The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter stress that Christ was truly alive in the hearts of His disciples, and His aliveness transformed their hearts and attracted followers.
The first reading tells us: “The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.” One of the main reasons that the Church was at peace was that Saul, the persecutor, had become Paul, the evangelizer. That the teachings of Jesus could remove from the community the fear of being persecuted gave tremendous hope.
Even though the Church was at peace, society was not. When Paul boldly debated with some of the Hellenists, they tried to kill him. To save Paul’s life, the apostles sent him to Tarsus. There he and Barnabas took up tent-making and evangelization. He won many converts to the faith with his testimony of Jesus of Nazareth confronting him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Because Saul went from being a murderer to an evangelizer, many people believed his witness and joined the Church. “It (the Church) was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolations of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.”
The second reading was written many years after the first reading. Hence, it reflects the depths to which John allowed Jesus’ teachings to transform his heart: “Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before Him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.”
In other words, John says that God’s truth reveals to us what pleases God and condemns what displeases God. He says that if our hearts do not condemn us, “we have confidence in God and receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.” What a consolation it is to know that our actions are pleasing to God. It gives us confidence to ask Him for help in living the teachings of Jesus, which fills us with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
“Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He is in them, and the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He gave us.” God in us transforms our lives. We carry within us divine power to do good, and that extends God’s kingdom both in our hearts and in our relationships with others.
This naturally leads us to the Gospel in which Jesus tells us, “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 uses the image of the vine as a flow chart to illustrate how we, the branches, get our life from Jesus. The life that flows through the vine, namely Jesus, flows through us, the branches, and it bears much fruit.
He continues: “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” God’s word takes from our hearts those unredeemed tendencies which bear no fruit. In removing them from us, Christ’s life flows through us and produces the fruit of virtuous living. When we have been pruned by God’s word, then all our energy can flow into virtuous living rather than sinful and destructive living.
“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” In prayerfully reflecting on God’s transforming word, we are attracted to the goodness of Jesus. Also, prayerful reflection on God’s transforming word leads us to reject behavior that is contrary to the will of God.
When we reflect on God’s word, inner silence allows the word to penetrate our hearts and nourish our hearts with the desire for truth that leads to right living. That same silence helps us to recognize thoughts and behaviors that are contrary to God’s will and leads us to reject them.
When you go to prayer, be generous with giving Jesus time. Making good wine means that we need to allow the grape juice plenty of time to ferment. We can’t rush the fermentation. Neither can we rush the process of reflecting on God’s word. When we bring a profound silence to our meditation, we suddenly get a sense of God speaking to our hearts with a deep sense of peace or some bit of wisdom.
This is remaining in Christ, and remaining present to Christ in our hearts so that we can receive His heart’s desires for us. Christ desires that our hearts be expansive like His. That means we accept other people into our heart as they are, rather than as we would like them to be. When we accept them as they are, their hearts — and ours — will change.
Love cannot be rushed, but it can be welcomed.
Every priest knows at least one parishioner who had fallen away from the Church for years, but when he or she simply came back before Jesus in the tabernacle and simply said quietly over and over again, “Please come back into my heart again,” that person gradually experienced a growing inner peace and love. They simply allowed Him to love them as they are. With God, permission is everything. Be generous with God in giving Him time to speak to the depths of your heart.