5th Sunday of Easter B

State of Grace

Of all God’s women saints, Joan of Arc had the most unusual mission: to lead an army into battle and restore her king to his throne.

Joan was a simple peasant girl, born in 1412. In 1420, the king of England, Henry V of England captured the French throne, setting aside the rightful king, Charles VII. When Joan was about 13, a strong but devout girl, she began to receive direction from God through the “heavenly voices” of St. Catherine and St. Margaret. Finally, she was told to go and tell King Charles, whose troops were held under siege by the English army at Orleans, that she had been sent to lead his army to victory. After her “credentials” were examined by a number of priests and scholars, Charles accepted Joan’s offer. Thanks to her brilliant leadership, she put an end to the long siege in eight days and had the joy of seeing the coronation of Charles at Reims Cathedral on July 17, 1429.

Joan continued in the war, with diminishing support from her ungrateful king until she was captured by the Burgundians on May 23, 1430 and sold by them to the English. Pro-English Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais put her on trial as a witch and heretic. The trial was rigged against her in order to cast discredit on King Charles. Joan was excommunicated as a heretic and burned to death at Rouen on May 30, 1431. But when the English were finally ousted from France, a legitimate trial conducted 1449-1456 resulted in her complete rehabilitation as a patriot and a saint.

At the fraudulent trial, the learned churchmen had tried to trip her with tricky questions. Once they asked her “Are you in the state of grace?” No Christian can really answer that. Joan gave an inspired reply. “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.” Even her enemies at the trial had to whistle at that brilliant answer.

… If our consciences have nothing to charge us with, we can be sure God is with us. (I John, 3:21). Today’s second reading.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q527: The gospel today (John 15:1-8) speaks of remaining “on the vine.” Are not all Christians attached to the vine which is Jesus?

Several years ago a preacher friend in the state of Washington (Rev. Donald Hoffman) used a pregnant line of prose that I will never forget. He said: “Staying attached to the vine is easier for a Grape than for a Human.” I have reflected on that bit of wisdom many times over the years.

Today we have a lot of folks who claim to be “vine-clingers.” In other words, they “say” that they are Christian, but then they insist on upholding attitudes and practices that make that claim a statement of sheer hypocrisy. Examples abound! They see nothing wrong with killing babies in the womb; they encourage capital punishment in a society that can be protected many other ways; they endorse homosexual “marriages” and relationships that cannot produce new life (which is the fruit of a true sacrament of marriage); they support only those values that agree with their opinions, rejecting anything called “absolute” truth.

It is easy to “finger point” at those who disagree with the absolute moral values upheld by the Tradition of the Catholic Church ever since the days of the Apostles. But we must remember that the very souls of dissenters are at risk. Accordingly, our mission as baptized disciples of Christ must also include praying that the Holy Spirit transform them (and us) into the image of Jesus. All of us need pruning, to enable God’s word to bear fruit in our lives. Our gospel is very clear today: one cannot bear fruit unless one remains on the vine – i.e., remains “in Jesus,” faithful to the Tradition and its values that have been passed down from Jesus to the Apostles to their validly ordained successor bishops, and then to us. Be humble! Remember that the Grape has an easier job that we do!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Holy Spirit desires to work within us, and will teach us to understand absolute truths if we will permit him (CCC #737). How receptive are you to the teachings of the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops (CCC #861,862)?

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What is a Christian?

There are all kinds of claims today for the title “Christian.” We have Christian broadcasting, Christian schools, Christian politicians, and even Christian businesses. Just what does it mean to be Christian? Today’s readings give us the answer in a nutshell. To be Christian is to abide with God in Christ, expressed in love for God and others. “To abide with:” to remain with, to stay with, to live united with. The metaphor of the vine and the branches spells it out for us. By baptism we have been grafted onto the vine which is Christ and we begin to share his life and Spirit. So our first priority in being a Christian is to nurture and develop this life, this relationship, by prayer, the sacraments and worship, by reading the Scriptures and by self denial. Without this divine life as its source, none of the externals: good deeds, social activism, or church work we are involved in can produce fruit. No matter how involved we are, if we are not “abiding” in Christ, we do not share his life and Spirit; we are dead branches to be cut off and burned. But we do have to remember also that being a Christian demands more than a satisfying personal relationship. The love demanded of a Christian is not a warm fuzzy feel good affection for Jesus. As St. John puts it in his epistle, “Let us love not in words or speech, but in deed and truth.”

Loving Father, through our baptism into Christ you dwell within us. Help us to bring the Easter mystery to perfection in our lives. Help us to abide in you so that we may bear the fruit you desire –loving care for one another.

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