The Importance of Prayer (5th Sunday of Easter, Year B, 2024-04-28

Fr. Mikael Schink SJ
5th Sunday of Easter (B)
2024-04-28, St. Eugenia Catholic Church
John 15:1-8

+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

History’s greatest leaders influence people from the outside. With their speech, their ideas, their example, and even with their presence they move and motivate those around them, drawing others and stirring them to action.

Jesus Christ, however, goes much deeper, influencing us also from the inside. He not only calls us from the from theoutside, through the voice of Holy Scripture, the Church and the example of the saints. But he also unites himself to us so intimately that his very life flows through us: “I am the vine, you are the branches” he explains in today’s Gospel.

Where does a vine stop and its branches begin? Their union is too complete to tell. The same sap gives life to the vine and to its branches. Similarly, grace is God’s own divine life flowing through Christ and into us. In this and in many other ways, Jesus Christ stands alone among the great historical figures, because he influences us from the inside.

Still, there is a difference between the vine and the branches. Each one of us is a unique vine engrafted into Christ. And we are responsible for staying united with him. God has given us the possibility to choose. He has given us free will, and we have to decide if we want to be the Friends of God or not. It is not difficult to say yes to Christ. The good thief, saint Dismas, on the cross next to Christ was saved by just one prayer: “Jesus, remember me when you come into you kingdom”. But it is equally easy to say no to God and to lose the gift of eternal life.

As time goes by, some branches wither away and fall off the tree. The question is therefore how we can remain united with the vine.

1. A first way to stay united with Christ is to follow the commandments of the Church. The Church has very few positive prescriptions. It says that we should go to mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, go to confession once a year and abstain from meat or something else on Fridays. These and other rules are not there to trouble and burden us but are rather a way for us to stay united with Christ. In fact, being united with Christ is in a way the same as being united with the Church since the Church is the body of Christ.

But some people say, that although they believe in God and perhaps also in Christ, they do not believe in the Church. Some say that you can have a good relationship with God and even with Christ without the Church. Such an attitude betrays a grave misunderstanding about the nature of the Church. You see the Church as something added to, from the outside as it were, to your relationship with Christ that you have through faith and charity. But the Church is the mystical body of Christ. When we start believing and loving Christ, when we receive Baptism, the sacrament of faith, we are also engrafted into Christ: We become members of his mystical body. There is therefore no union with Christ outside of the Church as the Fathers never tired of saying.

2. A second way to stay united with Christ is a life of prayer. The weekly Sunday Mass fulfils the Christian obligation to pray and to honor God. But this is not more the minimal requirement. In fact, it is dangerous to restrict one’s prayer life to the Sunday Mass. If we do not stay connected with the Lord also during the week, we will be much more prone to give in to various temptations, negative thoughts and doubts regarding the faith. And we might even experience difficulties to pray during the Sunday Mass simply because we are not used to conversing with the Lord.

As good Christians, we should take some time to pray every day. We can take a couple of minutes and sit down and talk to God, thank him for this day, for all the good things that we have received or will receive; we may ask for forgiveness and pray for the next day; and we can pray for our family and friends, and especially for those in need. For many of prayer, prayer comes naturally, which is a great blessing. They feel the need to pray, they enjoy spending time with God. But all of us sometimes experience dryness in prayer: There are times when we are stressed, have little time, lack motivation, or forget to pray.

It is therefore important to reserve some time each day for God. Although we may be very busy, each of us can certainly reserve five or ten minutes for God each day. If all Catholics would spend as little as ten minutes in prayer each day, the world would soon be converted to the True Religion. It is true, many people are very busy and have the difficulty to find the recollection and peace of mind to focus on God. We can therefore take a couple of minutes to sit down and let our mind calm down. Then we have at least five minutes that we can use for prayer without distractions. And if that is too difficult, we can always pray the rosary. Even if we have little time, all of us have the time to pray one mystery each day. Or in five minutes, one can easily read a chapter of Thomas a Kempis The Imititation of Christ, a book that almost instantly leads one into prayer.

3. A third way to stay united with Christ is to make use of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Confession. If a branch gets damaged in a storm, the gardener knows how to tie it up properly so that it will once again attach itself firmly to the trunk. He binds it or grafts it back on the vine. That is what happens at Confession. Jesus renews the connection with him that our sin has damaged and broken. All the saints and popes recommend that we use this great gift regularly and frequently, even if we have not committed any serious sins.

Similarly, we have to make use of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is the sacrament of ecclesial union. By receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we are incorporated more deeply into Christ. But the reception of Communion needs to be not only sacramental but also spiritual. What benefit is it to you if you receive Holy Communion with little devotion and many distractions. Communion is not a magical cure for the spiritual life. Therefore, we need to prepare interiorly for the reception of the Eucharist. The ten minutes or so that the distribution of Communion takes during the Sunday Mass should be spent in personal prayer. If we cannot think of anything to say to the Lord, we can always pray the Our Father or Hail Mary slowly, meditating on each Word, and unite ourselves to the Lord in this way.

Let us therefore turn to the Lord and ask him for the grace to become more united with him, as the branches are united with the vine. +Amen


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