The idea of abiding runs through all our readings today. In the second reading it occurs twice and in the gospel it occurs 7 times. 7 as we know is a very significant number in the scriptures, which signifies completeness and perfection. God created the world and rested on the seventh day. The greek word for abide is ‘meno’, but in its plural imperative form it is ‘meinate’, which means to remain habitually. It is important to remain or to be with, but if this being with is not habitual, then it may not be fruitful. This word evokes a sense of stability, persistence and consistency. It is like the Afrikaans words ‘vertoef’ or ‘verwyl’. It creates the image of someone who goes somewhere and looses his/her mind and does not know his way home anymore. What better way to achieve this than by drinking a lot of wine. Little wonder Jesus gives us his blood in the form of wine and the Holy Spirit shares the same name ‘spirit’ with the alcohol ‘spirit’. The point is that we are meant to loose our minds in God. Like someone who is in love and visits his lover and suffers from seperation anxiety, because it is difficult to leave his/her lover and go home. After so many goodbyes, he/she is not gone home yet. All these help us to imagine the word ‘abide’.
ABIDE IN THE LORD (OUR LOVER)
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit he takes away, and every branch that noes bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burnt. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”: There are three aspects to this analogy. The first is about the vine itself, which is Jesus. He is the life-giver just as the vine gives life to its branches. He is the producer of the wine that will so intoxicate us that we cannot find our way home. There are people in my parish, who after mass, especially on Sunday, still stay on around the church, chating to one another for a very long time. It is as if they have forgoten how to go home. This always takes my mind to ‘meno’. Secondly, we think of we the branches. One thing a branch cannot afford to do is to take a holiday from the vine. The analogy of the vine reminds us of the Eucharist. Just as the branch cannot afford to stay away from the vine, and then come back again, so also, we cannot afford to just stay away from the mass whenever we feel like and come back when we like. We have to abide. We have to meno which means to remain habitually. If our remaining is not habitual, then we become dead branches and there comes the Father who is the vinedresser. Anybody who does some gardening will be familiar with prunning. It is a process where dead branches are cut off so that the whole tree or flower can stay both healthy and beutiful. This prunning proccess is part of care. We often understand care as just being nice, but care also involves prunning. If we dont cut off bad habits, then we can be completely destroyed. In order not to develope such dead branches, we need to abide, to meno, to remain habitually. Seven times we are told to abide, and seven times a week Mass is celebrated in the Catholic Church and in those Masses we recieve the Eucharist. Of all the ways to abide with the Lord, this is the best. The best way to abide in the Lord is to try as much as possible to attend Mass every single day of our lives. When I discovered the value of the Mass, I promised God that no single day will pass without me celebrating the Holy Mass. My family will tell you that I cannot be on holiday and not attend daily Masses. I cannot begin to tell you the wonders that has happened in my life through this habitual celebration of the Mass. In the mass, His word abide in us and His body and blood abide in us, which gives life to our souls. Here we are able to ask for whatever we need, and I can say that I have never prayed for anything at Holy Mass and not seen results.
ABIDE IN THE COMMUNITY
In those days: When Saul had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the appostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus. So the Church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.: Paul used to be Saul, one of the greatest persecutors of Christians. Now he is converted, but he knows that he cannot abide in Christ without being part of the Christian community. Like we learn from the Responsorial Psalm, God is our praise in the great assembly. This reading tells us how the Christian community struggles to accept him, beause they feared he might be faking his repentance in order to get them from the inside. He knows that there is only one vine and that one vine has many branches. All the branches form one body, a community as it were. This is why the prayers we do as a Christian community, especially the Mass and other sacraments, are more important that the ones we do privately. Becoming part of the community, being accepted by the community and being authorised by the community is non-negotiable.
There was one person in the community who helped the rest of the community to accept Paul and his name is Barnabas, which means ‘son of encouragement, or son of comfort, or son of exhortation’. Permit me to play on the word here. His name represents what the Christian community means to Paul and to us as well. Being part of a community is very encouraging and it strengthens us. The devil wants us to be all divided up into so many churches, and even individuals go off on their own and create a private spirituality which is just between them and God. They become spiritual and not religious, which means they dont care about belonging to the Christian community. How can a person abide in this way? Each branch abides in the vine in community with other branches, and together they all form one tree. The rain will fall and the sun will shine, but they face it together. No matter the faults we see in each other, we all need to become Barnabases to one another, children of encouragement, of comfort and of exhortation. The Holy Spirit is also said to comfort the community. Together we stand; divided we fall. We can become skeptical about each other like the people were with Paul, but every community needs a Barnabas, a lot of Barnabases who have the courage to accept Paul into the community. Imagine if Barnabas was not there, maybe the Church will not have had such a great apostle as Paul. Think of the great works Paul has done, and it all started because someone called Barnabas, who was a real Barnabas did not give up on him. Sometimes we give up too easily and we no longer abide and we leave the Church because so and so is in it. But we are cutting ourself off from the great assembly. Abiding has to be habitual. It has to be consistent and persistent. Let us welcome everybody to the party. Those we look down on can do great things if we give them the chance.
ABIDE IN VIRTUE (FRUITFULNESS)
Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one anther, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.: If someone steals once, that is not enough reason to call that person a thief. If someon tells the truth once, that is not enough reason to call that person an honest person. Sin and virtue become the character of a person when it is habitual. A person becomes a thief if he/she has a habit of stealing. A person is called an honest person if they always tell the truth. This is why the practice of virtue has to be habitual. We cannot say we keep God’s commandment if we only do so in words and not in action. Also we cannot say we do so in action if the action is not done consistently. We cannot say we believe in God if our actions do not consistently represent that. Because of our human weakness, we dont often stay consistent in virtue. That is why the sacrament of confession is there to bring us back. There is a kind of consistency when a person who consistently sins also consistently repents of it. When we sin, we are cut off from the vine, and that is when we are said not to be in a state of grace. This is not a state a person want to be for too long. That is why those who are in mortal sin should not recieve communion until they have been to confession. The sacrament of reconciliation is one of the aids we have to help us abide in the vine. If we cut ourselves off through sin, let us be restored through confession. A person who is frequent with confession stands a great chance of abiding habitually in the vine.
The remedy for sin is virtue, and anybody who want to abide in the vine should reflect constantly on the virtues. The virtues are the good fruits we bear as branches of the vine. We try to focus on one virtue a month, but even after that month, we try to be consistent in the practice of that virtue. Virtue will never become virtue until it is habitual.
In our relationship with God, let us abide in the vine. In our relationship with others, let us abide in the community. In our individual lives, let us abide in the practice of virtues. At the end of this month, let us evaluate how we have grown in the virtue of Prudence and at the beginning of May, we start reflecting on the virtue of Justice, without forgeting to be consistently prudent. Consistency is the mother of mastery. So, Abide!!