Sunday May 11th: Sunday of the Fourth Week of Easter Year A
St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
Acts 2: 14A,36-41: PS 23:1-2A,3B-4, 5, 6: 1 Pt 2:20B-25: Jn 10:1-10.
When people hear that I have 5 brothers and 5 sisters they often tell me that my mom must be a saint. While they are trying to complement my mom, I selfishly take it as a complement directed to me because I know one of my greatest achievements to date is making my mom a saint. Enjoying life, as most young people do, I often left my mom with no other option than to drop to her knees and pray. As I think back about growing up I know I frequently accused my mom of being too strict, unpopular, and out of touch with reality. Yet as I grow up, I realize more and more that my mom was not trying to make my life hell but rather she only wanted what was best for me. She wanted me to have life and to have it abundantly.
Like all mothers, Jesus too, wants us to have life and have it abundantly. To teach us how to have life abundantly, Jesus uses the popular parable of sheep with their shepherd. I don’t know if you have ever seen sheep. Growing up in the suburbs I did not see a sheep until I spent 10 weeks in Colombia this summer and was quite surprise by what I saw. Sheep are very simple animals, they graze the fields following the commands of their shepherd. They wander without a care in the world because they know they have the protection of a shepherd, yet if they are left to themselves they are very vulnerable to attack. Sheep, when under attack, huddle together for self-defense and hope that their shepherd will be able to ward off the attack while they find safety in numbers. For sheep the shepherd is their lifeblood, he provides for their every need to have life.
The Good Shepherd, our Lord, is our lifeblood providing everything we need to have eternal life. He became man, died and rose that we might have life and have it abundantly. Yet, in His infinite wisdom, Jesus knew that after His ascension to the right hand of the Father, we His sheep, would need shepherds to guide and protect us, so after His resurrection and before His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, the Good Shepherd summoned St. Peter and 3 times asked him “Peter do you love me?” Each time St. Peter responded yes, and our Lord commanded him to “feed my sheep.” In commanding St. Peter to “feed his sheep” the Good Shepherd, left us, His sheep, a shepherd in St. Peter, the Rock on which the Church was built. The Church, which was founded by Christ on St. Peter, still feeds us today through the Holy Eucharist, the Word of God contained in Sacred Scriptures and the words of Bishops in union with the Pope and their coworkers the priests.
If you are anything like me, we have a tendency to make your relationship with God too complex. Our faith can, at times, unnecessarily become a source of stress in our lives. If we simply stay in the Church, following Her lead in living out true Christian lives we can be assured of having a proper relationship with God and hold out hope for our salvation. While it is easy to say all we have to do to live a life of faith is to stay in the Church, we know that there are wolves prowling around who are trying to pull us from the safety of the pen of the Church. For some of us these wolves may be friends who scorn us for our faith, for others of us it may be drugs or alcohol, others marital or relationship problems, maybe for some of us it is a struggle with the pain of tragedy, for some others maybe material poverty or for others maybe it is a dislike or lack of understanding of certain controversial Church teachings. For some of us, maybe God seems far away and for others of us he may feel very close. Regardless of whatever or whoever it may be that is trying to pluck us away from the safety of the Church we need to come together with the other sheep present here in the Church and seek protection and comfort in the safety of the Good Shepherd. While the temptation may be to run away, as sheep we will only find shelter here in this community with Fr. Steve who has been called here to be our shepherd, to guide us in the safety of the Church founded by Christ himself. When a sheep runs away from the pack, the wolf goes after him because he is any easy target. Rather than run away we need to huddle together for safety.
The Church is our mother. Just as mothers often have to put unpopular limits on their children and have to teach them truths that are unpopular, so too the Church must often speak truths that are unpopular and call us to a life that will not always be easy. Yet even when we don’t see it, like all mothers, Mother Church only challenges us in the ways She does because like our own mothers She knows it will lead us to life and to having it abundantly.
If we are honest with ourselves no one here would say being a mother is easy, nor is living as a son or daughter always easy. Likewise living in the Church can be hard, but nothing worth having comes easy. St. Peter reminds us in today’s second reading that we are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who suffered greatly that we might have life and have it abundantly. Like Christ we must be patient in enduring our trials finding strength in the Church Christ left us for our protection.
Yet Christ did not come just for us. No Christ came to save all people. We all know that there are countless others out in the streets near this Church and near our homes who need to hear the message of Christ. Christ needs your hands, Christ needs your feet, Christ needs your mouths, Christ needs your lives to spread the message of His love.
Like most of you I love my mother and am not afraid to tell the world how great she is. Just as I am not afraid to tell the world how great she is I am also the first to defend her if she comes under attack. If we love our biological mothers enough to tell the world how much we love them and are ready to defend them at any cost shouldn’t we also desire to express our love of Mother Church and to defend Her whenever necessary? Do you take the opportunity to tell the world of your love of the Church? Do you stand up and defend your Mother, the Church, when others attack Her?
Our Lord endured the great trials of the cross, so that we, His sheep who had gone astray, might be brought back to safety under His protection in the Church. While we can at times feel that we have sinned too greatly to be a part of the Church or we are not worthy of being a member of the Church, we must remember that our Lord is the Good Shepherd who left the 99 other sheep to find the 1 lost sheep, He is the Father who threw a banquet upon the return of His lost Son. Brothers and Sisters, as Pope Francis often reminds us “the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital of sinners.” All of us here are sinners in need of the healing of the Good Shepherd. As a child when you were hurt or in danger did you not run back to the safety of your Mother? Why not run back to the safety of your Mother, the Church.
As Americans we often like to think we can do everything ourselves, but the reality is I can’t get myself to heaven on my own, only Christ can lead us to heaven. We need the protection and guidance of a shepherd, we cannot do it alone. We need to root our lives in Holy Mass on Sunday and living as a member of this particular Church.
While we are blessed to have been brought into the protection of our Mother, the Church, there are many people out there who do not know the motherly love of the Church. We must go out and share the loving message of Christ’s resurrection and his gift of our Mother the Church. People are searching everywhere in our world for happiness, but we know they will ultimately only find that happiness in Christ. Just as someone other than ourselves, whether that be our parents, a friend, or someone else, lead us to the safety of the Good Shepherd and Mother Church, we too must lead others to that same safety, for the more sheep we have gathered together here, the stronger each of us will be as individuals.
You have the power to bring others to Christ so that He can lead them to Eternal Life. Just as Christ gave St. Peter and the apostles the grace to convert about 3000 people in one day, He too, will give you the grace to convert countless people and lead them to the safety of the Shepherd. Do our lives reflect the beauty of the faith we profess? Do our lives reflect the innocence of the lamb that we are? Have we taken the time to invite someone to come experience the love of the Good Shepherd by inviting them to be present here amongst the other lambs?
My brothers and sisters find your safety in this Church. Bring others to the protection of Holy Mother Church. Come to Holy Mother Church and have life and have it abundantly.