Sunday, April 29, 2012

I AM the gate

4th Sunday in Easter Cycle B 2012 – 

The stone rejected by the builders has become the corner stone.  In life we sometimes miss the bus.  Last week I asked the question of where on your Easter journey were you.  Did you make it to the empty tomb, the upper room, the sea shore or the road to Emmaus?  Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, reinforces our likelihood to miss our chance at a life changing opportunity now and then.  But the message is that it is ok if this happens. 
Have you ever wondered what the builders were building when that stone got rejected?  Maybe a temple, or a marketplace.  Maybe a home or a government building.  That stone could have been one in a thousand pieces of stone in one of those buildings, but it was cast aside.  It missed its opportunity.  It was deemed not of use.  But a short time later, it was rediscovered and it became the foundation for a new creation, that would support thousands of other stones.  It took a place of glory. Our Gospel reading today gives us one of the famous “I AM” statements of Jesus.  I AM the good shepherd.  Though we don’t hear it today, it is paired with another I AM statement in the few verses before.  An I AM statement that is sort of rejected like the stone:  “So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.   I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.  I am the good shepherd” (John 10:7-11).
“I AM the gate for the sheep.”  You will notice in the Church’s liturgical year that we don’t have Gate for the Sheep Sunday.  But maybe we should.  When it came to protecting sheep, there was the shepherd and there was the gate.  The sheep could remain safe by being in a fenced in, gated location.  Or, they could be safe by having a shepherd willing to chase of predators. 
In Jesus, we have both.  As we are reminded in the Easter Season, we enter through the gate of baptism into the life of Christ and his Church.  Then, we listen for and follow the voice of that shepherd.  Without the gate to pass through, we never reach the shepherd.  Without the gate, there would always be anxiety about the threats we face in the world.  It is similar to locking the door to your home at night.  We hold a treasure in our hearts, and we want to protect that sacred space.
The imagery of the Good Shepherd is hard to ignore though.  There is always something very comforting in the idea that we could stray from the flock and someone is going to notice.  Someone is going to come after us and not only bring us back, but carry us back with haste.  In the First Letter from St. John today we are told the following and I think it fills out our understanding of the Good Shepherd story:  “We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). 
Being picked up by the Good Shepherd carries with it a lesson.  It is not a free ride.  In fact, the Shepherd may have to lay down his life for his sheep.  As we are told in St. John’s letter, after we experience this, we shall be like him, for we have seen him as he is.
The Easter season is all about seeing Jesus as he is.  Alive.  Glorified.  At Peace.  Joyful.  I think this is why Good Shepherd Sunday is also a day for the promotion of vocations.  A vocation is quite simply a call that we have all received and I can tell you what your vocation is right now and save you years of discernment.  Ready?  All Christians are called to insert love into the world.  Period.  The end.  The manor in which you do this can be very varied, from marriage to priesthood, religious life to single living.  The key is that when you wake up in the morning and you recognize where and who you are, you are putting yourself in the position to see Jesus as he is, so you shall be like him.
Over the course of the past year, we have done many things.  Most we have done before, some we have not.  As we conclude this semester and Academic Year, we need to be thankful for all these things and like a shepherd collect them in our mind to do so.  Whether it was a walk in Mine’s Falls, a rainy trip to a corn maze, an overrun Foundations Retreat, a fire place in the Campus Ministry Lounge, over 300 Thanksgiving Basket donations, a Spring Break Trip to Camden, NJ, the Inauguration of our New President, the anticipation of University status, bowling with Jesus, serving soup, a candle light mass, Brother Mickey McGrath’s artful healing, or any other number of one off experiences of prayer or community, we are grateful for all of these chances we had to be like God, and to see him.  And if we missed these chances, if we were the stone rejected, we know that all these and more will be happening next year to give us the same and the new chance to experience an Easter blessing.  Blessed be God forever.

