May 12, 2019 - 4th Sunday of Easter

A common theme in the gospel stories that tell of the time immediately following the resurrection of Jesus is that of fear.  The disciples were afraid in the immediate aftermath of the resurrection.  The women were afraid when they met the angels who announced to them that Jesus was no longer in the tomb.  The twelve locked themselves away in a place where they locked the doors because of their fears. That same fear, it would seem, prevented them from recognizing the Risen Lord among them.

This Sunday, the Fourth of our Easter Season, is traditionally known as “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  We are reminded - lest we ever forget - that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and one of the responsibilities of the Shepherd is to stand with the sheep in the face of fear:  “The sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.”  The gospel writers were all at pains, each in their own way, to remind us that while fear may have a claim on our lives, the voice of Jesus brings a security and a peace like none other.  Jesus challenges everyone to refuse to allow fear to dominate our lives.  He pushes Peter beyond his fears (of his past, of his weakness, of his insecurities) and instead invites him to love as he himself was loved by Jesus.  He pushes the religious authorities of his own time to move beyond their fears and to instead open themselves up to the possibility that the God of their ancestors was a God of loving mercy and forgiveness, rather than to throw stones at sinners. But letting go of rocks we have tightly clenched in our fists isn’t always easy.  Fear can all too easily become a comfortable companion in our lives.  

When I think about fearlessness and those who model for me a life without fear, I can’t help but think of my own mother and my grandmothers.  When I was a child and found myself afraid, either because of a nightmare or circumstance, it was my mother who most often comforted me and alleviated my fears. She taught me to lean into my fears as I grew, and eventually I came to understand fear could be a teacher as well as an opportunity to rise above and move beyond.  My grandmothers told stories of their own lives and the struggles they lived through, and I remember them as women of incredible courage and grit.  They had a strength and a determination for life and for living that refused fear its power and which instead saw them selflessly expressing incredible love for their children, their families and their neighbors throughout their lives.  The truth is, these incredible women in my life were not fearless, but they simply refused to allow fear to limit them.  They denied fear any power over their lives or over the lives of those they cared for.  To counter fear and its fruit - hatred - these women loved, and their love encouraged and empowered their children, their spouses and their friends to rise above whatever challenges life brought our way, and to become better people in ourselves for the experience of it.  And becoming better people is shown in the way we live in the world, always striving to leave it a better place than we found it, to make a contribution of goodness each and every day, to reach out to another and to support, encourage, accompany and lift up a fellow brother or sister who struggles.

If the example of these women wasn’t enough for me, then the gospels are very clear.  Fear and hatred have no place in the life of the Christian.  They cannot be permitted to direct our actions or our thoughts.  To allow this would be to stand in opposition to the very gospel of Jesus Christ, in which Jesus makes it crystal clear that the mission of the Church is to announce to the world the love of God, and to show the world what loving like God looks like.  As disciples of Jesus, it is our responsibility to fulfill the commandment of Jesus to “love one another,” to encourage reconciliation in our world, and to work for the circumstances in which healing can flourish.  Jesus came among us to bring about reconciliation between us and the Father.

On Good Shepherd Sunday, we are all called into our baptismal vocation to embrace the word of Christ, to listen to His voice, and to follow Him, and no other. The place to which he leads is a place in which love replaces fear, and hatred is replaced by reconciliation and healing.  Walking towards this place is all about our being our better selves, the persons that God calls us to be and to become.  And each day, we work to leave the world better than it was when we awakened.

Thanks to our mothers for their inspiration and for their example.  Happy Mother’s Day


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