Sunday, April 29, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B). Mass Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8.
Have you ever noticed how divisive much commentary on the daily news is? It seems that wherever we turn, we are encouraged to think of ourselves as one versus another, as “we” versus “they,” in politics or religion, social groups or generations.
In the midst of such divisions, Christ called his disciples to be united. This unity wasn’t a mere slogan or tool of propaganda, but a deep reality. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that the basis for Christian unity is our union with him: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He makes it clear that his capacity to unite his disciples flows from his own union with the Father in heaven.
One of the most necessary attitudes to foster such unity is respect. Several years ago, a friend told me that the word “respect” comes from Latin roots whose literal meaning is to “look at again.” I have gone back to this thought many times. Don’t we all wish people would be willing to look at us again, especially where initial impressions or past interactions were less than positive?
Today’s first reading includes an example of this profoundly Christian sense of respect. Saul had been a fierce persecutor of the Christian community. After his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, he not only saw the truth of Jesus Christ, but he also became a zealous apostle. It is unsurprising that when he first arrived in Jerusalem the early Christians were afraid of him. In the account from Acts, we see the unifying role of Barnabas. He was willing to look again at Saul, to see this former enemy as a new man and a collaborator for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Where can we find the strength for such respect, for such a willingness to look again at others and be open to the possibility of unity? The first reading tells us that the early Christian community was growing as it experienced the consolation of the Holy Spirit. There is no more powerful agent of unity in our Church or in our world than the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God gives us strength when we are weak and wisdom when we are foolish. The Spirit of God, who is capable of renewing the face of the whole earth, can renew each of us and give us the capacity to see again.
Because today is Sunday, other liturgical feasts are not observed, but it is worth noting that this date is the feast of St. Catherine of Siena. This great Dominican prayed and worked tirelessly for the unity of the Body of Christ. In a time of deep civil and ecclesial unrest, she was an extraordinary peacemaker, one who counseled popes and princes, queens and nuns, clerics and laity, always encouraging reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ. She knew and she lived the truth that apart from Christ we can do nothing, but that united with him and with one another, we can bear abundant fruit. May we, like her, pray and work for the fruitful unity which is the Spirit’s gift.
Dominican Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a member of the
Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee.
She is assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville
and also serves through retreats, public speaking and writing.