Catholic homily outline for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B – Conscience

vine, branches and fruitCentral idea: Christ is the vine and we are his branches. Doctrine: Conscience. Practical application: Formation of conscience.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

To view Lectionary 53, click here.

Central idea: Christ is the vine and we are his branches

Reading 1 Acts 9:26-31

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples,
but they were all afraid of him,
not believing that he was a disciple.
Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles,
and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord,
and that he had spoken to him,
and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem,
and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.
He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.
And when the brothers learned of this,
they took him down to Caesarea
and sent him on his way to Tarsus.

The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.

  • We are fortunate if we live in a time and a place of peace so the faith can grow, we can teach it to our children, and evangelize.
  • But even where there is not open persecution, the seeds of the world’s hatred of the faith are present. When Paul tried to evangelize the Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem, “they tried to kill him.”
  • Just because Paul had to flee from one place, he did not cease to speak “out boldly in the name of the Lord” in the next. Rejection did not silence him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32

R. I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people or Alleluia.

I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the LORD.
The lowly shall eat their fill;
they who seek the LORD shall praise him:
“May your hearts live forever!”

All the ends of the earth
shall remember and turn to the LORD;
all the families of the nations
shall bow down before him.

To him alone shall bow down
all who sleep in the earth;
before him shall bend
all who go down into the dust.

And to him my soul shall live;
my descendants shall serve him.
Let the coming generation be told of the LORD
that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born
the justice he has shown.

  • In Jesus Christ Our Lord we have deliverance from every evil and affliction and from death.
  • He is the savior of the world—past, present, and future.
  • Our duty is to evangelize our families and our neighbors so everyone in the world will know this and turn to him for salvation.

Reading 2 1 Jn 3:18-24

Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.
Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.

  • We should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Jesus’ one commandment, which encompasses the entire moral order, is to love one another as he has loved us, and this entails also believing in him.
  • Let us love not in words or speech but in deed and truth. John does not mean that our words cannot be loving or hateful. Clearly, they can be either. Rather, he means that every act, whether accompanied by words or not, should be actually loving.
  • To give a stark example, if a daughter has gotten pregnant because of premarital sex, one kind of father out of anger and shame might be convinced he should kill her. Another father might think in his heart that there is nothing amiss or even that they should celebrate. The Christian father, regardless of how he feels, will evaluate this news from the perspective of Christ and his commandment of love. His response might include recognition of the truth of the objective evil of the situation (the sin against chastity and a child likely deprived of a father), forgiveness, and then mercy toward his daughter and her unborn child.This is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn. At times, there may be a conflict between what we think and feel is right and what is actually “love . . . in deed and truth.” In this case we should pray and the Holy Spirit will assure us that Christ’s commandments are the better way to go.

Gospel Jn 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

  • Through the analogy of the vine and the branches—among other analogies Our Lord employs—“Jesus discloses what God the Father has given to humanity in the person of the Son.” Jesus gives “life, deliverance from darkness to confident sight, triumph over death by resurrection, [and] knowledge of the Father and full communion with him.” “At the same time [Our Lord] shows what people should do to draw benefit from the gifts his presence brings: come to him, believe in him, follow him and remain in him.” (The Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct49)
  • To be a Christian and to not remain united with Christ means to become dead and fruitless. It is terrible to imagine living one’s life in this way.
  • The fate of a Christian who does not remain united to Christ is even more terrible to imagine: like a fruitless branch, he is cut off, he withers up, and then he is burned up with the other dead branches in a fire.
  • To be a Christian united to Christ also means to endure being pruned of the parts that are dead or lead to death so that we can bear fruit.
  • What is the fruit we are to bear? It is endlessly varied but it consists of every good act that a human being who is also a follower of Christ can produce.
  • Part of this fruitfulness is to proclaim the truth of Christ as St. Paul did, teach this truth to the next generation like David exhorts us in the Psalm, moderate our conduct according to this truth as John advises, and stay united to it like Our Lord himself teaches us in the parable of the vine.

Doctrine: Conscience

  • In today’s second reading, St. John the Evangelist recognizes there can be conflicts between what we think is right and what God thinks. John calls this faculty of moral judgment the heart. He means what we call conscience.
  • Conscience is one’s reason sitting in judgment over one’s actions based on one’s understanding of what is really good and evil.
  • John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”), “Conscience is . . . an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now” (§ 32).
  • Conscience, therefore, must subordinate its judgments to the objective moral order established by God.
  • While conscience does decide what acts are right or wrong, it does not decide what right and wrong are. Right is what agrees with God’s law. Conscience uses its understanding of God’s law as the basis for judging its particular actions. Conscience’s understanding could be wrong, so it has to keep trying to improve its understanding.
  • Conscience is a gift from God that enables us to show God we love him by the choices we make. Our choices which accord with his law show him he is first in our hearts.
  • However, we are born knowing nothing and our moral education can easily be twisted because of original sin. Those are two reason we have to form our conscience.
  • We form our conscience first by learning the content of the moral law. It starts with the Ten Commandments. Because we are followers of Christ, we also want our judgments to align with the teachings Jesus Christ and his Church. If you know the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” in every situation, your conscience is formed perfectly.

Practical application: Formation of Conscience

  • A conscience that is properly formed knows not only what the moral teachings of Christ and his Church are, but also understands how to apply them to concrete, real-life situations. This is an ideal, but we can approach it through a number of means:
    • Learning the principles of morality, especially with the help of the Magisterium of the Church.
    • Experience in making moral decisions. We can learn from our mistakes and from the better and worse decisions we see others make.
    • Sincerely examining one’s conscience daily.
    • Receiving the sacraments regularly, especially Penance.
    • Having a personal relationship with Christ is key to imitating him.
    • Receiving spiritual direction. Get good advice and an objective viewpoint.
    • Avoiding what is harmful to our relationship with God. Deliberate sin blinds us.
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