April 28 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

What does it mean to be a disciple? In today’s first reading, it is Sauls’ boldness in Christ that makes the other Christians finally acknowledge him as a disciple. That boldness is a quality we are also called to have.

In the second reading, we hear of Jesus’ commandment to believe in him and love one another as he commanded us. This commandment has two features, which we might be tempted to separate into two commandments, but it is a singular directive. We are told that our faith should bear fruit in our works, especially in the way we love others. Our faith should find expression in our actions. To believe in Christ is to entrust yourself to Christ. It would be odd to believe in Christ and not obey him. Rather, to not obey would shed light on an area in yourself that Christ needs to be brought into, and that other brothers and sisters should be consulted about. Therefore, the disciples of Christ obey his commandments, and that obedience is proof of their faith.

The Gospel continues with the imagery of vines, branches, fruit, and pruning. Jesus makes the point through this imagery that it is impossible to grow in holiness without also producing good fruit for others. The Gospel takes a frightening turn when it says that anyone who does not remain in Christ will be thrown into a fire like dead branches! As previously mentioned, faith and works go together as one. Thus, believing in Christ but refusing to do anything he asks us to do for our own good is the same as rejecting Christ. Perhaps we are not rejecting him entirely, but the invitation is to completely surrender ourselves to Christ and trust in him. In the same respect, he has already given himself entirely to us. The disciple is, therefore, dependent on Jesus and his grace. This leads to a deep unity, which bears much fruit.

As a man who has committed himself to Christ, is seeking to be his disciple, and strives to make others his disciples, this Gospel reminded me of many of the fears I had when surrendering to God and entering priestly formation. One of the fears I had was that in configuring myself to Christ, I would become a different person. Perhaps I would become a priest who prays abundantly, but has little personality left afterwards. While I have changed in many respects, the Lord has pruned certain aspects of my life to make me more fruitful. All those moments of pruning and letting go of things has resulted in deep happiness. I am becoming who God truly created me to be. It is when I begin to reach for that which has been pruned away, that I often lose my peace. My invitation today is to ask Jesus a hard question: “Jesus, are you asking me to do something in order to love you more?”

Jonathan Hernandez