“I am the Vine. You are the branches.”
It is no accident or coincidence that Baptisms, Confirmations, and First Holy Communions happen during the Easter Season. For a Christian this is a springtime of faith and new hope in the Risen One. As a faith community we enjoy seeing our faith shared and our life in Christ embraced by our children and youth. Last Sunday we spoke of how sacramental life is the principle way that The Good Shepherd continues to tend his flock. This Sunday we reflect on how we are vitally linked as branches to Christ, the vine.
We accept Jesus as “the vine” and we know that “we are the branches.” But we pray that those being baptized, those entering into Holy Communion, those being marked with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and those celebrating graduations will come to the conviction that it is so important—so vital—for the Church and for the world that they see and perceive themselves as branches stemming from Christ in order to bear fruit. Indeed, we need all of them to realize that their lives will only have meaning if they respond to God’s voice and live their lives as vocations—vocations to BE CHURCH!
I asked some eighth graders once what was on their minds and in their hearts. They responded with wonderments about how to speak about faith and belonging to the Catholic Church to people who perhaps have no connection, or even opposing views. They asked about how to pray effectively for someone facing life-threatening illness. They observed that young people do not see themselves being fulfilled in ordained or vowed life when having a family is not going to be part of the picture. They wondered if Fr. Richard would get married if they changed the rules. (Well, for that question, let’s say, it’s sort of late in the game. Very complicated.)
The point is that our youth do want to know what it means to carry on being “the branches.” Thank God they want to know! We must pray that the Easter Season and living “the risen life” of faith, hope, and love gives all of us what we need to support them on their quests—on their journey with Jesus to the Father. We must also allow them space enough to grow. In order to really choose Jesus 2000+ years after he walked the Earth requires knowing enough and having enough information to make a comparison. None of us gets to escape the apostle Thomas’ doubts, nor the apostle Peter’s need to finally arrive at the conclusion that it is only Jesus who offers the words of eternal life.
While scary for adults (especially parents) the challenge of accompanying the young on their journey should still be a cause for joy. It should definitely be an opportunity for deepening our own faith, of living it by giving best example, and of honing our skills in the area of articulating why we believe what we believe.
A very important way to evangelize children and youth is for adults, especially parents, to share how celebrating the Eucharist regularly enables them in daily life to be the branches of Christ—The Vine— in their own lives. Most especially we model “being the branches” by regularly attending Mass with them and communicating that it is a priority for making day-to-day life holy and a path to Heaven.
At the same time we have good reason not to get discouraged. After all, “the Father is the grower!” The Holy Trinity has this whole evangelization thing worked out. What is really required of us is that we provide fertile ground and then to cultivate that ground. May I say humbly that it is indeed a blessing—a gift that keeps on giving—for this pastor to accompany you along the way.