A wonderful part of being Catholic is that we celebrate Easter as an entire season for 50 days. Before I became Catholic ten years ago, Easter was just a day. The Protestant church I was part of did celebrate Lent, and actually did Lent very well for 40 days (plus Sundays) with additional prayer services and choral music. Then Easter came and went all in one day. I love that Easter is longer than Lent on the liturgical calendar, and that Each Sunday of the Easter season has its own special meaning related to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the gospels we read how various people encountered a risen Jesus in different ways. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark Jesus first appeared to the women, followed by the eleven disciples. In Luke he appears to some followers on the road to Emmaus and later breaks bread with them in a post-Resurrection Eucharist. In John’s gospel we have the scene where a disciple with doubts, Thomas, will only believe if he sees and touches the wounds of Jesus. It really is marvelous how Jesus encounters everyone differently. He meets us where we are at, and he is always ready to be close to us any time we need him.
This Sunday is the fourth Sunday in the Easter Season, and the readings focus on God as a shepherd. The 23rd Psalm is read (sung) again as it was five weeks ago during Lent. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (shall lack nothing)”. The gospel reading, John 10: 1-10, isn’t a resurrection encounter, but rather a passage read within the context of Jesus’ resurrection. Have you ever seen an actual shepherd? I do not ever recall ever actually seeing one in person. It has only been in movies, art, and church pageants that I have ever seen anything representing a shepherd. The word sheep appears over 200 times in the Bible, and is the most referenced animal. In Jesus' time shepherds and sheep were a very common thing. People could relate easily to the reference. Not so much today, except in art, films, television, and the perennial Christmas pageant.
What do you think of when you hear the word shepherd? A good shepherd knows each and every sheep in his flock by name (John 10:3). He knows each one’s personality and quirks. Interestingly, in the gospel reading, Jesus does not refer to himself as the Shepherd, but the gate. Jesus is the TRUTH. As Christians we should want to follow that truth. It is so easy to find untruths in the world, there are so many lies that surround us. I won’t dwell on that here, because we as followers of Jesus, his sheep, believe in the power of his resurrection and the truth that he joyfully brings to each one of us.
Each one of us, myself included, has at some point believed that we can control every aspect of our lives, that we can control, or at least prepare, for almost everything that comes our way. Western society has placed much emphasis on the industriousness of the individual, that no one can get in my way. I recently overheard on television someone saying something along the lines of “be the author of your own truth”. In all honestly I don’t even know where to begin in deconstructing all the fallacies of that statement. How does that type of thinking fit within the context of what Jesus is teaching us? I love that God gives us the freedom to make our own choices. That truly is a wonderful gift. I love that God has given me the gift of my own individuality and freedom. It is when we abuse that freedom that we actually become shackled to our own confines of our own forms of relativism. Our “personal truths” become too much of a burden to bear. Why begin to ask why the world doesn’t see everything the way that I do. Then sadness, bitterness, and even anger begin to take over. The good news, the greatest news, is that there is so much freedom in simply letting go. Hand everything over to God. Let God be your shepherd.
Almost two years, at the beginning of June, my father-in-law and grandmother died within four days of one another. As much as my wife and I planned and prepared for these imminent losses, we were not prepared that their deaths would occur so closely. This was something for which we mentally and practically prepared. We knew that we would eventually have to re-arrange our lives and work schedules around these family losses, but that was something that was somewhat within our control. The morning my father-in-law died we called the funeral director, as we had planned, and he showed up immediately to meet with my wife and her brother. It all seemed to work very efficiently. We were sad about my father-in-law, but were relieved that he was no longer suffering. A few days later, my grandmother in Texas died and I had to leave my wife to settle things in Connecticut without me so that I could be with my family down south. When I returned we still felt grief, but we seemingly regained control of our lives and carried on. Then exactly four weeks after my father-in-law died, my brother-in-law, the one who met with the funeral director earlier that month, died in a motorcycle accident. Needless to say we were devastated. As much as we believed we were in control of our own lives and schedules, as much planning and preparation we believed we could make, we had no choice but to hand it all over to God. My brother-in-law’s last journal entry was the lyrics to a Contemporary Christian song called “We Believe” by a group called Newsboys. We sang this song at his funeral and it served as the Creed for the service. All three of our family members who died were in very different walks of faith. I can see how God as shepherd led each of them as individuals to be faithful in their own unique ways, and we know that we will one day see them again. This experience led me to put my trust in God more than ever. He is my shepherd, and I let him do with me as he wills.
The whole world now is basically functioning without knowing what the future will look like. There is so much uncertainty. This was something for which many of us, myself included, were unprepared. We have had to make many adjustments to our personal and family schedules and priorities. Thankfully, we have a loving God who will shepherd us through this. We have a risen Jesus who is there to hear our prayers. Spend some time with Jesus by reading scripture. If there was ever a time to let go and put your trust in God, it is now. Allow God to be your shepherd. Let us pray that the current situation with the coronavirus ends soon, and that we can celebrate in the Eucharist in person. Until then we hope to “see” you at Mass on YouTube. Pray for our healthcare providers and those who help keep our infrastructure running. Pray for our pastor, Fr. Butler, and all those who continue to provide another essential...Mass as it is live streamed each Saturday at 4:00 PM. Lastly, continue to pray for those who are ill, and those who have lost loved ones.
If any of you have been affected by the current situation please do not hesitate to reach out to the staff at St. Ed’s. We are here for you and we continue to pray for you. Each one of you is loved by God. I pray that everyone stays healthy and safe. May the peace and love of God be with each and every one of you this Easter season.
Alleluia! Jesus Christ is Risen!