Acts 4:8-12Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 291 Jn 3:1-2Jn 10:11-18

Friday, April 20, 2012

Easter Joy: The Union of Glory and Peace

3rd Sunday in Easter Cycle B 2012 –

Incredulous for joy.  This phrase is the reason that Easter is the longest season of celebration in the Church liturgical year.  Let’s recap the some of the things that happened in the few days following the Resurrection.  First, we are given an empty tomb then an appearance of Jesus in the locked room, then another on the road to Emmaus, then again in a locked room and then finally on the shore of the sea with Peter.  In all of these instances, the disciples have a new encounter and level of intimacy with Jesus.  First his body is missing from the tomb.  Not only did Jesus die, but now they don’t even have a way to memorialize him.  Then he appears to them and they lay eyes on him.  Jesus allows them to come so close to him they could experience his scent again and touch his hands, his feet and his side so they can feel his flesh and living body.  Jesus walks with them to Emmaus and opens their minds to the scriptures.  Jesus eats fish and breaks bread with them and sparks a taste for belief in their hearts.  Finally, Jesus enters the heart of his church by Peter’s affirmation that ‘Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’ During these 40 days of Easter and 10 days of preparation for Pentecost, Jesus slowly reintroduces all the senses of his disciples to his risen presence; their sight, scent, touch, taste, hearing, and finally their minds and hearts. 
I think for most Catholics, the death of Jesus is very fresh.  More than other Christians, we emphasize this aspect of the story we have been instructed to tell.  But we have also been instructed to live the Easter truth.  Just as we limited our senses during Lent through fasting and abstinence, prayer and almsgiving, now we need to be reintroduced to the fullness of life that is promised in the Resurrection.
Take a moment now and think about where you are on your Easter journey.  Did you make it to the empty tomb?  Have you placed your eyes on Jesus or your hand in his hand?  Have you heard his word and opened your mind to its movement in your life?  Have you confessed your love and welcomed his challenge to serve in your heart?
Incredulous for joy.  The disciples were and we still are incredulous for joy. Mistrusting.  Disbeliefing.  Sceptical. Unwilling.  Those are all synonyms for incredulous.  Just like the disciples, we are being led through a never before conceived journey by a man who was dead.  Disbelief is only rational in that circumstance.
When I consider the concept of joy, I always think of Christmas.  Joy to the world, the Lord has come; Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.  Now some of you probably think I just relate everything to Christmas, and you may be right, but this one is actually legitimate. 
I think of joy as the coexistence of glory and peace.  God’s Glory is an aw-inspiring and terrifying thing.  Peace is finding the right fit, coming to rest, being settled in one’s choices and convictions.  When you combine something that is terrifying and also just feels right, you have joy.
Think of the Bruins winning the Stanley cup last year.  They are at the height of their sport and given an enormous parade to glorify their achievement.  The players could all rest with the peace of mind that they did it, they won.  It was a contagious feeling of joy. 
During the Easter season, and the first few encounters of Jesus with his disciples, we see the glory of God in the fact that a man, who said he was God, and did things to prove it, and then died, is now standing before them.  Jaw-dropping disbelief and terrify display of glory; that would be my reaction.  As doubting Thomas exclaimed to Jesus: “My Lord and My God.”  And as Peter tells us today in the Acts of the Apostles:The God of Abraham, [the God] of Isaac, and [the God] of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus” (3:13).  In the face of all this glory, what is the first thing Jesus says to his disciples?  “Peace be with you.” Jesus repeatedly offers them peace. Jesus wants them to see that their belief in him and their conviction to follow him are choices they can rest in and glory in. Jesus wants the glory they are witnesses of to feel right, so they can become bearers of peace from the overflowing joy of their experience.  Jesus wants this to be “truly perfected in us” (1 John 2:5).  The way Jesus eases his disciples into his Resurrection and offers them peace, is such a compassionate, temperate and understanding outreach.
Now, we don’t have the freshness of these events, so how do we process all of this?  How do we transition?  The liturgy of the Church tries to help us experience this Resurrection.  From the bleak days of Lent through the solemn days of Holy Week culminating in the glorious light of the Easter Vigil and Easter celebrations of peace triumphing over violence and death, the Church is inviting us to embrace the sacramental life that renews our senses and the Church is inviting us to engage our Catholic imagination that revels in the joy that is produced by the coexistence of glory and peace. 
In other words, go nuts with baskets of eggs and chocolate bunnies!  Have ham and turkey.  Indulge those things you had sacrificed over lent.  But allow your senses to experience these things anew.  Return to the sacraments of the Church like a child.  Confess your sins and leave them behind you.  Receive Holy Communion like never before saying with Thomas, My Lord and My God.  Serve your neighbor and smile at a stranger and realize that just as Jesus can enter into a locked room and offer peace, he can also enter the hearts of those you share love with.
The glory of Easter is unbelievable. The peace of Easter is a gift.  If you ever wonder why they used the word incredulous, just remember it is because of the union between glory and peace. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  And let us pray that the joy of Easter will be what we share.  Blessed be God forever.

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48