The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 19, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Transforming Power of Images

The life that Jesus gives to us is to result in abundant fruit

May 21, Fifth Sunday of Easter

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What are your favorite images in sacred scripture?

2. How do you stay connected to the Lord?

3. What fruit has the Lord asked you to bear?

In the field of biology, a parasite is a plant or an animal that lives on or within another organism. The relationship is not mutual. The parasite derives nourishment or protection without making compensation.

This is not the relationship between Jesus and the people called to be his disciples. The Gospel is clear: "Live on in me, as I do in you." (John 15:4) The vine/branch analogy is one of great mutuality; a living within and through each other. It almost sounds as if Jesus "needs" us. The life that Jesus gives to us is to result in abundant fruit, fruit that will give life and love to others. No parasitical game here.

How do we know that our lives are fruitful? The answer lies in our loving others in truth and in deed, not just in thoughts or talk. The Broadway song says it well: "Don't talk of love, show me!" That showing is most clearly manifest in the Eucharist wherein we remember, celebrate and proclaim Jesus' extravagant love for us. In this meal and sacrifice, we are connected with the divine vine that sustains our life. Here is the "summit and the source" of graced life.

As we clear our lawns during this spring season, we sweep up large and small branches from trees. Leafless and dead, we toss them into the fire or brush pile. Severed from the tree, these twigs and branches are "disconnected" and pay the price. Now they are good for nothing but fuel.

But this disconnectedness happens also in relationships. The Russian novelist and social reformer Leo Tolstoy comments on his own vulnerability and brokenness: "I felt . . . that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had stopped." (quoted in Robert Jay Lipton's The Broken Connection, Basic Books, Inc, 1979, p. 371).

The theological word for separating ourselves from Jesus, the true vine, is sin. Sometimes the connection is partially severed (venial sin), sometimes the cut is total (mortal sin). But in God's mercy, there is the possibility, through repentance and forgiveness, to be grafted back upon the vine and once again fulfill our common mission of giving life and love to others, of bearing fruits that will last.

This was St. Paul's experience. Separated from Christ, Saul persecuted the early Church, inflicting great harm and pain on many disciples. But then, through the grace of conversion, Saul saw the light and came to know God's mercy in the person of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The fruit that he bore was incredible.

A single image can transform our lives. The metaphor of the vine and the branches has the power to change our horizons, modify our value system, open up our perception of reality. The intimacy and unity symbolized in such an image is astounding.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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