There’s a scene in the movie Gladiator where a batch of new, inexperienced gladiators are sent to the Colosseum for the first time to fight for their lives. Immediately before facing their enemies, the leader of the group, played by Russell Crowe, tells his comrades, “Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together.
If we stay together, we survive.”
The gates open, and through them rush several chariots of armed soldiers bearing down upon the smaller band of foot soldiers. The charioteers and their soldiers swiftly circle the gladiators and start picking them off one by one.
Crowe shouts to the others to form a circle with their backs to one another: “Come together! Lock your shields! Stay as one!” His friends shout back. “As one! As one!” As a chariot comes charging at them, Crowe shouts, “Hold! Hold! As one!”
His friends shout back again, “As one!” And as the chariot passes, it is unable to penetrate their circle.
Not all the gladiators listen however. And, of course, its those who stray away from the pack and are out on their own that are easily slain. Those who stick together, on the other hand, survive and win the battle.
Today, Jesus gives us the same instructions Russell Crowe gave his friends. “It we stay together, we survive.” “I am the vine, you are the branches... Remain in me, as I remain in you.”
Notice Jesus doesn’t say “stick close to me.” He says, “Remain in me.” Or, as the gladiator puts it, “As one! As one!” Jesus doesn’t tell us to be a vine to grow alongside him. Instead, he tells us to be a branch, fixed and connected, to him, the vine; as one.
If we become disconnected from him; if we stray and wander out on our one, we will perish. “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into the fire and they will be burned.”
How do we “remain in Jesus” and have him “remain in us”? Today’s readings suggest five ways.
The first three ways, are illustrated in the first reading. St. Paul arrives in Jerusalem to meet the disciples. Barnabas, one of the 12, tells his brother Apostles, that three things have happened to Paul that demonstrate that he remains in Jesus and Jesus in him: Paul “had seen the Lord.” “He had spoken to him.” And “he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”
First: Paul “had seen the Lord.” If we are going to remain in Jesus and have him remain in us; if we are going to be branches firmly connected to his vine, we have to know him, we have to see him. We have to open our hearts, our minds, and our souls to an intimate encounter with the Lord. An encounter that spurs us to conversion and transformation as it did Paul.
Second: Paul “had spoken to him.” If we are going to remain in Jesus and not just be casual acquaintances with him, we must have a relationship with him that continually develops and grows through daily conversation with him. We must speak with him. Husbands and wives couldn’t possibly claim to remain in one another if they didn’t communicate with one another. Same with us and Christ.
Third: Paul “had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” The essence and identity of a Christian is one who knows and speaks with the Lord so well, that it compels him to share that relationship with others. We must speak boldly in the name of Jesus, not only with words, but also through our beliefs, the values we hold dear, and actions which proclaim more eloquently than words that we are one with Christ.
The fourth way is revealed by St. John in our second reading. The evangelist says, “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them.” “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” We may know the commandments, we may be able to quote Scripture and the catechism, but knowing and speaking are not enough. We must be doers of his word and people of action.
And finally, the fifth way, again, is attributable to St. Paul. After his encounter with Christ; after “he had seen the Lord... spoken to him... and... had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus” Paul enters the Church and spends the rest of his life within it. He “arrived in Jerusalem” and “tried to join the disciples.” Paul had a profound encounter with the Lord. But Jesus didn’t want it to stop there. He wants such encounters to be sustained and strengthened through life in the Church.
And we read that Paul “moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord... The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was... being built up... and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” It is in the Church that Jesus feeds us. It is in the Church that Jesus helps us grow. It is in the Church that Jesus prunes us so we may bear much fruit.
In today's society, there are many forces and voices which try to divorce Christ from the Church. You will hear people say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." Or, "I like Jesus, I'm just not crazy about the Church." Well, I've got news from you, you cannot separate Christ from the Church. You cannot separate the Bridegroom from the Bride. You cannot separate the Head from the Body. You cannot separate the Vine from the branches. Recall St. Paul's own conversion. Paul, then Saul, was persecuting Christians, dragging them from their homes and imprisoning them. When Christ confronted him, Jesus did not say, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the Christians?" He did not say, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the disciples?" Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?" Christ and his Church are one and the same and you cannot separate the one from the other.
See the Lord. Speak to the Lord. Speak boldly in his name. Keep his commandments and do so all the while living in the Church and you will remain in him and he in you.