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The 5th Sunday of Easter Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Last night, we celebrated First Communion at the 5:30 mass. It was a big turnout. We had 24 First Communicants, their families, relatives, and friends. The church was full of people. We were gathered together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and to congratulate the special moment of the children as they received Jesus for the first time. During the homily, I asked them a couple of questions to see if they were ready. They all answered well. It was impressive. They have been prepared for about 2 years and I think they responded well. The kids were dressed beautifully in white with smiles and excitement and came forward respectfully to receive Jesus Christ. Of course, when they received the Holy Communion, some of them looked serious, some looked nervous, some looked devotional, and some looked gracious. But all of them enjoyed the special moment when Jesus came to them. And their parents and families, relatives, friends were also happy about them, and proud of them. After the mass, they had a small cake reception. It was a good time for them and the parish. You should have seen how happy and pleased they were. Do you remember your first communion? What do you remember about that day?

When I watched the happiness and joy last night in the First Communion, I asked myself what they would remember on this First Communion day when they grow up. What do they remember? Their beautiful clothes? the First Communion gifts that their parents had wrapped? the sweet cake that they enjoyed? What remains in their minds after they grow up? I prayed that they would remember the excitement and gratitude of the moment when they received Jesus, not their fancy clothes, or the delicious cake, or gifts. By remembering the first experience of the perfect union with Jesus, they will realize how much they will have grown in the future through this union. In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges us to pursue this union.

Jesus presents Himself as the true vine and calls us the branches of the vine: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” This analogy of the vine is very familiar with the Jewish people because the vine is one of the important products in Palestine. It is very common to have vineyards and workers there. In the Old Testament, you might hear a lot of words about comparing Israel with a vine and vineyard. Many prophets through God’s words refer to Israel as a vine that God planted. For example, the prophet Hosea says in chapter 10 and verse 1, “Israel is a luxuriant vine whose fruit matches its growth.” The prophet Isaiah says, “let me sing of my friend, my beloved’s song about his vineyard.” The prophet Jeremiah says, “But I had planted you as a choice vine.” The analogy of the vine is familiar to the Jewish people. Jesus uses this common analogy to emphasize how special the bond between the vine and the branches is. He continues to say, “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.” In the second reading, John also says, “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.”

But did you see anything strange or different in Jesus’ presentation of today’s Gospel? Jesus replaces the Old Testament vine which is Israel with Himself. In the Old Testament, the vine indicates Israel, God’s people. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus presents Himself as the “true” vine-He adds “true” to the vine. Jesus changes the collective solidarity into a personal intimate bond by this slight modification. It leads to the point of Jesus’ self-effacement: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” What Jesus is telling us today is that, like this intimate and personal bond between the vine and the vine grower, we are supposed to remain in Jesus. Otherwise life won’t be in us. This special union must be single minded and single hearted, otherwise we will be pruned and thrown into the fire.

A question arises at this point: why does Jesus wants us to stay in Himself? I meant what is the purpose of this life giving special union between Jesus and us? The purpose would be to bear fruit which means we are called to become Jesus’ disciples. Discipleship is the purpose of remaining in Jesus like the branches which must be attached to the vine. We got sustenance from the true vine and then we are led to true discipleship. We hear of St. Paul’s conversion in today’s first reading. The Apostles don’t believe him after his conversion because Paul is the one who has persecuted brothers and sisters of Jesus. But Paul’s intimate and personal experience of union with Jesus leads him to true conversion. But that is not an end. He goes out and proclaims the Gospel as Jesus’ disciple. Today’s second reading ends with these words, “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.”

This is the purpose of the union with Jesus: being disciples. This is how we bear much fruit while we are attached to the true vine and provided with what we need to sustain. We are challenged today to ask ourselves, “Are we remaining in Jesus? Are we attached to Jesus? Are we bearing fruit as disciples of Jesus?” Jesus invites us to enjoy this special and intimate union in the Eucharist, like the First Communicants did last night. He wants us to grow. He wants us to develop from there. And finally we will be mature enough to go out and practice our discipleship in the world so that people know God’s Kingdom is at hand.

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