Fifth Sunday in Easter: Words and Deeds


ACTS 9:26-31; PS 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-321 JN 3:18-24; JN 15:1-8

As we continue through Easter, we move deeper into the risen Christ’s presence in his Church.  This week’s reading have an interesting back-and-forth between words and deeds.

We are moving towards Ordinary Time, toward the time after the Ascension: the life of the Church once Christ has gone to heaven.  How does Christ continue to live in his Church?  We will find, as Easter launches us into Ordinary Time, that Christ dwells in his Church especially through his words.


Our meditation begins with our reading from John’s First Letter.  It begins with an opposition between words and deeds: “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

I think we are sometimes tempted to read the same opposition into Jesus: we care about his deeds, not his words.  (It is surely clear by now that a central theme of this blog is the importance of Jesus’s words – all the words of Scripture – and not just our meditation on pictures.  A word of Scripture is worth a thousand pictures.)

In fact, the reading goes on to emphasize that though we must love more in action than in words, it is his words that cause us to love.  We “do what pleases God,” he says, when “we obey his commandments.”

“And his is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

Now, I have taught and meditated on First John for years, and honestly, it’s not clear me what he means by Christ’s commandments.  I’m certain he thinks that the “new commandment” (that’s an idea John gives us in his Gospel) never contradicts the “old commandments,” the Ten Commandments.   Jesus’s command to love as he loved includes – among many other things – never breaking the Old Law.  But whether John wants us to think about the Old Law or only about the New, I don’t know.

In any case, we must obey the commandment to “love one another” and we must “believe in the name.”  It is his words, about himself and about our neighbor, that transform our deeds.  We must let his words be active in us.


The reading from Acts is remarkable, for Paul/Saul’s most important deeds are his words.  In the reading, he is still notorious for persecuting the Church: “he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him.”

But Paul proves himself to them by words: Barnabas testifies (by words) that “in Damascus Saul had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.”  Then Paul did the same in Jerusalem: “He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.”

For us, the point is that he has to prove his sincerity to them.  That requires more than words, it requires deeds.  But Paul’s most powerful deeds are his words: his willingness to speak out, to witness to Christ.  It’s “words not deeds,” in the sense that he doesn’ft just say, “trust me,” he shows them they can trust him.  But he shows them through the boldness with which he speaks of Jesus.

And his words, again, are rooted in the word he has heard: Barnabas “described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him.”


Our Gospel is about the vine and the vinegrower: “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

But how does he prune us?  By his word: “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.”

This is important: the word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  Consider the commandments: they are important because those words prune our actions, they point out what we don’t see.

This might be what John is talking about in our Epistle: “And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything.”

How do we get past our impressions, our feelings, our fallen, misguided, unjust sense of justice, intemperate sense of temperance, imprudent sense of prudence?  God speaks to us, and his word penetrates our darkness.

His word prunes us, reminds us of the power of what is good, shows us the evil of what is bad.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,” he says in our Gospel, “ask for whatever you wish.”  If his words abide in us, they will show us what to wish for, show us the power of prayer.  But we need to cling to those words.  They are powerful, they are the source of good deeds.

Where is Scripture in your daily life? 

Vatican II on Love of Scripture

The Second Vatican Council worked in various ways to strengthen the Church for the struggles of the modern world. One of its central strategies was to return to a traditional spirituality rooted in reading Scripture. This suffuses the document on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the entire approach of the documents on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and on the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes).

The following quotations, from the concluding section of the document on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) reminds us of the centrality of sacred reading to the tradition – pointing out that this is why translations like the Greek Septuagint and the Vulgate existed in the first place. (Remember, the Vulgate was the central life work of the very St. Jerome who said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.) It also gives a nicely concrete description of lectio divina: put yourself in touch with the sacred text itself!

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOEasy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the Septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones, especially the Latin translation known as the Vulgate.

But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them. . . .

All the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” (St. Augustine) since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy.

The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.

And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying” (St. Ambrose).

-Second Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Dei Verbum

St. John of the Cross on Scripture

john of the crossA frightening thing happened in the modern age. Sometime between 1700 and today – the Council of Trent (1545-63) is certainly not to blame, as anyone who reads it can attest – Catholics got the funny idea that Scripture is a Protestant thing.

Just as one little example, I offer St. John of the Cross’s opening to The Ascent of Mount Carmel, the first part of his two-part writing on “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It is a nice example, because, at first glance, John of the Cross seems so very experiential. Well, that isn’t how he thought of his own work:

In order to say a little about this dark night, I shall trust neither to experience nor to knowledge, since both may fail and deceive; but, while not omitting to make such use as I can of these two things, I shall avail myself, in all that, with the Divine favour, I have to say, or at the least, in that which is most important and dark to the understanding, of Divine Scripture; for, if we guide ourselves by this, we shall be unable to stray, since He Who speaks therein is the Holy Spirit.

And if aught I stray, whether through my imperfect understanding of that which is said in it or of matters uncollected with it, it is not my intention to depart from the sound sense and doctrine of our Holy Mother the Catholic Church; for in such a case I submit and resign myself wholly, not only to her command, but to whatever better judgment she may pronounce concerning it.

Cassian on Scripture

“When some of the brothers, then, were marveling at the remarkable clarity of his knowledge and were asking him about certain interpretations of Scripture, he said to them: ‘A monk who desires to attain to a knowledge of Scripture should never toil over the works of the commentators. Instead he should direct the full effort of his mind and the attentiveness of his heart toward the cleansing of his fleshly vices. As soon as these have been driven out and the veil of the passions has been lifted, the eyes of his heart will naturally contemplate the mysteries of Scripture, since it was not in order to be unknown and obscure that they were delivered to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit: rather they were made obscure by our vices, when the veil of our sinfulness clouds over the eyes of our heart. Once these latter have been restored to their natural healthfulness, the very reading of Holy Scripture—even by itself—will be more than sufficient for the contemplation of true knowledge, and they will not stand in need of the teachings of the commentators, just as fleshly eyes do not need anyone’s instructions in order to see so long as they are untouched by inflammation or by the darkness of blindness. Such great differences and errors have arisen among them because many, paying no heed to the cleansing of their minds, have jumped into interpreting them and, devising opinions that are at odds with both the faith and themselves on account of the dullness and impurity of their hearts, have been unable to grasp the light of truth.”

-John Cassian, The Institutes, Book Five, chapter 34. (c. 420)