Happy Good Shepard Sunday! This is a week in which we are reminded just how blessed we are from a God who guides and walks with us. In our second reading from St. Peter, we are told “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.” And I know all of us are suffering as we go through this pandemic. We are separated from our loved ones, we are going stir crazy confined to our homes, we are missing being able to attend Masses and receiving the Eucharist. This is also I time that we need to unite as a Church community and support one another. Phone calls, getting groceries or medicine for those most vulnerable, or sending a card to someone who might need their day brightened.
Our Gospel passage from John tells us the story of a Shephard protecting his sheep that have been entrusted to him. Being the One who will watch over, guide and shield/defend against harm. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Jesus as the “gate” is an interesting image. And it “works” as an image in two obvious ways. First, a gate provides security for those within the enclosure. It keeps them safe. It keeps them together. It keeps them sheltered and protected. And there are times when that is desperately needed, specially times like we are in now with the corona virus. And this wasn’t just for animals, but for us too, the times when our God needs to be our refuge, our place in which to rest and feel secure. But not all the time. Not if there is something we need outside the fence. Not if there is something beautiful and meaningful and life-giving on the other side of the wall. Secondly, in those cases, we need a gate, an opening to green pastures, an opening to a life of true freedom ... a life free from everything that holds us back from the incredible life that God wants for each of us ... the life won for us through the saving acts of Jesus.
If you have a fenced-in yard you know that going through the gate isn’t the ONLY way out of the yard. Over the fence, under the fence, up a tree, off the roof ... there ARE other ways one might go from inside to outside, from confinement to freedom, from barren ground to green pastures. And the Church of today no longer speaks in strict or narrow terms about salvation. The Second Vatican Council addressed this situation head-on, articulating the Church’s belief that we can never put any limits on God’s mercy. And so, we would say that the salvation of the world absolutely comes through the saving acts of Jesus, our God who died for all and for all time ... whether we are aware of it or not, whether we believe it or not. And believing in that deep truth is a complete game-changer, a life-changer, an indispensable source of joy and peace and meaning of life to the fullest. What a God we have!
And so the gate is there not to LIMIT who comes and goes, but to provide the easiest access, the best path. To provide the best way for us to embrace the new life won for us by Jesus, provide an avenue to life-giving green pastures which begin in this life and continue into eternity. And so, if we see salvation in a very narrow sense, if we see following Jesus as something we “have” to do or are “obligated” to do otherwise we are in serious trouble, we will really never be able to live our lives full of joy and meaning and goodness and beauty. Our faith will become a chore, a burden, something we only do begrudgingly or out of misguided or exaggerated fear. But if we trust that God is not looking for ways to punish us or pounce on us, but rather simply wants to love us, save us, redeem us, lead us to the greenest pastures imaginable, then listening to his voice and walking through the gate is all we will ever want to do.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, don’t allow this current situation to get you down. Spend time with your Shepard, allow him to shed his infinite grace upon your life. Allow him to sooth and calm you. Allow him to do what he does best, LOVE you.
Have a blessed week and know we are all here if you should need anything. I’ve been lighting a candle each week for all of you!