Sunday Sermon for May 6, 2012, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
At the end of today’s Gospel reading our Lord says something that is wonderful for us: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” At the Last Supper our Lord spoke of the glory He would give God by undergoing His Passion. We also see the Saints glorifying God and, as St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches, we are to do everything for the greater glory of God.
This is the point of greatest importance for us. Our Lord points out, not that God is glorified by us for simply being who we are; rather, He is glorified in our bearing much fruit and becoming disciples of His Son. It is already a truth that we are members of Jesus, but we really have to ask if we are His disciples. To be a disciple is not just to have a name or be a distant follower; to be a disciple means to be a student, to learn from and become like the Master.
St. John sums up well what it requires to be a disciple: to follow the commandments of God which are to believe in Jesus and to love one another. This love for God and for one another is the cause of any fruit we bear for the Lord. Unfortunately, in our day we have seen this charity grow cold in the hearts of many, if not most, people who call themselves Catholic. We come to Mass and simply go through the motions without trying very hard to unite ourselves with the sacrifice of Christ, which is the ultimate act of love for God. This tragedy is often found in both the priest and in the people.
At Mass we are not supposed to be passive observers; the Second Vatican Council called for the active participation on the part of the laity at Mass. This has been horribly misinterpreted to mean that the laity are to do more things at Mass. There are two Latin words that are translated as “active:” activitas and actuosa. Activitas refers to external activity whereas actuosa refers to internal activity. The first would imply doing more things, being busy about tasks; the second would imply prayer and spiritual union with the action of the Mass. It is the second word, actuosa, which is used in the documents. The Church wants us to be united in prayer in the depths of our hearts with the events that are unfolding before us on the altar.
The new translation at the offertory, which is faithful to the Latin, asks the people of God to pray that my sacrifice (the priest offers the Sacrifice of Christ) and yours (the people are to bring their sacrifices, sufferings and prayers and unite them with the sacrifice of Jesus) may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. The implication here is that the laity are actively participating in the sacrifice of the Mass, not just sitting back watching like spectators at a ball game. The heart is to be engaged and united with the sacrifice of the Lord; in this way, when the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus (the most perfect act of love for and glorification of God) our sacrifices and sufferings are also changed to become part of His suffering and sacrifice. In this way, we are truly loving and glorifying God and we are being true disciples of Jesus having learned from and being part of what our Teacher is doing.
The love of neighbor flows from our love for God. In fact, what occurs at Mass should find its expression outside of Mass in our love for others. We need to be careful because when we think of the activity of the heart in regard to other people, we are not talking about anything mushy or romantic. As it is in the Mass, we are talking about service and sacrifice and being united with Jesus, Who came to serve, not be served. If, while at Mass, we just sit back and watch it all go by without investing ourselves into the love of God, then, outside of Mass, we will probably just sit back and fail to invest ourselves into the love of neighbor.
St. Barnabas, in the first reading, gives us a clear example of love for neighbor when he was willing to reach out to Saul of Tarsus. How many small acts of kindness can be accomplished when we are united with the Lord! We can all pray, be kind, and perform acts of charity to meet particular needs. These simple acts of charity at Mass and outside, done for love of God and neighbor, glorify God because we are bearing fruit and becoming true disciples of the Lord.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.