Church, like a vine, is about connection, communion, and communicating new life

Father Timothy Hepner

By Father Timothy Hepner

Fifth Sunday of Easter/April 29

Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22:26-27,28,30,31-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

In “The Soul of the Apostolate,” Jean-Baptiste Chautard writes one of the most powerful prayers for those of us who want to be disciples: “O Divine Fire, stir up in all those who have part in Thy apostolate, the flames that transformed those fortunate retreatments in the Upper Room. Then they will be no longer mere preachers of dogma or moral theology, but men living to transfuse the Blood of God into the souls of men.”

The upper room was the place of intimacy with Christ, where he gathered his closest friends and literally poured his heart out to them in the Eucharist. He spoke to them of his inner life with the Father, of his relationship with the Holy Spirit, and of the communion that his death and resurrection would establish. Later, on Pentecost, the disciples were gathered in the same upper room and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to draw the entire world into this intimate communion. They were not “mere preachers of dogma or moral theology, but men living to transfuse the Blood of God into the souls of men.”

Yet we also know that that first community took on immense risk in order to communicate divine life and keep the vine growing. The early Christians were marginalized, pushed to the fringes of society, and often killed. But the vine kept growing, and the blood of God was continually transfused into the souls of men.

CHECKLIST FOR GROWTH

So it was a risk when Barnabas took Paul to the early Christian community (first reading). But had he not taken that risk, the community would not have grown like a wildfire stoked by Paul’s intense preaching. Had Barnabas not chosen to “love in deed and truth” (second reading), the early Church would not have grown.

The community itself was built on very solid, consistent principles: “the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and . . . prayers” (Acts 2:42). Notice that all of this is about connection: connection to the apostles, to the greater community, to Christ in the Eucharist, and to God through prayer. Like the branches of a vine that pass life on to each other, the Catholic Church is about connection, communion, and communicating new life, and the means to do so are clear.

Do you want to “transfuse the blood of God” into the souls of those around you? The more I think and pray about it, the more I wonder, “What else is there to do, really?” In comparison, everything else seems shallow and temporary, or at least like a means to this end. By God’s grace we have a checklist to help us not only remain on the vine, connected to Christ, but also graft others onto this vine:

  • First, the teaching of the apostles. When was the last time I read a solid book on the faith, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or maybe even the Compendium of the Catechism?
  • Second, communal life. Do I intentionally reach out to other Christians to build authentic friendship? Am I willing to take a risk like Barnabas and initiate a conversation with someone I don’t know after Mass, start a Bible study, or invite a group of Christians to my house to share life?
  • Third, the breaking of the bread. Do I try to attend Mass even more than once a week? Do I seek out Eucharistic adoration, or simply spend time with Jesus in the tabernacle?
  • Finally, prayer. Have I promised a set amount of time each day to spend with God?

This is how we remain in Christ in this life and in the next. If I’m at least striving in each of these areas, then I’m still not done. I’m just getting started. My next task is to take a risk, like Barnabas, and seek to graft others onto the vine. “To transfuse the blood of God into the souls of men. . . .”

FATHER TIMOTHY Hepner is vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria. To learn more about vocations, go to comeandfollowme.org or follow the Office of Priestly Formation at facebook.com/followmepeoria.

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