Let's set the scene for today's Gospel: Jesus gathers his friends for a memorable meal that becomes his final meal before being betrayed, tortured and dying on the cross. Jesus knows his life is in great danger; so at the table surrounded by his friends, he speaks from his heart: "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you live in me, and I live in you, you will do great things. But the branch cannot live apart from the vine," Jesus says. Because if you cut off the branch from the vine, there is no life in the branch. It withers and dies.
In effect, Jesus is telling us to stay connected to him! He is the way, the truth and the life. If the branch is not connected to the vine, there is no life, no grape, no wine. To stay connected to Jesus is essential. It is what our faith is all about. Our faith is not about church rules or papal decrees or doctrines or dogmas. It's about staying connected to the Vine that is Jesus. How do we stay connected? First, we need to be people committed to personal prayer as was Jesus. Secondly, we need to honor Jesus' call to community because it is in community that we find our lives nourished by the Gospel, by our Communion with Jesus and by each other. Jesus himself declares that wherever two or three gather in his name as we are today, he is really here with us. So if we really connect with Jesus through prayer and in community, we will bear the fruit of a good life.
Today we have the honor of connecting two more branches to the vine that is Jesus: Austin Joseph Smith is a very tender branch just now being grafted unto the Jesus Vine through the waters of Baptism. Devin Michael Dunn is a young branch we welcome warmly to Communion for the first time. May Austin and Devin both grow in faith through their strong connection to the Jesus Vine. We pray that these young ones and many like them grow in their friendship with Jesus in the years ahead. We also pray that we remain strongly connected branches to the Jesus Vine so we can be worthy examples of deep faith and good works for Austin and Devin. It's an awesome task we assume when we become friends of Jesus, isn't it!