Wednesday April 27, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 15:1-6) Gospel (St. John 15:1-8)
In the first reading today, we hear the discussion between the apostles and some of the Pharisees who had converted to Christianity about the question of whether the pagans who converted to Christianity had to be circumcised, whether they had to follow the dictates of the Mosaic Law. In the early Church this became quite a problem. All of the earliest converts, of course, were Jews, so it was not an issue whether or not this needed to be done; but when pagans started to convert, then it became quite an issue. As the apostles looked at the issue, it was realized that in Christ there is a New Covenant, as had been prophesied by the prophets of old. In this New Covenant, one is not required to follow all the dictates of the Mosaic Law because that has been superseded. Not the moral laws, but the ritual laws have been superseded. The moral laws are all part of the law of God Himself; therefore, those can never change. But the ritual laws, the kosher laws, the purity laws, all of those sorts of things, any kind of ceremonial law has all been done away with. That is why it is no longer necessary that all the things we read of in the Old Testament have to be done. If they are moral laws, they do have to be followed. If they are ceremonial or ritual laws, they are no longer followed because all of that has been done away with.
But if there is this New Covenant, then we need to ask what it requires. It was very clear in the Old Covenant what was necessary. All males had to be circumcised and there were the 613 precepts of the law and all the different things that were clearly laid out. In the New Covenant, it is a covenant of love and Jesus makes very clear that we must remain in Him. It is not a matter of external observance then. The Jewish people could look and they could say, “Well, if there is circumcision then I’m part of the covenant.” Therefore, the only way they would no longer be part of the covenant is if they had willfully cut themselves off. The same remains true but in an entirely different sense, however. Once we are baptized we are members of the covenant, and we remain members of the covenant unless we willfully cut ourselves off. And Jesus tells us that anyone who does that is going to be picked up and thrown into the fire because the only way to eternal life is through Christ, is through living this covenant of which we are a part. So we must remain in Him.
Now if we remain in Him, He tells us that we are going to bear fruit because if we remain in Him, like a branch which gains its life from the tree, then we are going to be sharing in His life. But if we choose not to be part of Him and we cut ourselves off from Him, then we have no life. It is just like a branch which is cut off from the tree: it withers and it dies. So the life that we have (on the spiritual level, that is) is the life of Christ. This is not something that we can obtain by ourselves. We have life on the natural level in our souls, but we do not have life on the spiritual level (that is, we do not have grace, we do not have the divine life) unless we are united with Christ. And unless we have that divine life, our souls eventually are going to wither up because we have cut ourselves off from Christ through sin, through our own choice.
So Jesus tells us very clearly what is required: it is to live His life; it is, therefore, to be His disciple. The disciple is to become like the master, Jesus tells us. Therefore, we are to love as He has loved, we are to bear fruit as He has borne fruit, we are to give glory to the Father as He gave glory to the Father. These are the things that are incumbent upon each and every one of us. This is not for a few great saints; this is for every single person who is a member of the New Covenant in Christ – to recognize the dignity which is ours and to live it out in the manner in which we are required, no longer merely by external observance as it was in the Old Covenant, but particularly by internal observance, that is, by the bond of love and by living a life of true charity in union with Jesus. In so doing, we will bear great fruit, we will be His disciples, and we will give glory to our heavenly Father.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.