“when Saul got to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were all afraid of him” Saul religious terrorist, persecutor of Christians, had a game-changing, life-changing faith experience on road to Damascus & became a disciple/apostle to the Gentiles..to outsiders/ herdwicks.. & when he came to Jerusalem, the domain of swaledales, they were all afraid of him “he couldn’t have experienced such a profoundly deep conversion could he? could he?” As long as we, as judge & jury, doubt the radical nature of our discipleship & its consequences, we will never be converted.. “but I am a born & bred Roman Catholic baptised at 4 days old in St Ignatius Church in Preston & practising ever since” but have you have a conversion experience in those 48yrs of life & faith so far?..
“..they could not believe he was really a disciple” we can’t believe that each of us here here & now is a disciple.. ; Lord have mercy “..Barnabas explained how the Lord had appeared to Saul” ..on a journey, on your journey here this morning/afternoon.. ; Christ have mercy “..how he preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus” ..how you preach boldly in this locality in the name of Jesus.. ; Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins & bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
“I am the vine, you are the branches” ..if you were to drive up what we call Snake Drive at back of monastery & turn left into main road to come to the Village, in first 100yds on left, where hedges & verges are tended by our groundstaff, I noticed some weeks ago a rogue stem of bramble bush.. instead of behaving itself & growing like all its fellow stems, it decided to risk growing out & away from bush, horizontally, at height of perhaps 5ft from ground, & it grew longer stronger towards the road..a feat of biological engineering, such a slender stalk could grow so far from its parent bush & survive in splendid suspension. I was waiting for it at length of at least 6ft to reach road, & then suddenly next time I looked it had gone, hacked off pruned or cut..& just next to it, a copse of trees with one huge tree enveloped by ivy..which clings on possessively to trunk of tree & slowly strangles life out of its foster parent..& now in gospel the vine..three branches, of a bramble an ivy & a vine..a beautiful image of the three stages of life within our Church; all three exist flourish & bear fruit..we have thankfully the bramble adventurers among us, whose spirit of adventure risk & passion goes for the impossible witnesses of the Resurrection who ran from the tomb like Mary Magdalen, or towards the tomb like Peter & John..disciple adventurers who rest of us watch & either laud for their awesomeness or criticise for their foolhardiness..like my branch on roadside, noticed tracked encouraged & now missed but remembered for its difference..we have ivy league among us..the obedient who cling tightly to the trunk of Church teaching & practice, a dense powerful growth who in spite of sharp-pruning secateurs are really difficult to cut away..a possessive dependency on the trunk which tragically eventually stifles the breathing of Church, stunting growth & eventually strangling the life out of it..leaving green ivy in healthy appearance & yet with dead wood beneath & within..& twixt lone bramble & suffocating ivy is the vine itself.. fed nurtured led in direction, guided onto a trellice & lovingly woven round it to give balance between framework, the teaching of the Church & its practice, & the freedom to grow away from trellice & eventually, for those adventurous stems to bear fruit rich juicy grapes, sweet & sour..both needed valued affirmed & with a taste of a lifetime..”I am the vine, you are the branches” you & I beloved fruit-bearers, with the crop, our crop, the result of hours, years, of care by vinedresser God our Father, & his beloved workers in the vineyard..of all tasks in any vineyard, that most necessary & at same time most taken for granted, is the work of the grasscutter, who works carefully between rows & rows of vines, rows & rows of gravestones in our graveyard, our vineyard from which Our Lord, the vine, draws the rich sweet wine of the lives of our beloved brothers & sisters into heaven..to the heavenly banquet of rich wine & fresh bread..the eucharistic meal of a lifetime we share weekly daily & to which we come by invitation..divine invitation..you don’t choose to come to Mass; you are already chosen gifted invited included to such an extent that you can ask whatever you want..whatever you want..& you will get it..it is in fine fine print in our gospel; “if you remain in me & my words remain in you, you may ask what you will & you shall get it.”..& only obstacle to that promise coming true from the true vine himself, is your uncertainty..too good to be true..too much of a risk for me to grow out & away from the ordinary & conventional like my bramble adventurer, & thereby discover my real self & the vintage the vinedresser has been maturing in you for a lifetime so far..talking last week with one of our monks currently in exile..living away from monastic vineyard for time being..a tender vine regaining strength after some fierce but necessary pruning..he told me God always answers our prayers..which I have come to realise in truth & is in print in our gospel..the monk explained God either says to our request “yes & now” or “yes, & excitedly, wait a little while & you will realise why” or “yes, & in a way 42 times more wonderful than the way you were praying for..” “make your home in me, as I make mine in you” a realisation that branch & vine are intertwined, mutually life giving, mutually dependent..& the pruning is as painless & lifegiving as your virus innoculations..you, a life a beloved branch loved fed protected & pruned for a lifetime..in readiness for an eternal lifetime..”why did you keep the best wine until last?” they asked stewards at wedding feast; why has it taken my lifetime so far for me to hear, & to believe in, such a faith-filled promise where, in words of Sebastian Barry I shared with you few weeks ago; the moment of realisation that “ I am loved, loved & needed, & not to be lived without..& greatly” & St John in 2nd reading “as children of the truth, we are able to quieten our conscience in his presence, whatever accusations it may raise against us, because God is greater than our conscience & he knows everything.” ..in our book which I discovered in a vineyard called a classroom in St Benedict’s RC Primary School before covid..“the boy the mole the fox & the horse” is a series of fine short conversations; if you doubt the quality of your own contribution to the vintage of our parish family’s house-wine..perhaps self-labelled “dis-graceful”..well listen to this & savour the taste of the grape.. “so you know all about me?” asked the boy “yes” said the horse “& you still love me?” asked the boy “we love you all the more” said the horse [5thSun Easter Yr B Jn 15;1-8]