Fr Michael O'Shea
In the Advent and Lenten liturgy the Christian community is bold enough to ask to God the Father, in the opening prayer of the Eucharist, that we may share in the Divinity of Jesus as he shares in our humanity. John the Evangelist uses the image of the Vine and the branches in today’s Gospel. John is conscious the branches share the same life as the Vine. At conception all humans come into the world in God’s image. At Baptism we become members of Christ’s body. The reception of the Risen Lord in Holy Communion means the Lord, who will raise us from the dead, is present within us. Whatever deepens and enriches our encounter with the Risen Lord is what prepares us for sharing in the Divinity of the same Lord. Sharing the Divinity is totally the prerogative of God Himself. Likewise, the gift of our existence. It is as members of the Church gathered to celebrate the Eucharist that we make the request. Sharing in the life of the Church prepares us for divine sharing. People who spend time in prayer each day, and are privileged to be conscious members of the Christian community, participate in the flow of life that occurs between the vine and the branches.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we encounter a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew, Paul of Tarsus, a man who, in his younger days, would have deeply upset John the Evangelist, because he was an enthusiastic practitioner of his Judaism who had no belief in Jesus of Nazareth. In today’s reading we find Paul gingerly making his way among Christians for the first time in Jerusalem as a Christian himself. After his conversion his personality remained the same. He is utterly convinced that he is right, and spends his time convincing others of his correctness. The Lord now uses this trait as Paul sets out across the Roman world. Paul is the only writer in the New Testament that we know of for certain who had an encounter with the Risen Lord. Why the Risen Lord appeared to him and not to any of his fellow rabbinical student classmates under Gamaliel in Jerusalem is known only to the Lord. The Lord had a specific task for him: the conversion of the Gentile world. The Lord would equip Paul with the gifts necessary to carry out the task, specifically the gift of the Holy Spirit. He already possessed the natural gifts from birth. The gifts we possess are always for the benefit of others. When Patrick came to Ireland, he was continuing the task of Paul. The great Irish missionary tradition continues the same request of the Risen Lord to Paul.
Conscious and active membership of the Church, deep personal and liturgical prayer, and sharing in the mission of the Church is a sharing here and now, and a preparation for doing so permanently, in the Divinity of Christ. “I am the Vine, you are the branches” is spoken in the present tense.
Prayer happens when we have the intention of praying, and then directly address God Himself. It is at its most powerful when it happens in the celebration of the liturgy. “Almighty ever-living God” is the powerful, direct addressing of God the Father in the liturgy today. It is all the more powerful because we do so as the gathered Christian community. We directly address the Father “through our Lord Jesus Christ” in the “unity of the Holy Spirit”.
In Preface 2 of the Ascension we, the gathered Christian community, address the Father saying “..after his Resurrection, was taken up to heaven that he might make us sharers in his Divinity.”
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” is short, powerful prayer which consciously keeps us in touch with Divinity throughout the day.