Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stepping Into The Mystery

(4th Sunday of Easter, A)

One of my favorite writings of St. Francis of Assisi is the letter he wrote to Brother Leo. Leo wanted advice from Francis about following the Lord. Francis wrote to him simply, “In whatever way it seems best to you to please the Lord God and follow his footprint and his poverty, do this with the blessing of the Lord God and my obedience.”

This is a sense of God with which we are familiar: the God who calls us that we might follow him into the new and risen life he offers. This is Jesus the Good Shepherd. This fourth Sunday of Easter we call “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The Good Shepherd is, after all, one of the most beautiful and beloved titles and images of the Risen Lord. Jesus is the shepherd of his people, gently calling us, leading us, and bringing us to a place of spiritual safety and refreshment. Good Shepherd Sunday has also become a privileged time to pray for vocations to consecrated life and the sacred ministry, that God would raise up from among us shepherds to care for us and lead us in his ways.

But if we pay attention to what we hear in John’s gospel today, we notice right away that Jesus goes beyond simply calling himself the Good Shepherd. He not only refers to himself as the shepherd, but as the Gate for the sheep! What can this mean, to say that Jesus is a gate?

In some way we are meant to step through Jesus Christ. As he says, “I am the Way.” Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ is a Presence among us that we are meant to step into and through. St. Peter says as much in a different way in the second reading today: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”

Far, far too often we treat our faith like a “spectator sport.” We think of the mysteries of our Lord’s birth, death, and Resurrection as something we observe. Perhaps we observe with deep contemplation or great gratitude, but to observe is only the very beginning of worship. Gathering for the Eucharist is not like going to the movies! Jesus Christ is not just someone we admire for the great things he did for us. We are to go further and step into these mysteries ourselves.

That’s the beauty of our sharing in Holy Communion. Our flesh and blood, our very lives and humanity become one with the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. In this way, if we only consent to it, all of our sufferings and struggles and doubts are taken up into the Lord’s own Passion. Best of all, the dying that we will all have to pass through at the end of our time in this world is taken up into the Lord’s own death on the Cross. That’s our hope. That’s why our Communion in this Eucharist is God’s pledge of our Resurrection. By uniting ourselves to the Body of Christ that suffered and died for us, our humanity is also taken up into his Resurrection, into Jesus’ victory over the finality of death.

Again, as Peter says, Jesus leaves us an “example,” that we might “follow in his footsteps.” We are to follow the example of Jesus’ own life, and place our feet on the path of the pattern he left for us. This will be different for each of us, as different members of the Body of Christ. For some it will be the “leap to faith” in prayer and contemplation. For others it will be the work of continuing Jesus’ ministry of teaching or leadership. For others it will be the imitation of God in providing quiet and gentle care to people in need. But whatever we are called to be, each of us has to seek how we are to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. Like Brother Leo, each of us has to seek each day how to put our feet into the Lord’s footprint, to step into the new Reality that is the risen humanity of Christ.

1 comment:

tara said...

great homily, again, Fr. Charles! THANK YOU! since i won't see you this coming saturday, have a safe and blessed trip to st. patrick's cathedral. i will be praying for you. i will also be praying for all of you (Capuchins) while you are at your chapter. PEACE!