HOMILY ‘I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES’

Published Sat, 01/05/2021 by

John 15. 1-8

Each year from March through to May, Spring gets underway and the days lengthen once the northern hemisphere starts to tilt towards the sun.  It’s a time of growth in nature, with greening and blossoming all around, lifting the spirits.  This year Spring has also coincided with a time of hope for the nation, as the NHS vaccination programme has brought down the very high infection rates we had suffered earlier from Covid-19.

For the Church in Britain, Springtime 2021 brings also (depending on how you look at it) a time of crisis – or of challenge and opportunity.  As members of Christ’s Church, we enjoy an organic union with Our Lord through faith and baptism, likened in the Gospel to the relationship between a vine and its branches.  No doubt in the warm Mediterranean, vines are blossoming and greening luxuriantly in promise of the grape harvest.  In the same way, in past, the Church’s self-propagation in a broadly Christian society used to go on from generation to generation as naturally, it seemed, as in nature itself.  Since the mid-1960s, however, across all the Western Churches this process of fruitful self-reproduction has failed to occur in the traditional way.  As we are all aware, the last 50-odd years have been marked by declining numbers at Mass and a paucity of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The Church, of course, is famous for thinking in terms of centuries rather than in the short-term.  And it’s lived through times of radical challenge before: Popes have been kidnapped and imprisoned on numerous occasions – but the Church has carried on. There has been the Reformation, the French Revolution, and the loss of the Papal States, but the Church has adapted to each new situation and revived.  Recently, during the global pandemic, at one level Church life has been in abeyance for long periods everywhere.  But at another there have been outdoor Masses, and adaptation through the medium of streamed Masses and other online activity.  More hidden to view, a great deal has gone on in terms of quiet caring, neighbourly support and concerned reaching out.  So, although this year the revival of the Church (and of society in general) is lagging behind the greening and blossoming of Springtime, there’s no reason to suppose that parishes like ours will not regroup fairly readily in coming months once the time arrives for restrictions to be legally and safely relaxed.

But that will be when a kairos time of challenge and opportunity will come.  In every Diocese and Parish across the world, priests and people are going to have to find new and even more relevant ways of nurturing their communal life together, as we deepen our conscious discipleship by faithfulness to the Church, the liturgy, and especially to the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of our life; and then reach out to others in works of corporal and spiritual mercy, as we seek to serve our neighbours in charity with a renewed generosity.  This is the Gospel life, authentic Christianity, in action – in which everyone has a part to play, as members of the Body of Christ, as branches of the vine.  Bishop Patrick prophetically outlined this programme for us in his Pastoral Letter of November 2018, a programme of Encounter, Discipleship and Missionary Discipleship, long before the pandemic had even started.  His vision summons us now, not so much as a “road map out of lockdown” (to quote the political mantra) as our “road map for the future.”  

The pandemic has been a great pruning for humanity.  In the Gospel we are warned to be prepared for such times of pruning.  So now it’s up to us – through a life of discipleship, which seeks to abide in Christ with ever greater fidelity, and by opening ourselves up to the workings of the Spirit – to tilt towards our Sun (which is Christ our life-giving Lord) so that in the new time which is nearly upon us we may bear even more fruit than before: in him, to the glory of God the Father.

MICHAEL KIRKHAM