good, reliable, gentle.

As these gifts grow firmer within us, they show the essential beauty of God to the world in digestible form.  As Jesus said: It is to the glory of the Father that you bear much fruit.

Saint Irenaeus, a wise Christian writer from the late second century, once said:  "The glory of God (that is, what can be seen of God and understood by us human persons) is the human person fully alive."

The glory of God is the human person fully alive.

How does all this growth, this maturing, come about? How do we come to bear much fruit?

In today’s gospel Jesus says: Whoever remains in me, with me in them, bear fruit in plenty.  Earlier he had said: Make your home in me as I make mine in you.

So we need to live in each other’s company, Jesus and I.  We need to spend time together, hang around together, waste time together.  Ultimately that is what praying is.

Jesus seems to be saying that by living in each other’s company, by remaining in him, making our home in him, we become like him.

That, of course, goes hand in hand with our growing in love.  As John said in the Epistle: Whoever keep God’s commandments live in God and God lives in them.  And then it went on to say: God’s commandments are these: that we believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ, and that we love one another as Jesus has told us to.

So we need to make our home in Jesus, and we need to love one another.

Growing in love also goes hand in hand with something else – the pruning of our tendencies to self-centredness, self-interest, selfishness.  Life provides the opportunity for that to happen.  God makes use of our experiences to prune us, as Jesus says: Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more fruit.

The whole business is rather wonderful - great to ponder over during this season of Easter when the liturgy keeps clearly before our minds Jesus, whose attitude to life and whose message God vindicated by raising him from the dead; and, in this way, has made it possible for him to live in us, and for us to live in him.

Homily 2 - 2009

Did you hear that Second Reading this morning where it said: Whatever we ask him we shall receive?  And then, in a similar vein, the Gospel promised: You may ask what you will and you shall get it.

What do you make of that?  Has that been your experience?  Whatever you asked God, you received?

Well, perhaps it's a case of: “It's all in the fine print!”

What the Epistle actually said was: ... whatever we ask him, we shall receive, because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life that he wants.  His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another.

Does that mean that there is a condition attached to the promise? We have to be good – as the Epistle said: we have to keep his commandments.

That seems to let God off the hook - and it puts the pressure on us.  If we don't keep his commandments, there is no guarantee that our prayer will be answered.

I don't see it that way.  As I look back over my life, I see that often the things that I prayed for were things that expressed my surface desires.  Often enough, they reflected my petty addictions; they came from my selfishness - my own self-interest.  They came from the unredeemed part of me.

I wanted them because I didn't trust God - I didn't trust God's loving care and providence.  I had to give God a nudge, a reminder, in case he didn't seem to notice my priorities.

Really, I wasn't acting in line with his commandments.  As the Epistle went on to say: his commandments are only two, and are really quite clear: believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another.

Believe in ...  that is, trust in, entrust myself to, entrust my life and my needs to ...  the name of Jesus, the essential reality of Jesus, the fact that Jesus loves me passionately, intimately, and always, and doesn't get distracted.

If I really believe that, that affects radically the things that I pray for.  It cuts most of them off at the socks!

My prayer changes.  The kinds of things that I pray for, that I yearn for, become the kinds of things God yearns for, too.

I even begin, honestly and freely, to love others - because I want to.

Those are precisely the things that God wants, that God wants me to want, that God leads me to want – honestly.

God has been waiting all along for me to want them, for me, finally, to cooperate in his dreams for me, his dreams for others, his dreams for our world.  That's why God will grant them.

But there is something more.  What are God's dreams for me, for others, and for our world?  Do I know what they are? – for sure?

This is where today's Gospel sheds some light.  There, Jesus said: If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.

If you remain in me ...  That seems to presume an amount of time.  It takes time to know him well.  It takes time for his words really to sink in, and for his message to click.  It takes time to share in his dreams for me, his dreams for others, and his dreams for our world.  

When we are first converted, and we begin to discover the wonder of his love, we want to do great things for God.  In our enthusiasm, we want to prove our love.  But the driving force is “us” - It's our Ego that's in control.

However, I think that … if we remain in him and his words remain in us, then, over time, the ground seems to change again.  Rather than presuming that I know what God wants (and doing it), I learn to wait.

What becomes important is not to do great things for God - (my great things for God), but to seek to know and to do simply what God wants: Thy will be done!

