10 May 2009 5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9, 26-31; Psalm 22; 1 John 3, 18-24; John 15, 1-8
There is always a need for us to connect. To be part of someone else’s life. To be a member of a family, a group of friends, or a greater social network. Even the most withdrawn and recluse among the members of humanity cannot be but be connected to someone. Our identities are always in relation to. Our surnames tell us where we belong; what greater family are we affiliated to. The color Blue reminds us that we are Ateneans; the color Maroon that we are from UP; the color Green that we are from La Salle. And to some, their tattoos tell us who owns their heart. The need to connect is the principle behind all social networks, from the primitive Friendster, to Multiply, mySpace, Facebook, Plurk and to the growing popularity of Twitter. Everyone is in search of a long lost friend, a classmate whom you last saw when you graduated from grade school, an ex whom you have never said formally goodbye to. Sometimes these social networks offer a way for us to have a closure in our lives: to see for the last time what happened to that girl or boy who once occupied majority of our cellphone inbox. And why do we yearn to be always in relation to? It is because we are all connected; it is said that when God created us, He gave us a piece of His heart. Only when we become connected with each other that the heart of God becomes whole again.
This is what Jesus meant when we said that He is the Vine and we are the branches. He is the vine whom all of us are connected; He is God’s heart that cannot be whole unless the arteries and veins of our individual hearts connect to His. And whenever we disconnect and distance ourselves from God we feel alienated and lonely. To be alienated is to be estranged and to be isolated. We do not feel that we belong to someone, to a group of people, or to God. Alienated is what Saul first felt when he was converted and arrived in Jerusalem, the disciples there were afraid of him not believing that he was already a disciple. To be lonely means to be without company. When we are lonely, we miss someone who has been with us physically. And we miss only those who have some connection to us. That is why, even with roommates or in a crowd, we can feel lonely especially if they are not our friends.
But the thing is, we choose to be lonely; when we shouldn’t be. Our nature wants to be independent, but independence does not mean to cut off ALL of our ties. It means that we are able to function well, even without their physical presence. It means that we have a sufficient love for ourselves first, so that we are able to love another “as we love ourselves.” Independence does not mean that we don’t need anyone and by extension, we don’t need God. It is not about being autonomous; it is about having a relationship without being inordinately attached. It is being with someone without being obsessive, compulsive and possessively suffocating. It is about not expecting another person to fulfill our infinite need to be with them; because our infinite need cannot be fulfilled by finite people. Since it is infinite, it can only be filled by God who is eternal. To people who are mature enough and appropriately independent, they can spend time alone without being too needy or without struggling to impulsively text someone to fill up the emptiness in their hearts. In their “me-time” they allow God to fill it up and to accompany them. And thus, those who are redeemed of their loneliness move to the mature state called “solitude”. They are in solitude when they are able to connect with God who fills their infinite need to be with someone; it is to palpably feel belonging to God. As we all say in Facebook: our relationship with God shouldn’t be complicated.
What makes things worse is that we would rather be in a relationship that is volatile and changing. The boyfriend who is not so sure about what he feels; the demanding girlfriend who gets into your studies; the barkada whose measure of friendship is the number of times you’ve been with them --- and if you don’t go with them even when there is a reason, they will ostracize you. The relationship we need are the ones that stays forever. That distinguishes the best friend from a friend in a stage in life. The best friend does not withdraw their love as we move on. The family does not change until we die. The Vine will remain forever. Jose Rizal said, “ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” We are to move forward; we have to develop; we have to be on our pilgrim way to perfection. But we do not have to uproot ourselves from the trunk of our family tree. We do not have to cut ourselves off from the Vine. We cannot just erase where we come from. If we do, we will literally die. Don’t we feel like dying when we are alone?