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Immaculate Conception, South Pittsburg, TN

Immaculate Conception, South Pittsburg, TN

Throughout these weeks of Easter we begin our celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with an act of penitence, recalling the baptism which has united those of us who are called “Christian” with the very person of Christ. By our sprinkling with holy water and the words of the chant of the Vidi aquam, we are reminded of the cleansing from sin which is the fruit of baptism, by which the guilt of original sin is taken from us and the life of Christ implanted. In baptism we have become one in Christ’s mystical body, the Church, and are literally incorporated into his life; caught up in the selfless relationship of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity recalled in the very formula used to administer the sacrament: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

This union with Christ, imparted through baptism, is a fruit of his sacrifice. By his passion, death, and resurrection—by conquering hell—Christ has won for us eternal life in his heavenly kingdom. United to his mystical body, then, we are offered a share in his glory. Thus it is particularly fitting to recall our baptism and incorporation into Christ in the context of the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Here we come to the altar as members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church, and enter into the sacrifice of the cross (albeit in an unbloody manner), receiving a foretaste of the eternal offering and outpouring of love which is the defining characteristic of the Triune God. Our communion with Christ, in baptism, and particularly in our receiving of his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the gift of himself in Holy Communion, is the means by which we enter into and remain in his love, as a branch remains part of the vine.

The principal image of today’s gospel, that of the true vine, enables us to understand more fully the nature of this relationship; this communion. We become part of the true vine by the grafting of our immortal soul to Christ in the action of the sacred font, in holy baptism. We remain in that relationship, as part of the vine, and bear fruit as its branch, when we take our nutrition from the true vine which is Christ in our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice and most especially in our reception of Holy Communion. Only by our attachment to Christ, by our constant recourse to the food of his love which is the Most Holy Eucharist, can we hope to bear fruit in this life and thus achieve the goal of all our endeavour—salvation with him in his heavenly kingdom. As the Lord tells his disciples: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15: 5).

There are times, though, when the impetus to remain in that relationship wanes and the temptation to sin prevails. Here we cut ourselves off from Christ; we walk away from the relationship begun in us at the font and seek to “go it alone”, preferring our own strength to his. As with the broken branch of a vine, so we cannot hope to bear fruit if we are separated from our life-giving source. Still more, we cannot hope even to survive (in the sense of the spiritual life) without the grace which is imparted to us by Christ. For this reason we call serious sin “mortal”, because it puts to death the relationship we have with Christ and condemns our immortal soul to an eternity without him: “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned” (Jn 15: 6).

This is not the loaded threat of a petulant god, but one of the bitter fruits of freedom! When we choose to turn from Christ, choosing to follow our way, our truth, and our life—not his—we exercise the freedom given to us as God’s creatures, but we do so forfeiting the fullness of life which (in his infinite love) he has won by the sacrifice of his only-begotten Son. God never walks away; God never rejects our return; only we can choose to put an end to the relationship he has given us in baptism. And yet in our self-importance we grow arrogant and, through temptation, follow Adam and Eve in the sin of Eden, insisting that no fruit is forbidden to us. That is our choice, but it is one made with serious consequences.

In the same way, it is only by our acknowledgement and rejection of that same sin that can lead us back to the life. We rely on the forgiveness of “God the Father of mercies”, but that return to the true vine and to the life which flows through its branches must begin with us. We must initiate our return to the Lord, seeking his reconciliation—a reconciliation which he freely gives!—and in turn being re-grafted to Christ and to the sacramental life of the Church which flows from his Most Sacred Heart.

So as we prepare once more to offer the gifts of bread and wine which will become the body and blood of Christ on this very altar, let us seek with sincere hearts to be ever more conscious of the bond of love established between us and our heavenly Father in the gift of our baptism. Let us strive always to remain in that love, that we may “bear much fruit”, not only ourself entering the veil of his heavenly kingdom to the eternal bliss promised us but, being his disciples, leading others to the knowledge of his truth and his grace, that they too may enjoy the fruits of his sacrifice and forever rejoice in his eternal presence.