Easter Exhortation: ‘Bear Much Fruit’

User’s Guide to Sunday, May 2

Christ exhorts us to ‘bear fruit.’
Christ exhorts us to ‘bear fruit.’ (photo: udra11 via Shutterstock)

Sunday, May 2, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Mass Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8.

It’s the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and Pentecost is just weeks away. Our thoughts turn to the Holy Spirit, whom St. Josemaría Escrivá used to call “The Great Unknown” because most Christians spend so little time getting to know the Spirit. This is another one of the unique features of our faith, for no other world religion teaches that there is such a divine Person as the Holy Spirit. 

In our first reading, we reach the point in Acts where Paul, now converted to Christ after seeing the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, attempts to join the Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-31). At first the Christians are afraid of him, but then come to see he has changed. In fact, he preaches the Gospel so boldly that he provokes death threats, and the Church has to send him away to save his life. Then “the church … was at peace, and … grew in numbers.” This quiet interlude of a few years of peace is rare in Acts. We need to remember that persecution, not peace, is the “default mode” of Christianity. Those who speak boldly for Jesus will usually — like Paul — find themselves facing stiff opposition from the rest of society.

Our responsorial is Psalm 22. We sang this Psalm on Palm/Passion Sunday because it begins “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But this Sunday, we sing the second half of the Psalm, which is all praise and thanks to God for deliverance: “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.” The word translated “assembly” here is ecclesia in Greek — in other words, “Church.” Psalm 22 moves from the terrible suffering of God’s Servant to his triumph over death and the growth of God’s Church: This is the cycle we relive every year through the Lenten and Easter seasons.

In our epistle, St. John emphasizes that Christian faith must be lived: “Let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” We know that we remain in Jesus when we “keep his commandments,” which is made possible by “the Spirit he gave us.” Nowadays people are obsessed with how they “identify,” and one’s “identity” can be merely a verbal claim without basis in objective reality. But how one “identifies” — whether as a Catholic or anything else — will be meaningless when we stand before God at the judgment. Then we will be judged by reality, how we actually lived. “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21).

Our epistle and Gospel are united by the theme of “remaining” in Jesus. Taken from Jesus’ Last Supper Discourse, our Gospel says: “I am the vine; you are the branches — whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” The “sap” that the vine provides to the branches is the Holy Spirit. The vine image is Eucharistic: One of the ways we “remain” in Jesus is by frequent participation in the sacraments. Another way is by constant meditation on his teaching: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you,” then our prayers will be effective. 

Jesus’ intention for us is that “you bear much fruit.” What does this mean? Our “fruit” can refer to our growth in virtue: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). It also refers to those converted to the Gospel: “These have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God” (Revelation 14:4). So growth in holiness and evangelism are our “fruit,” and the two are related because without holiness our evangelism will be worthless.