TEXT: 5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Most years we would celebrate today, April 29th,

as the feast of one of the greatest Saints of the Church.

But since today is Sunday, and a Sunday of Easter, the Lord’s Day takes priority,

so her feast is liturgically suppressed.

 

But nothing keeps us from talking about her, so we will.

She was a completely uneducated girl, a tiny wisp of a nun

who died over 600 years ago at the young age of 33.

But in her short life she was such a powerful instrument of God’s grace and love,

that she is now recognized as a great

teacher, foundress, healer, mystic, writer, diplomat,

spiritual counselor to peasants and popes,

and even proclaimed one of the 36 “Doctors of the Church.”

She was named Caterina Benincasa,

but we have come to know her as St. Catherine of Siena.

 

Yet with all the words that this great saint wrote none can really summarize her life

better than the words of her one true love, words she read–as we do today—

from St. John’s Gospel:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine was given the great gift to understand from the early age of 6

that there was no life, no love,

that could compare to the life and love of Jesus Christ.

And so she sought her whole life not to live her life, but to live his life:

to live in Him, and let Him live in her.

She realized that without Him she could do nothing.

Like a small vine withering in the heat of the sun

she had been born to the human race,

but in her baptism she had been grafted

onto the great strong vine who is Christ.

She had become part of Him, and she strove all of her life to remain part of Him

and to open her heart to receive from Him

every goodness he wanted to give her.

And like a vine pouring nutrition into its branches,

Christ poured His life and love into her.

And in that, she did not whither, but grew and bore tremendous, abundant fruit

that we still cherish today.

 

The first fruit in this life was her personal holiness and a closeness to God

that made her the natural instrument of His goodness to others.

St. Catherine never forgot our Lord’s promise that we find both in today’s Gospel

and today’s second reading, as we read:

“If you remain in me…

ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.”

When we look at the life of St. Catherine

we’re astounded by the amazing things she did,

or rather amazing things Jesus did in response to her prayers:

–spoke and read languages she had never been taught,

cured the sick, read the hearts of sinners,

converted notorious sinners, saw prophetic visions,

and brought peace to her country.

There’s even the story of how,

when she heard that her mother had died without confessing her sins,

St. Catherine spent the night in deep prayer–“laying siege to heaven”

–and in the morning found her mother restored to life, and perfect health.

 

How was it that S. Catherine lived in Christ so well

so that so much of what she asked of him was given her?

First of all, she had been grafted onto Christ by the gift of Baptism

–that great sacrament that marks the beginning of our life in Christ.

But the branch can easily whither on the Vine if it’s not properly cared for.

So St. Catherine constantly worked at keeping herself alive in Christ

by striving to follow the instruction of St. John in today’s 2nd reading:

“Those who keep His commandments remain in Him and he in them.”

So she strove to eliminate all personal sin from her life,

to do only “do what pleases him”

by serving God and her neighbor.

And having removed all obstacles between her and her beloved,

she entered into a life of such intimate and unitive prayer

that Our Lord granted her a share in His own five wounds of the cross

–the stigmata.

But also, in answer to her desperate prayer made out of deepest humility,

the agonizing wounds remained invisible to all but herself

until the moment of her death,

when they became clearly visible on her lifeless body.

 

St. Catherine truly depended on Christ the Vine for her whole life,

uniting herself completely to Him.

And just as she saw very vividly how in baptism she had become a small branch

grafted onto the strong life-giving Vine of Christ,

she also saw that the Vine poured its life into her

by the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity

under the appearance of earthly food–bread

–His life was poured into her Body and Soul.

So great was her love for the Our Lord in the Eucharist

and so deep her understanding

of her complete dependence on this sacrament for life,

that God granted her 2 very rare and special gifts.

First, when she would receive communion at Mass

she would fall into an ecstatic prayer

–in raptured joy, completely oblivious to any of her senses,

and sometimes even physically lifted into the air.

And second, and perhaps most remarkable of all the gifts Christ gave her,

from about the time she was in her late teens until her death at 33

St. Catherine ate no earthly food

other than the Body of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Vine fed His precious branch directly and only with the food of heaven.

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine is in heaven now, but she continues to produce abundant fruit

through her powerful intercession and shining example.

And her example reminds us that we too are called to live the same life she did:

not her life, but the life of Christ.

 

But do we answer this call?

Are we truly living in Him,

so that all H\his life and goodness can flow into our daily existence?

It’s difficult to do that, or even know how to start.

We’re probably not all going to be great saints like St. Catherine,

but we all have to start in the same place that she did.

First, by entering the life of Christ in Baptism.

Then also by nurturing and protecting that life by “keeping his commandments”

as St. John instructs us, freeing ourselves from our attachments to sin.

And then as the obstacles of sin begin to clear away,

we enter can enter a deeper relationship with our Lord

in prayer, prayer that opens us more and more to receive his life and love.

Finally, when we’ve removed the serious sins, and prepared ourselves in prayer,

we will still have no power to live, and no strength to love,

unless we receive the food pouring from the Vine into us His branches:

the food that is Christ Himself present in the Eucharist.

 

Not everyone in this room is called to be a St. Catherine of Seine.

But you may be surprised to realize that everyone of us

is called to a level of holiness comparable to hers.

I know I’m not anywhere near that level.

Through baptism, I am a branch attached to the Vine of Christ.

But if only I could be a branch abundant with fruit like St. Catherine was.

If only I my prayers could cure plagues, convert sinners, or restore life

in the name of Jesus.

If only I could love my God and my neighbor the way I should

–if only I could free myself from sin.

If only my prayers would lead me to such intimate union with Christ

that I would could see his blood flow from my hands.

If only I could approach the Eucharist and see with the eyes of perfect faith

the real presence of Jesus Christ,

and recognize more clearly that this is the food pouring out of the Vine

to give life to His branches.

If only I could live in Him and He in me, because apart from Him,

it is clear that I can do nothing.

 

Still, if a simple, tiny, uneducated, medieval girl

named Caterina Benincasa can do it,

why can’t you and I?

We have baptism; we have His commandments, we have His prayer,

and we His Body in the Eucharist.

We have Him.

He is the Vine, and we–just like St. Catherine of Siena–are the branches.

Why don’t we live in Him, and let Him live in us,

so that we may produce fruit abundantly?

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