May 13, 2020
May 14, 2020

Homily for Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter 13 May 2020, Jn 15:1-8

We usually have a rosy picture of the early Christians as communities of superhuman characters. We tend to caricature them as larger than life—saintly, courageous, united in mind and heart, mindful of the poor. Sometimes you will encounter passages in the Bible like today’s readings that can easily burst that caricatured bubble because, the idealized picture is not always true. They were as human as we all are. They had as many idiosyncracies as we all do today. As St. Paul said in his speech to the Lycaonians when they were mistaken for Greek gods, “We are human beings with the same weaknesses that you have.”
In today’s first reading from Acts, Luke tells us Paul and Barnabas had some problem with some insiders in the Church. They were fellow Christians but they had been converted from the party of the Pharisees, whose rigid and legalistic ways often clashed with Jesus’ more spontaneous and mercy-oriented approaches. Paul should know because he used to be one of them. Remember how he used to be a rabid persecutor of the early Christians before he experienced a radical conversion in his life?
What was the problem this time? Paul and Barnabas had welcomed a lot of Gentile converts to the newly emerging Christian faith. But a group from Judea, that group of Jewish converts to Christianity who belonged to the Pharisees, refused to welcome the new converts unless they followed first the Jewish Law and culture, observed Jewish traditions and practices, like circumcision, ritual purity, food regulations, Sabbath, etc. In short, they wanted Christianity to remain a sect within Judaism. Their concept of unity is uniformity; they are very intolerant of diversity or plurality. Doesn’t that kind of attitude sound familiar? It is still very present and alive up to now, you know.
This situation which the early Christians had to resolve with the very first Council, reminds me of the Broadway musical THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which was made into a movie in 1965. Remember the plot of that movie, the story of Captain Von Trapp, who was a widower, and who tended to treat his children in a militaristic way because he also happened to be a military man. He imposed militaristic rules at home after his wife died, thinking perhaps that it was the best way to discipline his children. He made them dress uniformly and act uniformly and obey house rules like they were a military company, but they were unhappy and did not feel at all like family. Until of course, Maria came into their lives.
She was jolly religious novice who thought she had a vocation to become a nun, but did not quite fit in the lifestyle of the nunnery because of her kind of character. She also did not quite fit in the uniform structure of the nunnery and her fellow sisters had so many complaints about her, their common refrain became, HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA? But Maria was not a problem. She just was not in the right place, until she is assigned to serve as a nanny to Captain Von Trapp’s family and falls in love, first with the children, and later with their father, the captain himself.
Maria becomes a breath of fresh air to this family that also falls in love with her. She brings music into their lives when she finds out they were all musically inclined anyway. Through music, she is able to allow their individual personalities to come out. She is able to get them to relax from the rigidity of their former lifestyle at home and enables each one of the children to project their unique individual voices while discovering the beauty of singing in harmony.
The theme song of this movie expresses beautifully what Maria does to their lives—it is not only the hills but they themselves, their individual personalities come alive with the sound of music. Today happens to be a feast day of the original Maria, the maidservant, not of Captain Von Trapp, but of God the Father. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she too teaches us her children to sing in harmony, to aspire for unity in diversity. It is the Blessed Mother Maria who loves us as her own sons and daughters and brings the music of the Holy Spirit into our lives.
Incidentally, the Gospel today also complements well the quest for genuine unity and harmony that we heard in the first reading. The Johannine image of the vine and the branches is actually parallel to the Pauline analogy of the Body and its many parts. They are both meant to characterize the relationship between Jesus Christ and his disciples, that together, they make up and organic unity that is respectful of plurality, in fact made even more beautiful and dynamic by the diversity of gifts. Many gifts, but one Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the very foundation of unity in the universal Church. With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, let me reword the song that they composed and apply the Sound of Music to the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit does to keep us together in unity:
The Church is alive with the Holy Spirit
With songs we have sung for two thousand years
The Church fills our hearts with the Holy Spirit
Our hearts want to sing every song we hear
We go to the hills when our hearts are lonely
We know we will hear what we’ve heard before
Our hearts will be blessed with the Holy Spirit
And we’ll sing as one…



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