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Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Posted on April 28, 2024, by Eileen Custy SL

Growing up, I remember vines loaded with morning glories popping up every spring along the fence on the front of our property. No one ever did anything to care for them. They had been planted long before I was born and yet there they were in all their splendor every spring. I have learned that there are two kinds of morning glories, annuals and perennials. The annuals have sturdier vines, multiple colors and heart-shaped leaves. I feel certain that you needed all that information today.

John’s recounting of the last supper is different from the others and this teaching comes in the middle of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. He is reassuring them that he will still be there for them after his death. He is instructing them on the importance of love and service but also advising them to stay close to him through prayer and community. He promises them the Holy Spirit and nourishes them with the Eucharist.

The parable of the vine and the branches warms the heart, especially knowing what we know now about the makeup of the whole universe. Jesus lived in that marvelous mix of tiny particles, too; he was definitely one with us. The vine gives life to the branches, not big branches like a tree branch, but a tiny little sprig just beginning to show itself. When we were in our mother’s womb, we began as tiny little sprigs or cells if you prefer. Energy, love energy, was there to put those little sprigs into motion, to give life, to direct each cell to its proper place. That energy is still moving through our bodies, keeping us going, thinking, loving. The branch cannot continue growing without the vine. We cannot live without that energy, and because energy never dies, we will always be a part of it. The branches cannot live without the vine; think of the vine as that energy that flows through the universe.

The branches on the vine have no control over their growth. They are entirely dependent on the vine. Humans, however, are conscious beings who can make choices about the direction in which they will go. They can ignore the vine, destroy their lives with toxins or cling to the vine and spread good wherever they go. They are still powered by that energy but can decide whether to stay close to love or move away. That is the beauty of it for us. We can choose to stay, we have chosen to stay, and to let that energy radiate out through us to others. Prayer, meditation, kindness, empathy, genuine concern for other people and sharing with them bring us in close to the divine love. We have received the promised one, the Holy Spirit, and Eucharist. We have chosen to live in a community that allows us to support one another in our efforts to live in love and service.

But helpful as it is, we don’t have a corner on the market. I want to share another kind of vine-and-branch parable, one that is often taken for granted.

There lived nearby a very special woman, a woman of great faith. She bore 16 children, and her name was Mame Brian, Johanna’s mother. Not only did she raise 16 children, but she took in seven grandchildren when one of her daughters died. Think of how many years she was pregnant plus having little ones to watch over and care for. She kept her sanity, put up with their antics, saw that they were fed, clothed and educated, formed a relationship with each child, formed them in faith, love and service, and she did it a good amount of the years without the help of her husband. She prayed the rosary with them daily and formed them in faith. I cannot begin to imagine what sacrifices she made for her own children her whole life long, and then continued on with her seven grandchildren. 

Her husband died, and she carried on alone. Her first-born son died on Christmas Day in an accident. A daughter, the mother of the seven grandchildren, died of leukemia. Johanna tells me that on the day she died, she announced in the morning that she was going to die that day and asked that all the children still living come to her home. She talked to each one alone and had a special message for each one. That evening she died surrounded by them. What a gift she was to each of them, passing on strong values and faith in her love for them. 

That is my vine-and-branch story: Jesus, the vine, Mame the branch, and children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren ad infinitum. A woman faithful to the vine in love and service.

Which brings me to a pet peeve. Why are so few people canonized for being good parents? Forget the mendicants, contemplatives, missionaries and so on – they had it easy. They didn’t have to change and wash diapers, prepare meals three times a day for hungry children, walk the floor with crying infants all night or take care of them when sick. Mrs. Brian is my kind of saint.

The vine – that tiny spark that started everything and continues to hold it all together. Jesus, so close to that divine spark that he could say, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. [Those] who remain me and I in [them] will bear much fruit.” His word to us this morning is “I’m still here, I’ve got you covered. You have my Spirit, I’ve nourished you with word and sacrament, now go forth and continue to bear good fruit.”


Eileen Custy SL

Eileen Custy was born and raised on a dairy outside of Denver and attended a one-room schoolhouse for her first eight years. After a year of college at Loretto Heights, she joined the Sisters of Loretto. In spite of the fact that she thought at that time she never wanted to be a teacher, she loved the work and taught for 46 years. Most of those years were spent in El Paso, Texas. Eileen “retired” in 2004 and moved to Kentucky, where she served as an administrative assistant to the Motherhouse Coordinator for nearly 20 years before retiring in November 2023. Eileen continues to serve the Motherhouse Community, particularly pastorally.