When I was a child in the pew at Sunday Mass, my mother would often warn us to “catch the blessing” when the priest was about to conclude the Mass. One Sunday, after I had become a server, I carried the missal to the priest for the solemn blessing, and as he extended his hands to bless the people, I caught the backside of one hand on my cheek. My mother exclaimed after Mass, “You really caught the blessing today!”
I often think of this humorous incident when a particular theme in the prayers and readings of a Sunday is as obvious as a smack in the face. This happens to be one of those Sundays. In the Collect we pray that the baptized may “bear much fruit.” Then, in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that great fruit was being born in the infant Church which “grew in numbers” through the Holy Spirit. Then, in the Gospel from Saint John, five times our Lord talks about “bearing much fruit.”
Ultimately the fruit that Christ spoke about was spiritual fruit – souls for God’s Kingdom. This presupposes Christian spouses being generous in welcoming new life into the world. One of the Prefaces in the Rite of Marriage prays, “By your providence and grace, O Lord, you accomplish the wonder of this twofold design: that, while the birth of children brings beauty to the world, their rebirth in Baptism gives increase to the Church.”
But spiritual fruit also depends upon men and women who embrace continence for the Kingdom of Heaven – men and women who forego earthly marriage and procreation in order to become spiritually fruitful. The ministry, prayers, works, and sacrifices of those called to virginity bears great fruit in the members of the Body of Christ – fruit that we will see clearly only on the Last Day. “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end” (CCC 1040).
This is demonstrated most perfectly in the Blessed Virgin Mary. The fruit of her virginal womb – the Son of God made flesh – teaches us that virginity, like marriage, has an important place in God’s plan for His people. She was joined in virginal fruitfulness by Saint Joseph. Together they welcomed the Son of God into their midst. As St. John Paul II teaches, “Only Mary and Joseph, who lived the mystery of [Christ’s] birth, became the first witnesses of a fruitfulness different from that of flesh, that is, the fruitfulness of the Spirit” (TOB 75:2).
I remember being struck by this lesson about the spiritual fruitfulness of celibacy just a few years into my priesthood. I was traveling to a conference for priests in Dallas. Along the way, I visited former parishioners who had moved to Texarkana for a few days. Then I stayed with the relatives of another parish family in Dallas, before joining a number of other priests at the seminary for the conference. Lastly, I drove to Alabama to preach a retreat hosted by an order of religious sisters I had come to know on my first retreat after ordination. I would have known none of these people – nor been welcomed into their homes – had I not promised celibacy for the Kingdom on the day of my ordination. Already, after just a few years of priesthood, I already experienced the “hundredfold” that Our Lord promised to those who give up everything to follow Him (cf. Mt 19:28-29).
Marriage and virginity seem to rise and fall together. At the same time as the sexual revolution bore its ugly fruit in fornication, adultery, abortion, and divorce, numbers of priests and religious plummeted in our country. The good fruit of saints for the Kingdom of Heaven depends upon generous spouses and generous virgins. Let us pray for new, holy, persevering vocations to Christian marriage, priesthood, and religious life, for “by this is my Father glorified” (Jn 15:8).
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 5th Sunday of Easter – Year B
Father David Skillman is a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He serves as the pastor of St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church in Kirwood, Missouri. Father Skillman is a Certification student with TOBI and has attended numerous courses. You can access audios of Father Skillman’s homilies through: http://frskillman.podbean.com/