Year B – 5th Sunday of Easter

Fruitful Vines

(Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn.3:18-24; Jn.15:1-8)

Who was the very first gardener? The Bible tells us: it’s God Himself, ‘for there was no man to work the land’ (Gen.2:5).

The first time God cultivates the land is when He breathes on the ground, combining His spirit with clay to create Adam, the first man. Then He establishes the Garden of Eden and flora begins to flourish (Gen.2:8).

Among these flora are grapevines, and they appear all through the Bible.

In Genesis, Noah plants a vineyard after leaving the ark (9:20-23). In Revelation, John sees clusters of grapes in his vision of the final judgment (14:18-20). And in between, there are many appearances by the fruit of the vine, which ‘makes life merry’ (Ecc.10:19) and even comes to represent the Blood of Christ (Lk.22:20).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals His knowledge of winegrowing as He teaches His disciples one last lesson before being crucified. Using the grapevine as a metaphor for life (cf. Ps.80:8-9), He says: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit He cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.’

He’s reminding us that we’re all part of something much bigger than ourselves, and that we’re all connected to God and each other through a metaphorical vine, which is Jesus Himself.

Jesus knows that wild grapevines never produce good fruit. That’s because when leaves take over, they block the sun and steal the nutrition. This results in smaller and fewer grapes which are likely to taste bitter.

To encourage good fruit, winegrowers cut these leaves back and stretch out their vines on trellises. Soft, loose branches produce no grapes, so they are pulled and stretched to strengthen them. And to produce bumper harvests, they prune their vines regularly, removing dead and unhealthy branches to avoid diseases, and letting the sun in promotes new growth.

Our lives are like that. If we are untamed, we are likely to grow in unhealthy ways that sap our energy and we end up producing either bitter or no fruit at all.

But when we’re attached to Jesus’ vine, when we’re properly stretched and trained and pruned of unhealthy growth, and exposed to bright spiritual sunshine, then we’re likely to produce lots of wonderful fruit.

And what is this fruit? St Paul tells us: it’s the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23).

It’s about each of us becoming the best person we can be. But that requires us to stay attached to Jesus, for as He says, ‘cut off from me you can do nothing.’

So, how are we first grafted onto Jesus? Through our Baptism.

That’s how we become branches of His vine. But to grow and thrive we need to stay connected to Jesus and keep drawing nourishment from Him.

That’s what happens to Paul in today’s first reading. After persecuting Christians, he receives the Holy Spirit at his conversion (Acts 9:10-21). Thereafter, he maintains his connection with Jesus and he becomes remarkably fruitful, even today.

And how do we stay connected to Jesus’ vine? John tells us in our second reading. He says: ‘Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them…’ John then spells out what it means to keep these commandments: ‘we should believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us.’

So, here’s the point: as Christians, we are all expected to bear fruit. After all, that’s what vines are for. But if a branch produces nothing, there’s a problem. It’s either dead, diseased, or poorly connected to the vine, and the vinedresser will cut it off.

And even if a branch is healthy and bears good fruit, sometimes it still needs to be trimmed to make it stronger and more productive. We need to remember this when we’re going through hard times, for God does cut us back from time to time to strengthen us and make us more fruitful.

This might be painful, but God is trying to shape us and help us become better people (Heb.12:4-11).

George Bernard Shaw

Let’s close with a little story. Towards the end of his life, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was asked, ‘If you could live your life over again and be anyone you chose, who would you be?’

He thought for a moment and said, ‘I’d choose to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was.’

He regretted not being more fruitful.

What about you?

Year B – 4th Sunday of Easter

To Be a Good Shepherd

(Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn.3:1-2; Jn.10:11-18)

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we’re reminded that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who truly cares for his flock.

He knows each of His sheep by name, and He loves them so much that He’s even prepared to sacrifice His life for them.

In one way or another, we are all called be good shepherds, caring for others as best we can – in our families, at work, at school and in our communities. Many of us do this in the ordinary course of our lives, but sometimes it can be a confronting challenge.

Someone who discovered this for himself was Martin Luther King, who led the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. To give hope to millions of downtrodden black Americans, he organised peaceful protests, including the March on Washington in 1963.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and today he’s recognised as a man of extraordinary strength and courage. But it was not always so.

He once wrote, “One night… I settled into bed late… and just as I was about to doze off, the telephone rang. An angry voice on the other end of the line said, ‘Listen nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.’

“I hung up…and sleep would not come. It was as if all my fears coalesced into one giant terror. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor.

“Finally I went to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, I decided to take my problem to God.

“With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘Lord, I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I’m afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I do not stand before them with strength and courage, they will also falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I can’t face it alone.’

