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Jesus the risk-taker

Christ-the-True-Vine-By-Rolf-Kranz-Wikimedia

Rolf Kranz (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 06/17/23

Jesus told St. Catherine: It was in my power to endow human beings with all that is necessary for both their soul and body; but I desired that they be in need of each other ...

In one sentence of St. Matthew’s Gospel for this Sunday we read: Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples; and then in the next: The names of the twelve apostles are these. In the blink of an eye, these believers change from “disciples” to “apostles.” It is a transformation we want for ourselves. After all, every week in the Creed, we profess the Church to be “apostolic.”

This mystery is captured in an evocative 17th-century painting titled “Christ, the True Vine.” It exemplifies a declaration Jesus makes the night before his death (Jn 15:1-8):

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower….
I am the vine, you are the branches.
He who lives in me and I in him,
will produce abundantly…
My Father has been glorified
in your bearing much fruit
and becoming my disciples.

The artist equates Christ the Vine with the tree of the cross. The Apostles become the virtual branches sprouting from the cross. God the Father stands at the foot of the cross-tree, tending to its roots, and the Blessed Virgin Mary attends on the other side watering the sacred tree. Assembled beneath the tree is an assortment of great saints, including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, aspiring to the sanctity projected in the vision of the Church they behold. 

The risk Christ takes

The Church is built, writes St. Paul, on “the foundation of the Apostles” (Eph 2:20). But the risk Jesus took in doing this! It means that our Lord founded the Roman Catholic Church on frail, faltering men — friends and witnesses of Jesus, chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself.

Scripture commentator Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis observes:

The privilege of the call is not for the sake of the called but for the good of all the others they will serve. This mystery is fraught with the sense of the Apostles’ personal unworthiness, since there is absolutely nothing that sets them apart from the mediocrity of the multitude. Only Jesus’ freedom of election — and thus pure grace — explains their transformation into Apostles. This origin of our vocation in Jesus’ absolute freedom of election, rather than in any preëxisting personal qualities and talents of our own, will determine everything that follows in our discipleship and ought to be an unceasing source of compunction, wonderment and thanksgiving. “Why have you chosen me, Lord, sinner that I am?” 

 This is wisdom by which we all need to abide. 

Holy dependency

The “method” of the Apostles models for us a truth at the very core of the Church’s existence (and that is pictured in the painting):

To confess that the true Church is apostolic is to confess that she depends on a spiritual power that resides in the Blessed Trinity, which then descends into the humanity of Christ, then into the twofold power — sacramental and jurisdictional — of the apostolic body, and finally to the Christian people. (Cardinal Charles Journet)

God revealed mystically to St. Catherine of Siena:

It was in my power to endow human beings with all that is necessary for both their soul and body; but I desired that they be in need of each other and that they be my ministers in the distribution of graces and generosity that they themselves have received from me.

When we pray at Mass that, through the blessed Apostles, “you, eternal Shepherd, watch over [the flock] and protect it always,” we come to see that a major part of that protection entails safeguarding us from pride, vanity, self-reliance, self-righteousness, and all the vices allied with it. The holy dependency we have on Christ’s Apostles preserves us in purity and peace. It keeps us real. The painting visually asserts that the source of the Apostles’ authority and power is the suffering of Christ crucified, with whom they are inextricably united. 

Apostolic riches

The apostolic nature of the Church blesses God’s People with great mercy. God commanded the Apostles to communicate the gifts of God to all people. St. Irenaeus (3rd century) observed: 

The Apostles, like a rich man depositing his money in a bank, lodged most copiously in the Church’s hands all things pertaining to the truth, so that everyone, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. 

~

Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.

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