Ac 9.26-31; Ps 22; 1 Jn 3.18-24; Jn 15. 1-8
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
While waiting for my early morning dental cleaning last week, I perused an article about gardening. It featured a balcony-garden plan, advertising a large planter-box more versatile and attractive than a terra-cotta alternative. “Not if one likes earthenware,” I thought. However, the author seemed not to prefer earthenware.
Today’s scripture selections remind us that God prefers what is earthy, namely us humans. In a few verses, Luke rehearsed the history of Saul who became Paul. God had chosen the former murderous enemy of the church to be God’s instrument on behalf of it. Yet the disciples, to whom Barnabas brought Saul, feared him. What they knew prevented them from believing God’s preference for Saul and God’s Spirit at work reshaping him to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul’s story became a story shared as Barnabas related it to the disciples. Barnabas was called the son of consolation, and he lived his name by rescuing Paul and dispelling the fear, which gripped the disciples. Barnabas was not the sole agent of consolation. He was the choice of Holy Spirit on that occasion. The consolation of the Holy Spirit gave growth to the church through him.
Jesus, like rabbis before him, named Holy Spirit Consoler. That’s what Paraclete means. What effect does Holy Spirit’s consolation have? One is boldness. As Barnabas described Paul, the former murderer of disciples of Jesus had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. The disciples recognized themselves in Paul because they had been frightened to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Holy boldness is a gift of Holy Spirit, and it allows us to love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.
Spiritual consolation also allows us to see differently, or better, to see with the vision of our Messiah and Lord. We need to be careful with this effect lest we think that have Jesus in our pocket instead of trying to measure up to the vision of Jesus, to which the church is called.
For a long time the church acted presumptuously instead of allowing Jesus’ vision to be its measure. Today’s gospel and the way the church saw itself until the Second Vatican Council provide us with one example.
The church had moved away from its evangelical beginnings and came to see itself as led by Jesus, then as the hierarchy and then the hierarchy leading the laity. The bishops gathered in Council in the 1960s began with that plan. As they prayed and discussed they set it aside in favor of teaching that the church is led by Jesus, then seeing the People of God, and then naming how God’s people relate with the world and one another, as hierarchy and laity./1/
Jesus had thought that organic way not the way that had become the standard way of thinking among Catholics. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. ...Abide in me, as I abide in you. ...I am the vine, you are the branches. [Those who] abide in me and I in [them] will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. It allows the church to see authority as servant-leadership, which Jesus modeled, and which Catholics have recovered, thanks to the Second Vatican Council.
Holy Spirit is the energy of our growth as branches grafted to Jesus, our vine. Our limitations as earthen vessels are opportunities for Jesus, his Father and their Holy Spirit to give growth to the People of God and to the world through us. Our spiritual reshaping affects more than us. It is the beginning of bearing fruit, for the sake of our world.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, continue to fee recreated by the life of our triune God. Ask St. Barnabas to present you to Jesus. Converse with Jesus, naming ways that you abide in him and ways that you separate yourself from him. Ask for the grace to join yourself to Jesus more completely. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we pray it helps us measure up to Jesus’ vision and praise Jesus in deed and truth.
1. The Second Vatican Council expressed the mystery of the vine and branches as: Jesus; people of God; and roles in the church in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium). The Council expressed the church’s relationship with the world in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes).
Wiki-image of vine and branches by Bernt Rostad is used according to Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.