Fr. Bryan Howard
5th Sunday in Easter – Year B – 29 April 2018
The love of God is not a prize to be won, or an award to be earned. It’s not given to those who are good and taken away from those who are bad. It is a freely given gift. God formed you in the womb, gave you life, and caused you to grow. He’s loved us from the moment of our existence, and, since you didn’t do anything to earn God’s love, there’s nothing you could do to make Him stop loving you.
Sometimes we think that we have to do good things to make God love us. We think that we have to get our lives together before we can come to God, that we have to stop sinning, overcome our vices, and become a “good person,” in order to come to God. In fact it’s just the opposite. We do good things because God loves us, and without His help it’s impossible to become holy.
Sometimes we think that we’re not worthy of God’s love, or mercy, or compassion. We think that our actions, what we’ve accomplished, make us valuable and give us dignity. We have human dignity because we’re God’s children and were made in His image and likeness. Does the mother of a bank robber love her child any less than the mother of the president of a bank? No. Mother’s love their children because they’re their children. God loves us because we’re His children.
Think of St. Paul. In our first reading we heard about his arrival in Jerusalem for the first time after his conversion. How was St. Paul converted? He didn’t go to God and ask to be converted, God went to Him, knocked him on his backside, and struck him blind. You’ve heard that God works in mysterious ways? Well, sometimes He uses a bullhorn instead. Just ask St. Paul. This is how it works for us as well. God first comes to us, calls us to Himself, and gives us the strength to leave behind our old sinful ways and grow closer to Him.
In the Gospel Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Our job is to bear fruit, and the fruit that we bear is good works, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, works of faith, hope, and charity. How do we bear fruit? How does a plant bear fruit? The roots take in water and nourishment, which the plant uses to cause the branches to grow the fruit. If Jesus is the vine, then He is the one giving us, the branches, the nourishment we need to bear fruit. We have to remain in Him. A branch that’s cut off of a vine will wither and die. If we cut ourselves off from Christ, then we will wither and die, spiritually, but if we stay connected to Jesus, then He will continue to nourish us.
As St. John says in the second reading, “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” We don’t follow God’s commands to make Him love us, we follow His commands because He loves us. At the beginning of our second reading, St. John wrote, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” This reminds me of something that we read in the letter of St. James, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
We all, at times, fail to live out the love of God. We all sin. Do we strive to overcome our sins with the help of God? Do we strive to love in deed and in truth? Stay close to the Eucharist. The Eucharist that nourishes us with the love of God and helps us to remain close to Christ. As the Fathers of the Church used to say, “When we receive the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ.” But, if we receive the Eucharist dishonestly, when they way that we live doesn’t reflect the faith that we profess, then we haven’t helped ourselves. We’ve made it worse. If we receive the Eucharist while living in a state of mortal sin, then that is a sin against the Eucharist. Now remember, a mortal sin isn’t just any sin, it’s a very serious sin that we commit knowingly and deliberately. This is why the Sacrament of Confession is so closely related to the Eucharist. Through it Jesus forgives our sins and strengthens us against them.
This is how we come to God, not as perfect people, but as broken people asking to be made whole. Most of us ask far too little of God, He wants to make you a great saint; accept His grace and live it.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.