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04/29/18 Fifth Sunday in Easter - Fr. Reggie

All of us are here today because we love Jesus Christ and we want to follow him more and more closely. In other words, there is still a gap between the kind of Catholic we would like to be, and the kind of Catholic we actually are. We know that a follower of Christ should be patient, self-controlled, faithful, generous, and kind. And we also know that although we follow that recipe sometimes, many other times we don't. In the face of this contrast between the desire of our hearts and the reality of our daily lives, we can be tempted to frustration.

But today the Church is giving us an antidote to that frustration in the example of St Paul.

In today's First Reading, St Paul shows up in Jerusalem three years after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.

He has been believing in and following Christ for three years already.

And yet, he arrives in Jerusalem, and what happens? His bold and abrasive personality gets him in trouble right away. He shows up full of faith and love for Christ, overflowing with zeal and sincerity. But his old violent and intimidating temperament hasn't gone away. In a matter of days, he instills deep fear in the Christians, and he infuriates the Jews so much that they start plotting to kill him! Things are so bad, in fact, that he has to be sent away to Tarsus, his home town, 500 miles away! And notice what happens as soon as he's gone; St Luke writes: "The Church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace."

The great St Paul didn't become a saint overnight - it took time for God's grace to transform him, and it takes time for God's grace to transform us too.

Relevant Radio is a Catholic radio network with stations across the United States.

Every weekday afternoon they have a two-hour program during which listeners can email or call in and have their questions about the spiritual life answered by a priest who is an experienced spiritual director.

A few weeks ago (April, 2009), a women sent an email in which she shared an experience instead of asking a question. She explained that about 18 months earlier, she had attended a parish renewal. One of the evenings the topic was forgiveness. At the beginning of this evening, each person attending was given a beautiful rock. At the end of the evening, everyone had a chance to walk up to the front of the church and place their rock in a basket. It was a way to signify that they were forgiving everything and everyone that had negatively affected their life. Well, this woman couldn't do that that evening. Instead, she kept that rock in her desk drawer at work, every day, for the next year and a half. She was struggling to forgive herself for one of her past sins. She had gone to confession and spoken to her priest, but she just kept beating herself up. She couldn't understand how she could have committed this sin. She kept wondering how God could really forgive her. Through all these months she kept praying and praying and trying to trust God. Finally, one Friday afternoon she was sitting at her desk praying yet again, when a voice in her head said "go to confession again tomorrow." So she did: she poured everything out, received some comforting words from the priest, and for some inexplicable reason emerged from the confessional feeling like a new person. The moment of grace had arrived. She got in her car, drove to the nearby beautiful riverfront, took that rock out of her purse, and threw it as far as she could into the river. Finally, after 18 months of spiritual battle, she had received the grace to let go of her guilt and fully accept God's mercy and forgiveness

Transformation in Christ takes time.

We are all like St Paul, full of rough edges that God is gradually polishing down.

If we become impatient, we will only get in his way, and we may even give up on him altogether.

But being patient doesn't mean we just sit around and twiddle our thumbs.

Jesus makes it clear in today's Gospel that we have to do our part in order for our lives to bear the fruit he wants them to bear.

And one key way to do that is prayer. Prayer is a great privilege. The Lord of the universe, our Creator and Redeemer, is online 24/7, always watching over us and listening for when we call out to him. Whenever we send him a message, he reads it right away and answers by sending an attachment of grace into our hearts. Daily, personal prayer is the bridge that turns our Catholic talk into a powerful Catholic walk. Daily, personal prayer is the heart of our relationship with Christ, a bridge that links our knowledge of Jesus with our day-to-day actions. Jesus passionately wants us to become mature men and women of prayer. This is really what he means when he says in today's Gospel: "I am the vine and you are the branches... Remain in me... because without me you can do nothing."

Today, let's ask ourselves what we can do to improve our prayer life this week: Maybe it's taking a few minutes to pray a decade or two of the Rosary while we're driving to work. Maybe it's getting up ten minutes earlier so as to be able to spend some quiet time alone with God before the hustle and bustle sweeps us away.

During this Mass, through the sacrifice of the Eucharist, Jesus, the vine, will renew his commitment to transform our lives, as he transformed St Paul's.

When he does, let's renew our commitment to be faithful branches, by making prayer a real priority.

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