One of the main reasons why the Church encourages us to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary is not just because she is the mother of Jesus, but more because she is the Mother of the Church. We know this because of the book in the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the Church after the death and resurrection of Jesus. There we discover, that Our Lady was not just at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, but was with the disciples and the other women every day after that, as they met for prayer. (Acts 1:14) So Our Lady was there on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit came upon them all with great power. That day, which we will celebrate on the 24th May this year is rightly called the Birthday of the Church.
So, by honouring Mary as the mother of all Christians, as our mother, we are reminded that we, the Church, are a family, and that it is as a family that Christians receive the Holy Spirit most powerfully to give us the courage to go out and live our lives for Jesus every day. Jesus uses another image in our Gospel today. (John 15:1-8) He says that we are all part of one Vine. In other words, our links with one another, as fellow members of the Church, must be as close as the branches of a plant are to one another, and to the whole plant of which we are part.
Every single person can be good and kind, that is a natural part of being human, given to everyone by God whether they believe in God or not. But we Christians are called to be more than that, to bring God’s love to others in a special way. And that is what Jesus means when he says that we must all bear fruit.
Think of what happened last week when many people here in Eynsham came forward and asked for prayers of healing, either for themselves, or for a loved one who was sick or in trouble. You all know that if you tell the person who is sick that you did this for them, they will feel it far more powerfully than if you simply say that you have been praying for them as an individual, privately. Similarly if you ask me to offer a Mass for someone, if they are sick or if they have died, the Holy Spirit works more powerfully in our prayers together, than our prayer alone.
It is the same when we speak to people about our faith. It is one thing to say to someone that God loves all of us, that God loves Muslims and Hindus and peoples of all faiths and not just Christians. It is quite different when we say that this is the teaching of the whole Church. I feel this particularly as someone who was once a Church of England Vicar. Sadly the C of E does not have a central core of teaching as the Catholic Church has : what is called the Magisterium. As an Anglican Vicar I could preach many things that were, I hope, good and true, but I could not say “And this is the teaching of the Church.” As a Catholic priest I can say that, and it is one of the reasons why I became a Catholic so many years ago. As Catholics, we can back up our statement about our faith by referring people to what the Church actually teaches, best seen in the Catechism. http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm. These things are not just my belief as an individual, they are what we believe together, they are the official teaching, the Magisterium, of the Church.
That is why in the Creed we immediately follow “I believe in the Holy Spirit etc” with “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. The Holy Spirit is the power that gave birth to the Church at Pentecost, and it is through the Church, through us as members of the Church, as part of the Vine, that the Holy Spirit works most powerfully in many different ways. Our words, our little and perhaps faltering words of faith or encouragement or love, shared with someone who needs them, may not seem much to us, but are made powerful simply because we are Catholics – we are members of the Church meeting week by week for prayer together in the special way Jesus taught us, in the Holy Mass.
So although we may say something to others about the faith that seems quite small to us, it can be of enormous significance to them. And when we do that we are, you may be surprised to hear, being prophetic, exercising the gift of prophecy that Paul speaks of when he lists the gifts of the Spirit in his letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor 12:8-11) In the more traditional list of the Gifts of the Spirit that some of you will have learnt as children, we are exercising both the gift of understanding, as we absorb the teaching of Christ week by week, and of fortitude or courage as we share it with others.
There is however a third list that Paul uses when he writes to the Ephesians. (4:11-13) Here he makes even clearer the link with the life of the Church because he points out that when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, not only are we given these gifts by the Church, but in using them we are actually helping to build up the Church, to build up one another in the faith. Paul writes “his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”
So, our little attempts to share the love of God with others, and to do that as faithful members of the Church, actually helps the whole Church to be more fully and completely the body of Christ. As we heard in our 2nd Reading (1 John 3:18-24) “Our love is not to be mere talk, but something real and active”. This is how God lives in us, he says and he concludes “We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.”