And I don't necessarily know what that might be in practice.  I need to be still, to discern, and to be tentative.  To the extent that I really tune in to that, to the extent that I really want that, then, finally, I begin to co-operate in the work, not of me, but of God.


Homily 3 - 2015

On last Thursday the priests and some other lay leaders from the diocese were briefed about the up-coming sessions of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse scheduled for later in May. The Commission will investigate the Diocese of Ballarat over a period of about a month, before returning later in the year for a further session. During May the main business of the Commission will be to hear the story of abuse from the lips of many of the survivors.

We were warned that the story is simply awful. No doubt it will be widely publicised in the media. While providing a much-needed opportunity for survivors to have their stories heard and honoured, and hopefully to find some healing in the process, it will prove to be a painful time for many of us other Catholics. Some of you will be shocked and bewildered at the nature and extent of the abuse and the inadequate responses of Church authorities at the time. I would not be surprised if many of you will feel betrayed, confused and torn, wrestling to hold together your anger and disillusionment along with your instinctive loyalty to the Church and its ministers.

How to respond? I believe that it is important to recognise and to name whatever you feel. There is nothing wrong in feeling angry. Indeed, it is quite appropriate. Our feelings carry our energies, and we shall need all the energy we can muster to ensure as best we can that such abuse does not happen in the future. We do not need to choose between our anger, bewilderment, confusion, whatever, and our loyalty of the Church. They can all co-exist. It need not be a case of either/or. But the overall result will probably be a heavy sadness.

It is essential that we respect the victims and welcome their speaking up; and not only those who suffered the abuse, but their families, then and now, and their friends. We need to respect the hurt of fellow parishioners; and allow ourselves to grieve our lost innocence. While people are grieving is not time for justifications or defensiveness. There may be time to seek explanations afterwards.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compared our relationship with him to the unity between vine and branches. Vines need pruning for future vitality and fruitfulness. Interestingly, Jesus claimed that our Father is the one who does the necessary pruning. In some ways, the weeks ahead will prove to be a time of such pruning. Rather than fearing it, we can even welcome it as gift from God in the hope of greater vigour in the future and eventual rich harvest.

The Church is not just hierarchy and clergy. The Church is all of us. Together, we count among our members both saints and sinners. If the Church were purely for the sinless, none of us could belong. What constantly fascinates me is the readiness of Christ to reach out to all of us, not reluctantly, but with realistic and genuine compassion, going so far as to draw us into deep and personal intimacy with him and with each other, sinners and saints at the same time – as the Gospel put it today, “Make your home in me as I make mine in you”. It is not the Church as institution that we love, but as people. The love and compassion of Christ are best found in the local faith community and in our homes. That is where the life of Christ flows most freely.

The Royal Commission can be the shape that God’s call to us takes to grow up, sadder, perhaps, but wiser; to continue to trust but not be naïve; to be realistic about possible dangers; and be determined, as Jesus put it, to “remain in him with him in us”. We need to pray, particularly over the coming weeks, that we not to be “put to the test”. To the extent that we keep attuned to the heart and mind of Jesus, we can be assured that “we may ask what we will, and we shall get it.”


 Homily 4- 2018

I had read bits and pieces about the coming Plenary Council scheduled for 2020/1; but it was helpful last weekend to have them brought together in one concise and informative video.

So the consultation process begins with Pentecost and goes until Easter next year. We are being asked to give our ideas and reactions to the questions: ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia?’ ‘What are your ideas for the future of the Church in Australia?’ We are assured that no ideas or comments will be censored, that anything can be “on the table”. We are being invited to think and pray about our experiences of life, of faith, of the Church; and to come together in groups to share our thoughts together – in small groups like families, to parish groups, to larger gatherings wherever they may be called. People who come to Church regularly and people who rarely, if ever, come to Church will all be welcome. No doubt we shall hear more about these opportunities as the process unfolds. The national organisers are promising to help us with kits of various kinds.

Pope Francis advises us, when we come together, to speak respectfully but boldly, with no need to look over our shoulders; and also to deliberately listen to each other contemplatively.

Over the past week, I have been thinking over what I heard in the video, and, at the same time, reflecting on the three readings for today’s Mass. Interestingly, each of the readings says something relevant.