“At that moment, I experienced the presence of God as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed I heard the quiet assurance of God’s voice saying: ‘Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth; and I will be at your side.’

“My fears evaporated and my uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to follow God and face anything.” [i]

To be a truly good shepherd, you must love your flock and be prepared to sacrifice yourself for them. And as Martin Luther King tells us, you must pray. You must ask God to help you, because this work is ultimately God’s project, and the original Good Shepherd knows exactly what’s required.

Let’s close with a story from the great storyteller, Fr Arthur Tonne.

A bus driver had just finished his rounds, taking the children home from school. As he parked the bus in the schoolyard, Fr Arthur came along.

‘Father,’ the bus driver said, ‘I’d like you to do something. Come on, sit in this driver’s seat.’

When Fr Arthur sat down, the driver said, ‘Look in that mirror. What do you see?’

‘I see a bunch of seats,’ Fr Arthur replied.

Then with a serious look the bus driver said, ‘I see those seats, fifty of them every day. But I see them filled with kids. I am responsible for every one of them. We’ve had some close calls, but, thank God, we have not had any serious accidents.’

The bus driver saw himself as the shepherd of his flock of schoolchildren.

Reflecting on this, Fr Arthur said later that the bus driver had given him a new slant on his own responsibility as a pastor.

‘I look out over our congregation,’ he said, ‘and I realise that I am responsible for every one of them. The bishop must do that with his entire diocese. The Pope must do it with the entire world. And on a smaller scale, but just as truly, a teacher looks out over her class, a coach looks over his team, and a father and mother look at their family.’ [ii]

We’re all meant to be good shepherds to others.

If you find it a challenge, then pray. Ask Jesus for His help.

[i] Gerard Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic CT, 1997:63-64.

[ii] Arthur Tonne, Stories for Sermons, Vol 15. St John Church – Pilsen, Marion, Kansas, 1978.

Year B – 3rd Sunday of Easter

This Mysterious Limp

(Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn.2:1-5; Lk.24:35-48)

What is the spiritual life?

It’s recognising that there’s more to life than what we can see, hear and touch. It’s knowing that we are far more than our physical selves.

It’s realising that we’re all part of something much bigger than ourselves; that we’re all part of God’s story, and not just our own. For we all come from God, and one day we’ll return to God. And we need to prepare for that.

The Ancient Greeks recognised two different kinds of life: biological life (called ‘bios’) and a deeper spiritual life (‘zoe’). Both words were used when the New Testament was first written in Greek. [i]

But translated into English, these two words simply became ‘life,’ and their differences were lost.

So, when we hear Jesus say, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full,’ (Jn.10:10), most people aren’t aware that Jesus originally said, ‘I came that they may have zoe, and have it to the full.’

There’s a big difference between bios and zoe. We’re all born with bios, but physical life doesn’t last. It naturally degrades over time, and eventually dies.

The spiritual life of zoe, however, is eternal, but we aren’t born with it. Why not? It’s because of the original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

You know the story (Gen.3): God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed in the Garden of Eden: a life of perfect harmony between themselves and God; a life of perfect balance between their physical and spiritual selves; as long as they didn’t touch the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

But they chose to eat that fruit and everything went pear-shaped. They lost their zoe, and so did we.

Because of their original sin, we were all born spiritually dead, and the world has been in constant trouble ever since. Why? It’s because we’re all out of balance and tend to do the wrong thing – we sin. Like a car with badly aligned wheels, we keep drifting to where we should not go.

In the original New Testament, the Greek word for ‘sin’ was ‘hamartia,’ which means ‘to miss the mark’ or ‘to veer off course.’

The French theologian Henri de Lubac called sin ‘this mysterious limp’ (cette claudication mysterieuse). It’s a corruption that stops us from walking straight.

And at the heart of that corruption is the lie that ‘I’ am the centre of the universe. That all my needs and fears are more important than anything else. [ii]

When we put ourselves at the centre of everything, the harmony between ourselves and everything else, including God, is lost, and what’s left is dishonesty, rivalry, selfishness, mistrust and sometimes even violence.

So, how do we regain our zoe? Through baptism. This is when we are welcomed into communion with God and we’re filled with the graces of the Holy Spirit. These graces are the seeds we need to develop our spiritual life, but like all seeds, they must be nourished if they are to grow strongly in our hearts.

In today’s second reading, John says, ‘I am writing this to stop you sinning.’ He knows that sin damages our relationship with God (1Jn.1:6), and he wants to help us fix it.

John basically says two things: firstly, that Jesus Christ can help us. In fact, He already has helped us, because by dying on the Cross He has paid the ultimate price for our sins. And not only for our sins, but also the sins of everyone else.

