We continue to ponder the mystery, power, and beauty of the Resurrection. When we encounter the Risen Lord Jesus, it is an intimate encounter with Love, for, as St. John writes in his First Letter, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16).
Today’s first reading shows us how the Risen Christ, Love Incarnate, worked in the life of Paul. We read about his first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion. Paul’s surprise encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus had changed the entire course of his life. When the answer to his search for the truth was suddenly revealed to him, Paul embraced it with an open heart, and, abandoning his former identity as an ardent persecutor of the Church, he became a zealous believer and missionary of Christ. The power of love gave Paul the courage and strength to step out of his comfort zone to start living a life fully dedicated to his new mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
In Jerusalem, however, the disciples were doubtful of Paul’s intentions. Was he really a believer? Paul then experienced the love of God at work through a Christian brother, Barnabas, who “took charge of him and brought him to the apostles.” Because Barnabas saw the good side of Paul and believed in his conversion, the rest of the Christians forgave him and embraced him as their brother in faith and their co-worker in spreading the Good News of salvation. The disciples put into practice what they learned from Jesus at the Last Supper. They accepted Paul as one of them, as another branch, newly grafted onto the one Vine of Christ.
When Christ told the disciples, “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” he was teaching them to remain in Love, for he is the incarnate Love of God. Simply to believe that Jesus rose from the dead is not enough. To have faith in him is also to love him in whom we believe, and to love others with his love. And love must be put into practice. As St. John tells us in today’s second reading, we are to love “not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” God’s love is revealed fully “in deed and truth” by Jesus Christ. He shows us what perfect love is by offering himself in expiation for our sins.
To love as Christ loves, we must have his love flowing through us, just as the life of a vine flows through all its branches. Jesus uses this very image in today’s Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” When we “remain in him,” we have the power to love, to be selfless, to consider the needs of others before our own, to choose the best for others. When God’s love flows through us, we can sacrifice to help those in need. We can embrace the unembraceable, touch the untouchable and forgive the unforgivable – in imitation of Christ our Lord. When we remain in him and he remains in us, we “bear much fruit,” the fruit of faith and love in action.
Is it easy to love? No. But it is always possible if we are in Christ. We all face times when we feel too drained to love any more, tired of sacrificing for others or simply too weak to go on. What can we do? To remain in the Lord means also to spend time with him. When we “run out of love,” we need time to “recharge” through prayer. Our encounter with the Risen Lord is not a one-time event. Our relationship with him needs all the attention that all living, growing things need: nourishment, rest, support, pruning, patience. When we spend time with the Lord, we re-connect to the Vine; we open our hearts to be filled with his love, so that we can love others with his love. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est). We relive this event when we spend time with the Lord in prayer and when we practice the commandment of love. We ensure our fruitfulness as branches of the True Vine, and through our acts of love we “praise the Lord in the assembly of his people.”
Do we accept and embrace an erring brother who has reconciled with the Lord? Do I allow God’s love to flow through me so I can forgive the unforgivable in imitation of Christ? When I “run out of love,” do I find time to “recharge” through prayer, spending time with the Lord?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.