In this homily, Father Richard illustrates our inherent union with God—and the small self that keeps us separate.
We go through our lives, our years on this earth, thinking of ourselves as separate. That sense of separateness basically causes every stupid, sinful, silly thing we ever do. The little, separate self takes offense when people don’t show us proper respect. The separate self lies and steals and does unkind things to other people. When we’re separate, everything becomes about protecting and defending ourselves. It can consume our lives.
One word for overcoming that false sense of separateness, that illusory self, is heaven, and, quite frankly, that is what death offers us. It is simply returning to the Source from which we came, where all things are One. The whole gospel message is radical union with God, with neighbor, and even with ourselves. I think that’s why so many of us are drawn to church each week—to receive communion and to eventually, hopefully, realize that we are in communion.
Probably no gospel story says this more clearly and forthrightly than the parable of the vine and the branches (John 15:1–10). Jesus says, “I’m the vine, God is the vine grower, and you (we) are the branches.” As long as we remain in that relationship, we are in love and in union. Whenever we do anything unloving, at that moment, we’re out of union. Even if it’s just a negative, angry, or judgmental thought, we’re doing that out of a sense of disunion—always! And Jesus is very clear. He says that state is useless. Once the branch is cut off from the vine, we might as well throw it into the fire because it’s not going to bear any fruit. He’s not making a threat. He’s just talking practically, as if he were the vineyard owner.
Now, that’s a pretty strong statement about us and the choices we make from that unnecessary state of separateness. We have never been separate from God except in our thoughts, but our thoughts don’t make it true! Nor are we separate from anyone else. Whatever separates us from one another—nationality, religion, ethnicity, economics, language—those are all just accidentals that will all pass away. We are One in God, with Christ and with one another. “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). If only we could live that way every hour!
We all pull back into ourselves. We pout and complain and resent and fear. That’s what the little self does. The little self, the branch cut off from the vine, can do nothing according to this gospel. So Jesus says, “Remain in me as I remain in you” (John 15:4). The promise is constant from God’s side. The only question is from our side. Do we choose to live in that union? Every time we do something with respect, with love, with sympathy, with compassion, with caring, with service, we are operating in union.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Illusion of a Separate Self,” homily, May 6, 2012.
Explore Further. . .
- Listen to this homily from Richard on “being connected over being correct.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 05 (detail), United States, photograph, used with permission. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 12 (detail), United States, photograph, used with permission. NASA, Galaxy NGC 4013 (detail), 2020, United States, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Infinitesimal. Massive. Incomprehensibly expansive. It is all connected: everything is a part of the whole, seen or unseen. Nothing stands alone.
Story from Our Community:
In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for oneness in God opens our hearts to be one with others, to be free to love others even as we are loved. For those used to being on top to step down into equality and those who have been pressed down to step up into fullness. The hurting world set right, the broken mended, the wounded healed, the empty filled, and creation renewed and at peace in oneness. All will know the freedom that comes in being one with the one, perfectly present in the presence, made whole in the whole, at peace in love, atrest in the arms of God together. —Clayton C.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.