For Sunday, April 17, 2016, 4th Sunday of Easter
Which child are you? It is that time of the year: Easter comes; the weather in the Northern Hemisphere begins to warm; school children anticipate summer vacation; families gather. Reunions and graduations, vacations and weddings—whatever the occasion, families and friends anticipate time together for months as they orchestrate arrivals, coordinate accommodations, and plan meals with one another. Family recipes are passed on to new generations; as new members join the family, they bring their traditions and tastes with them. Children bring hope, even as older members experience physical decline.
With the gatherings, come the stories. Grandchildren may roll their eyes as they hear the story of their grandparents’ meeting or the arrival of the first immigrant ancestors. A few children sneak away when the storytelling begins, finding the retelling of old stories tedious and boring. Yet most listen, and in time, they share the stories with their children, passing on the shared history as though the stories were their own. Truly, the stories are theirs, like the flesh and blood that they share, from generation to generation. In the best of times, the gathering draws members closer to one another, extending their bond beyond time and the physical limitation of earthly life through the power of memory and shared story. Occasionally, a difficult circumstance, disagreement, or misunderstanding separates family members from one another. Even though the stories are painful, they also have the potential to bring healing, as members share their memories and the hope of reconciliation.
While every celebration of the Eucharist includes a telling of the story of God’s family, this is true in a particular way during the Easter season. We hear the stories of the early Christian communities and how the Gospel was shared from town to town, in synagogues and among the Gentiles. We learn how some people heard and believed, while others refused to do so. They turned a deaf ear to the story and rejected the messengers, sometimes “with violent abuse,” as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles.
At times, we are like the children who patiently listen, even if we don’t fully comprehend what we are told. It is easy to hear the story of the early Christian communities and think to ourselves, “If I heard Peter or Paul speak, I would believe. I would not be one who refused to listen to the message of the risen Christ!” Yet, do we really hear the message and take it to heart, as though we are hearing the story of our family? Because that is what happens each time we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word—we hear the story of our family of faith, including times of division and disagreement as well as moments of joy, peace, and mercy.
Jesus tells us that the sheep hear his voice and follow him, the Good Shepherd. Again, we hear this Gospel story and nod in assent. Surely, we think, we want to be the sheep that hears and follows. But do we hear the voice of the Lord and follow? Do we take our relationship with Jesus and our faith, lived out as Catholic Christians, to heart in such a way that we act as Christ’s body in our daily interactions with others? This week, Pope Francis gave the Church his pastoral exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In it, he says, “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others” (322). Not only, then, are we to be shepherded by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are called to be good shepherds ourselves, in our families, among friends, in our faith community. Do we live this way? Do we listen, learn, and follow as faith-filled children of God, or do we turn a deaf ear, like the child at the family gathering who sneaks away? Which child are you?
Good Shepherd, Risen Lord,
you call us to listen to your voice
and to follow you.
Help us to do this with open hearts,
to grow in your love and mercy
and to share that love and mercy.
In this Easter season, form us as people of joy,
certain that your love conquers death.
For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Now and forever. Amen.