The first Reading was from “Acts of Apostles”, and particularly about Paul. The last time people in Jerusalem had seen Paul was when he had gone off to Damascus, with authority from the leading Jewish priests to arrest and to bring back to Jerusalem for trial any Christians he could find there. That had been about three years previously, and there had been no sign of Paul since. Luke had told his readers that Paul had been surprisingly converted in that meantime. The disciples in Jerusalem had no doubt heard the news on the grapevine, but were slow to be convinced. When he eventually showed up and made contact with them, they were naturally wary of him – until Barnabas put in a good word for him, telling them how he had been preaching "boldly" about Jesus in Damascus – preaching boldly. So there is a precedent for us to speak our minds boldly, too. If we are not used to it, perhaps we can pray to Paul for help. Nothing is said about Paul preaching respectfully, though. Was that presumed?

The Second Reading, from the Epistle of John, comments that we disciples live in God and that God lives in us. That fact colours considerably how we both speak to and listen to each other. As we sit here today, it is helpful for each of us to realize that we are living in God right now and that God is living in us; and the same is true of everyone else here. God is as real, and as close, as that – all the time. As we alert ourselves to the closeness of that God, we also realize that the same God has told us to trust the life and message of Jesus, his Son, and to "love one another". There lies the motivation for our contemplative listening to each other – at all times.

The Third Reading from St John’s Gospel makes a similar point to today’s Second Reading. There, Jesus tells his disciples, “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.” The invitation is made to each of us, and to all of us. Perhaps we need to spend time, a lot of time, quietly letting that truth sink into our consciousness. If we do, it will affect how we generally speak to each other and listen to each other. It will also encourage us to trust what we have to say, and to listen respectfully to what others have to say – contemplative speaking, contemplative listening.


Homily 5 - 2021

The news outlets have been keeping us informed about the heart-breaking crisis happening in India at the present moment — people in critical need, and the nation unable to meet those needs. A number of European nations have had their backs on the ropes, including Great Britain— even the United States. I wonder what other countries are also desperate — in Africa, for example.

Covid has confronted us with the reality that we are all in this together, and that what one does or does not do can have devastating consequences for others. I wonder if we are learning the lesson. Many of us would seem to prefer to go into denial. Global warming, waste and pollution confront us with similar problems. But their inevitable effects, though visible enough for those prepared to see, are not so confronting that people cannot continue to keep their eyes closed.

Fear is a great energy source. The trouble is that we eventually get used to living with it, and its effectiveness diminishes with time. Another problem is that fear is usually based on self-interest, and the powerful and wealthy can be tempted to look after themselves, thinking that they can leave others to suffer the consequences.

Is there a better way? Is what Jesus spoke about in today’s Gospel in any way relevant? Jesus used the metaphor of the grapevine to stimulate both our understanding and our motivation. He could have used any number of natural organisms to make a similar point — anything with different parts and different functions that operate smoothly together for the good of the whole and for the one purpose. Vines are a complex of roots, trunk, branches, leaves, bark, etc, all working together naturally with water and sunlight, and sometimes bees and butterflies, to produce their fruit, their grapes.

Jesus said he, as the Christ, was the vine. He was the whole — the living, life-giving, organism. He saw the vine as a microcosm of humanity, and worked from there. We could even go further, and say that Jesus, as creating Christ, is the life source of all that lives in our universe — and, conversely, that everyone who lives shares with everyone else the same life-force of Jesus, the Christ. We all share, in a way, from the same DNA. And this divine DNA, the life-force of Jesus, of God, is love.

Moving on with the metaphor of the vine. Its whole purpose is to produce grapes — which in turn are geared to nourish and to lift our spirits [if we choose to make wine from them and share it together].

Jesus did not say this in relation to the vine, though he said it on numerous other occasions: since we metaphorically share the same DNA, the DNA of God, we constitute the one universal family. We are as sisters and brothers of each other — energised, vitalised by Christ. But to see this and to become convinced of it, we need deliberately to reflect.

How wonderful it would be if we all did learn to see each other as sister or brother, instead of our common default option as rivals, competitors, even threats to each other. It is a much more enlivening motivation for working together than fear or self-interest. I wonder why we almost instinctively hold back from love, mutual respect, compassion, cooperation.

We all might learn something simply from contemplating the vine.