My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ of the BCBP,
I greet you on your convention today. Since I was not able to greet you on the opening day, I would like to welcome you to the Diocese of Dumaguete today. I hope that your experience here in Dumaguete confirms the claim that Dumaguete is the city of gentle people.
“I am the vine, you are the branches.” That is the theme of your gathering today. “I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty, for cut off from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)
The vine and the branches define the relationship of every Christian with the Lord. It is a relationship of sustenance. On their own, the branches cannot survive. On their own, the branches cannot bear fruit. Sustenance and fecundity. These are the signs of our unity with the Lord.
Let us first talk about sustenance. There are many of you gathered here today. You are here because you have experienced the presence of Jesus through the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals. The entry point of your membership in the BCBP is the Life in the Spirit Seminar (BCLP, Brotherhood Christian Life Program). This is sustained further by the formation meetings and the breakfast meetings. Many who backslide and no longer return are those who begin to miss the meetings.
Although our relationship with Christ is an invisible bond, there is always a need for visible signs of communion. Attending meetings is one such visible sign. It is through these meetings that every member will be sustained by the charism of the community.
The second sign of union is fruitfulness. “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.” What kind of fruit is expected of a Christian? Certainly the fruit of a good life, of love for fellowmen; but also the fruit of evangelization, of sharing to others what you have discovered through BCBP.
They both go together – sustenance and fruitfulness. The member who perseveres is also able to invite others to join. The one who misses on gathering and meetings does not even think of inviting others. For why would he invite others if he finds no incentive to attend himself?
But before there can be sustenance and fruitfulness, we should first ask, what is it that sustains the community? Before we can speak of evangelizing others, we should ask, what is the content of our proclamation? What is it that we must share?
Just as every member is sustained by the BCBP, so must BCBP itself be sustained by the Church, of which it is only a part. It is through its connection with the Church that it is connected to the Lord, for the Lord gathered a community around him to sustain the world. Let us be reminded that the words “I am the vine, you are the branches” were spoken primarily to the apostles gathered for the Last Supper. These words in the Gospel of John were spoken when Judas had just left the assembly, and so it was spoken to the infant Church, the Church of the eleven apostles who were gathered around the table of the Last Supper.
This is the faithful Church, the Church who later on will be scattered by their lack of faith, but who will be gathered once again by an act of forgiveness by the Risen Lord. This infant Church of the Apostles abandoned the Lord, but on the day of the Resurrection, the Risen Lord breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22)
The power to forgive is given to the ones who were first forgiven. Once forgiven of their infidelity, they were now ready to forgive the sins of others through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is by your unity with this Church that Jesus built on the apostles that you shall be sustained.
It is not always easy to stay united with the Church, for sometimes, she teaches things that are difficult to practice. But if you have to stay united with Christ, you will have to accept things that are difficult to believe. When Jesus for example, preached the Bread of Life Discourse, many people abandoned him. They could not accept that he would give his flesh as food and his blood as drink. Yet He insisted on what he taught, and only the faithful disciples remained with him, for as Peter said, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
Proclaiming the Gospel is not always an easy thing, for you would have to go against the grain of common belief. In this world where pragmatic values are favored, the Gospel, in its purity, may sound impractical, but as Saint Paul wrote to Timothy: “proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, give encouragement… The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes, and then they will shut their ears and turn to myths. (2 Tim 4:2-4)
My dear Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals, the milieu where you find yourselves – your place of work and your professional life my give you a pragmatic bent of mind. Yet, the catch-phrase you have assumed as your own – “Be honest even if others are not, even if others cannot” exemplifies the resistance you are called to make against the currents of the present world. I call on you then to turn this catch-phrase into an act of faith in what the Church teaches in its totality, and to have the courage to proclaim it as the fruit you are expected to bear. Only then can you truly be the branches of the vine, the branches that are sustained, the branches that bear must fruit. Amen.