Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Archbishop Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Homily on RTE Mass, Sunday May 6th 2012

Dia dhíbh go léir!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a joy and a real privilege for me to celebrate this televised Holy Mass for you this morning. As you know, I am the Papal Nuncio and I only arrived here in Ireland about three months ago. But in those three short months, I have been the grateful recipient of so many wonderful Irish welcomes, from all over this beautiful country, and for that I am deeply and sincerely grateful.

Our Gospel this Sunday could not be more appropriate for the times in which we live. It is taken from the Gospel of Saint John, and is part of the final, farewell discourse which Jesus speaks to his disciples at the Last Supper, the night before his betrayal, crucifixion and death. And at this most crucial moment in his earthly life, Jesus teaches us – his followers – about the most crucial thing. He uses an agricultural image, which would have been readily understandable to his disciples: “I am the vine; you are the branches. 

Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But what does this mean? It means that all of us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are part of him. We are part of him, as branches are part of a vine. Branches cannot live on their own. If they are separated, cut off from the vine, they wither and die. And just as life flows into a branch because of its connection to the vine, so in a supernatural sense, grace – which is spiritual life and divine energy – flows into us because of our connection with Jesus. Yes, at this most crucial moment in his earthly life, Jesus teaches us about the most crucial thing, and that most important thing is unity; for the image of the vine and branches used by Jesus is meant to teach us about the unity of his followers, the unity of his body, which we call the Church. 

By baptism we are made part of this body, this community; by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist we are made fully part of his body, the Church, and his life, his grace, his supernatural energy, flow into us. Our task as Catholics is to allow that connection with him to deepen and strengthen throughout our lives on this earth. As he says to us in the Gospel today: “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty, for cut off from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But being connected to the Lord through baptism and the Holy Eucharist is not a purely individual thing. The vine has many branches; the body has many parts and the Church has many members. 

The unity of the Church is the gift of Jesus to us; it is the result of being made part of him, part of the vine that is his community. But the unity which is the gift of Jesus isn’t without its cost. Jesus exhorts his disciples to unity at the Last Supper. But those same disciples who listen to his words are scattered into disunity by the events of the betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and death of the Lord the very next day. Only the holy and courageous women, Mary his Mother, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, together with Saint John, are united and remain with Jesus during his crucifixion. We too as Catholics in our own day have to resist the
dis-unifying forces that are around us. It is not by chance that the original Greek word in the Gospels for the Evil One is diabolos – meaning quite literally the one who separates and divides. It is he who wants to separate us from Christ and separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, I am the Apostolic Nuncio, which just means that I seek to represent Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI here in Ireland. We should always remember that the principal task of the Holy Father, as the successor of the Apostle Peter, is to protect the unity of the Catholic Church – the unity that Jesus asks for at the Last Supper. Blessed John Paul II wrote that the role of the Pope is to be “the first servant of unity” (Ut unum sint, 94). Everything that the Holy Father does, day in and day out, is somehow related to that single principal mission given to him by Jesus – to serve the unity of the Church: a unity that is expressed in what we believe as Catholics, in how we worship as Catholics, and in how we love one another, a love that is “not just words or mere talk, but something real and active” (1 John 3:18). 

Unity doesn’t mean uniformity – the Catholic Church is a rich variety of people from every walk of life, every kind of culture and language. Here in Ireland, the history of the Church is marked by the examples of so many men and women who made the greatest sacrifices imaginable to preserve the unity of the Catholic Church in love, remaining faithful to the Bishop of Rome, even in the darkest times of suffering. Their witness teaches us that the unity of the Church does not come cheap. All of us need to pray for that unity and at times also to suffer for it. That unity is beautifully summarized in the title chosen for the upcoming International Eucharistic Congress, which will be held here in Dublin next month, “the Eucharist: communion with Christ and with one another”. That is what the Church is: “communion with Christ and with one another”. And that is what we, as Catholics, are called to achieve. The many talks and activities of the Eucharistic Congress will help us learn how to put our own gifts at the service of that communion of love. Let us pray that the Eucharistic Congress, which promises to be such an exciting and beautiful event, will strengthen all of us as we strive to live in communion with Christ and with each other. 

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