We are in the middle of the fifth week of Easter and our readings reflect that fact to us as we are still being treated to the Book of Acts with stories of the new church growing. Now we’ve officially moved into the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas and we will not hear much about Peter and the church in Jerusalem. Surprise, surprise, there is dissension in the early church. They disagree about how to admit new members, do they go through the Mosaic laws or not? What an upheaval. Yet, they are hopeful for the next step, they will travel back to Jerusalem and see what the brethren think about this question. Typically, that is all we need to figure out—what is the next step we must take.
Sometimes in life, the answers are simply not that clear, I might suggest that in this case, they are rather complex. Yet, Paul and Barnabas seem hopeful to get a resolution as they decide to travel to Jerusalem.
The Gospel of John is also common to this time of year. It is not considered to be legalistic like the Synoptics. The only commandment Jesus gives to his disciples is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (John 15:12). The word “remain” occurs 12 times and the word “love” appears 10 times in chapter 15. Remain can be translated to mean: “to stay, dwell, be left; hold out.” Biblical commentaries suggest the word used is a simple Greek verb: menein, which means to remain or abide.
I love to grow vines in my garden. If you look at the plant, there is one beginning –root—and the branches grow from there. Jesus’ words used in the Gospel suggest unity. Which echoes our first reading. The early Christian communities desired unity with their leaders. This was a serious concern for some. So, we could say that they went back to the root. Vines are best when the deadwood is pruned. Surprisingly, Jesus offers that his Father, “takes away every branch that does not bear fruit—in him” (v.2). Even Jesus considered himself worthy of the necessity of pruning. Pruning is necessary for a healthy spiritual life, as well as the physical plant, we need periodic pruning.
Recently, I have been reading about the gift of human connection, one author suggests that we are each born literally tethered to another human being—our mothers. We were born in relationship and that is our deepest desire through life. Jesus reminds us that we are to stay connected both to him and also the community. Our world of Covid-19 presents us with challenges to remain connected both with our church community and our family. No doubt for some, this is suffering. Certainly, for me, I am unable to hold our youngest grandchild who is now 5 months. I’ve not held him since sometime in February.
Today is also the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. We offer our families to her, those whom we cannot hold or hug today. May she keep them in her loving embrace until the time when we can hold our loved ones again. Amen!
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.