5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Sunday, April 29, 2018
Fr. Jon
Homily transcription: 

5th Sunday / Easter / B

April 28-29, 2018
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
A few weeks ago I read an excellent article online, written by Andrew Sullivan and published in the New York Magazine on February 19.  The title is: "The Poison We Pick: This nation pioneered modern life.  Now epic number of Americans are killing themselves with opioids to escape it."  I think it was really insightful in addressing the deeper, spiritual causes behind the opioid epidemic seen in our country.  Because of economic, cultural, technological and religious shifts over the past decades, many people in our country live lives of quiet desperation, full of pain, of isolation, and despair.  The article can be summarized this way:  Karl Marx once said that religion is the opiate of the people.  Now in the west, opiates are the religion of the people.
As with many societal issues, government programs can only address the symptoms, not the cause, of the problem.  Sullivan mentions the significant increase in the number of people with no religious affiliation the past two decades.  He wonders if the loss of connection to God and religion is behind the reason why so many people are seeking happiness in a pill  I wonder the same thing.
Of course the problem is much broader than drugs.  In 2012, studies showed the beginning of a huge increase in depression and anxiety among teenagers.  What is behind this?  Why is this happening?  While we cannot say there is a casual effect, it is interesting that this is happening at the same time that many try to live without God. While I am all for counselling and medication, I think that full healing has to go deeper, and has to include God.
Since the Enlightenment, in the west we have sought to be liberated from God.  God has been squeezed out of the picture in our society, and even put on the margins of our lives.  We see a growing secularization the past twenty years.  At the same time, we see a rise in depression and anxiety, of addiction and violence, in the breakdown of marriage and family and community, and many today live without hope.
This is what the world looks like without God.  This is what life looks like without God.  Or in the image of today's Gospel, the branch which separates itself from the vine will slowly wilt and die.
Lots of people propose solutions to our cultural distress that do not include God. They won't work.  They can only address symptoms, not the deeper cause, of our problems.  Ask anyone who is a 12 step recovery program.  The solution always has to include God.  Only when we return to God, only when the branch is reattached to the vine, will we find our way forward.
In the Gospel, Jesus says that the branch that is attached to the vine will bear good fruit.  This week, I have been thinking about who has shown this to me, and I immediately thought of a woman in a previous parish named Jane.  She was a longtime widow, with a difficult life and lots of adversity, who was poor.  If anyone had reason to be on opioids or depressed or anxious, it would be Jane.  Yet she was so full of life and love.  People were instinctively attracted to her, and she was a lot of fun.  The only reason I can think of why Jane was not defeated by life is God.  Jane prayed a lot and always at Mass.  She was the branch attached to the vine.
The Gospel presents the beautiful image of the vine and the branches.  The article on the drug epidemic in our country paints a picture of what life without God looks like.  For me, Jane paints a picture of what life with God looks like.  Each day each of us gets to choose which kind of life we want.
May our Eucharist today keep our branches attached to Jesus the vine, so we can enjoy life rather than escape it.