Archbishop Peter A Comensoli delivered the following homily at St John Vianney’s Parish in Mulgrave on Sunday 28 April 2024, at a special Mass to celebrate the parish’s 60th anniversary.

I have to admit that I have a secret longing for this particular Sunday each year—the fifth Sunday of Easter. On this day we get the passage we’ve just heard from the Acts of the Apostles. It really tickles me every time I hear the sentence ‘The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace.’ Why? Because, it would seem, the communities in Israel had succeeded in getting Paul out of town!

The beloved Paul, Christ’s apostle to the Gentiles and arguably our greatest evangeliser ever, may well have been just a bit hard to take initially, and his intensity for Christ was perhaps best received in relatively small doses. We get to see the story of the early Church from a distance, so we may miss the little hints that are there in the unfolding story of faith regarding the characters of those whom we know by name: Peter, Paul, Mary, Mary Madelene, Barnabas, Aquila, Priscilla.

The story of our faith is a story of the people of faith, lived out in all their individuality and personal character. They were people who came together as disciples to proclaim their love of God and their life in Jesus Christ. Each was unique, but each made up a part of the one Body of Christ, the Church. The Christian faith is not a set of doctrines, though they form part of it. The Church is God’s people in Christ, on a journey of faith from within their personal and family characteristics.

Our little reading from the Acts of the Apostles today captures the moment when the first bit of news came that the name of Christ had come to be heard in other parts of the world. The great commission given to the disciples by Christ—to go out to all the world, proclaiming the Good News—had indeed began to spread far and wide.

Paul had come from Damascus with this news, and his engagement with the Hellenists (that is, the Greeks in Jerusalem) indicates that he was already well and truly focused on the lands beyond Judea, the only land Jesus had walked. The Christian faith had gained a foothold in the wider world. It would not stop from there.

This was the vine growing, its branches reaching out. We know of its fruitfulness because we are here now, thousands of lands away, and thousands of years down the line. But we have life and fruit only to the extent that we are still attached to the vine. This is Christ: he is the vine that gives life; we are the branches that produces the fruit. Cut off from Christ, we will wither. He is our life.

This has been the story of St John Vianney’s Parish for these past 60 years. You have been a branch of faith, hope and love coming out of a life lived in Christ. As a branch from the vine of Christ, you are made up of all the characters and stories of faith as it has flourished here. Those stories are well worth remembering, because they combine to make up your story in Christ. You can properly take on as your own the words spoken by St John to his community in faith.

His commandments are these:
that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ
and that we love one another, as he told us to.
Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him.

May you commit to living by these words into the future. Happy anniversary!

Banner image: Konstantin Gorbatov, Grapes in Capri, private collection.