Mysteries Before Morals
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "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. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 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. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
During this holiest season of Easter, the ancient church refocused on understanding the faith's most important mysteries, namely, our reception of Christ's risen life through baptism and the Eucharist. Today, we tend to focus more on the moral and societal aspects of religion, which leads us to a greater emphasis on Lent, and the season of purification, over the other seasons of the year. Yet the heart of the Christian life remains the same - in the mysteries before the morals. Though Easter's sacramental emphasis might feel strange to us, it is necessary for our souls that we follow the ancients and re-encounter the foundation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
The Gospel this week, in which Jesus describes himself as the vine and all of us as the branches, brings us directly to the heart of the Christian faith. Christ is the one truly living being, in whom we all become one living being. Christ, though divine, became one of us, that we, though mortal and frail, might become members of God himself, partakers in the divine nature, to bear divine fruit in the world. In this way, the alienation that Adam and Eve passed down to each one of us, their rejection of God's friendship, their wounded ability to love one another and live with themselves and exist in peace with the created world, finds healing in a new and even better communion with God.
Before, humanity spoke with God in the garden. Now, in Christ, we are grafted into him, branches in the vine, members of his body. This is the heart and purpose of the Christian religion. Christianity is not primarily about being kind to the people around us. It is about how God has made us one with himself in love and calls all humanity together into eternity as one living body.
It is this mystery of the one living thing, the mystical vine - Jesus and all those grafted into him - that we consider in the Easter season. Through his passion, death and resurrection, Christ conquered the wounds of sin that keep up apart from him and healed our human nature, so that we might be made capable of sharing eternal life in that union. He gives us a share in his resurrection and glory and makes us one with him through the sacrament of baptism, which we celebrate and commemorate throughout the Easter season. He binds us more deeply into himself by a true exchange of flesh and blood in Communion, which the church commands us to receive at least once during this Easter season. The result of these sacraments is the one body of all those who have been baptized and who live off of the body and blood of the Lord. The one body we quite simply call the church.
The church, made by baptism and the Eucharist, is where we can find, even today, the vine about which Christ spoke in John's Gospel. The church is not merely a human institution or an organized religion. Its members are not bound only by registration, records or self-identification. They are joined by the share in divine nature they have been granted in the sacraments, and by the indestructible mark left on the soul at baptism. This mystic vine we call the church is, as the ancient Christians would name it, the whole Christ. This Easter season, we should ask the Lord for the grace to see again this truth and accept this gift of divine love.