So, our debt has been paid. But this brings us to John’s second point: that we need to get close to God. How? By keeping His commandments.

As Jesus says, ‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father and I will love them and reveal myself to them’ (Jn.14:21).

So, which commandments? There are 613 in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

The story is told of the great rabbi Hillel who claimed that he could recite all 613 commandments while standing on one leg. Someone challenged him, so he lifted one leg and said, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. The rest is commentary, go and learn.’ Then he put his leg down. [iii]

At the Last Supper, Jesus said: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you…’ (Jn.13:34).

If you want to fix your mysterious limp, this is a good place to start.

[i] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Fontana Books, London. 1969:135.

[ii] Bishop Robert Barron, Daily Reflection, March 21, 2018.


Year B – 2nd Sunday of Easter

St Faustina and Divine Mercy

(Acts 4:32-35; 1Jn.5:1-6; Jn.20:19-31)

Today, on the Feast of Divine Mercy, let’s hear the story of St Faustina Kowalska.

She was born in Poland in 1905, the third of ten children. Her father was a carpenter; their family was poor.

Faustina always loved Jesus. When she was 7, she wanted to be a nun, but her parents discouraged her, even when she left school. At 19, she saw a vision of Jesus at a dance. She went straight to a church, where Jesus told her to join a convent. That night she packed her bags and left for Warsaw, telling no-one.

She approached several convents there, but they all said no, probably because she was so poor. However, one convent did agree to accept her if she paid for her own habit. So, she worked as a housemaid for a year, saved up and in 1925 joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.

For 13 years she lived a life of humble service, cooking, cleaning and gardening in Polish and Lithuanian convents. But Jesus had other plans for her. Over several years she had many visions of Jesus, and experienced ecstasies, hidden stigmata and even bilocation. [i]

Jesus wanted Faustina to become the Apostle of Divine Mercy, reminding the world of God’s merciful love and His hope that everyone would trust Him and love their neighbour.

In 1931, Jesus appeared to her as ‘the King of Divine Mercy,’ wearing a white garment with red and white rays streaming from his heart. The white ray, He explained, represents the water of Baptism and Penance which purifies souls. The red stands for the Blood of the Holy Eucharist which is the life of souls.

Year B - 2nd Sunday of Easter 1

He asked her to paint this image, with the words ‘Jesus I trust in you’ below. He wanted this image widely displayed, and promised that anyone venerating it would not perish (Diary, 47, 48). And He wanted the first Sunday after Easter to become the Feast of Divine Mercy.

In 1935, Jesus gave Faustina the words of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a powerful and deeply scriptural prayer that is at the very heart of the Gospels. ‘For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world,’ it implores (Diary, 475). [ii]

In 1937, He gave her the Hour of Mercy prayer. 3.00 pm is the hour of great mercy for the world, Jesus said, when He will allow the faithful to enter into His mortal sorrow. ‘Immerse yourself, even for a brief moment, in my Passion,’ He said. ‘In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of me in virtue of my Passion’ (Diary, 1320). [iii]

Jesus attached great promises to each of these new forms of worship, but only if we genuinely trust God and show mercy to our neighbours.

In 1933, Faustina moved to Vilnius, in Lithuania, where she met Fr Sopocko, who became her confessor. When she revealed her visions to him, he sent her to a psychiatrist. She passed the tests, however, and thereafter Fr Sopocko encouraged her to keep a diary.

The result is the book Divine Mercy in My Soul – 600 pages about God’s love for us and how he wants us to live and pray. [iv]

She struggled to paint the picture Jesus wanted, so Fr Sopocko found another artist. Faustina was never fully satisfied with his work, but Jesus said, ‘the image is never going to be perfect; it’s good enough.’ So, this is the image we see today (Diary, 313).

Year B - 2nd Sunday of Easter 2

Interestingly, when the Divine Mercy image is laid atop the image of the Shroud of Turin, the faces match perfectly.

Sadly, Faustina caught tuberculosis and in 1936 went to a sanatorium in Kraków. Her last two years were filled with prayer, even more intense visions of Jesus, and keeping her diary. She died in October 1938.

Pope St John Paul II canonised her in April 2000, making her the first saint of the 3rd Millennium. He also established the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, and that’s what we celebrate today.

But why is divine mercy so important? It’s because without God’s mercy, we are all lost. We have all failed God in some way, and yet he wants us with Him in heaven. That really is remarkable.

So, let’s take to heart the words written on every Divine Mercy image: Jesus, I trust in you.




[iv] Sr Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Marian Press, Stockbridge MA, 2007.