- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: Living as Disciples and Friends
Recently I had the honour and pleasure of journeying on a week-long retreat with the Sisters of St. Martha of PEI and their lay associates. It was a marvelous experience of living faith with them. Reflecting on our Scriptures, sharing our faith Tradition and taking time to nurture our spirituality we had the opportunity to grow as disciples and friends. What a wonderful community to be with. They are truly a blessing for which I am thankful. One lament – they were on Prince Edward Island. I was in New Brunswick. We were forced to meet virtually, unable to come together face to face. Covid-19 has been unkind.
For the last year our world has been disrupted. What was our normal no longer is. The retreat experience illustrates the impact of the pandemic. We were separated. Borders could not be crossed and so we found ourselves isolated in our own spaces. Alone as we were, we were not alone in the experience. Right now, the same experience is happening all around our world.
Masks, social distancing, shrinking social gatherings, no hand-shaking or hugging have been our norm. Hospitals, seniors’ homes, schools, neighbourhoods, campuses and churches have been affected. Contact has been through virtual means. For the sake of one another it must be done. To live safely in this pandemic, we must live with separation. It works, but we do lose in the experience.
Relationships are significant for us and we long to be together. Community matters for we are social beings. A streamed retreat or Mass might be necessary and it is certainly better than none, but it is not ideal. What is missing is the communal element. The full experience of Eucharist must include the social contact. The danger is that it become only ritual, “going through the motions”. Like so much of our lives, we need the interpersonal element, for this brings us life and allows us to realize we are linked with a bond of humanity and love. We care about each other.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). What a wonderful image of our Christian faith. We are interconnected, dependent on one another for life both physically and spiritually. It is no small thing that Jesus gathered his disciples around himself and invited them to follow as he led them through Galilee. Not only did they learn from him, they built a bond that joined them together as branches of the same vine.
Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel is set in the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his friends. It is their last. At the end (ch.17) Jesus will offer his farewell prayer for them, but here in chapter 15 he expresses the deep bond that has grown among them. They are together like the vine and the branches. No branch will live without the connection with the vine and the vine itself will grow and share life through the branches. As Jesus puts it: “Abide in me as I abide in you” (15:4). Discipleship is a communal experience.
Christian faith is relational. Our sacramental tradition expresses this. It shows especially in what we call the Sacraments of Initiation or entry into the community of Christians (Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist). All three draw us to grow as disciples. They offer a relationship with the person of Jesus, the Christ. In this way, we have a bond with our God. Like a loving parent this God of ours offers life and loving compassion. As disciples, we too are to reflect this life and love around us.