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April 22, 2018 - Lessons from the Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings 

As you can imagine, Holy Week is one of the most demanding weeks in a priest’s sacramental life. Not only was I ill this Holy Week, but Fr. Dave’s illness and hospitalization made the week even more demanding than it generally is. Nevertheless, to say, by the Easter Sunday 6pm mass was over, I was overworked, exhausted, and hungry. I said to the congregation, “Jesus is risen, but I am dead!” I was looking forward to kicking my shoes off, having a glass or wine or three, some dinner and crawl into bed. I also said this to the congregation: “I don’t care what you are doing tonight, but I know what I am going to do.” I Left the sacristy, entered the kitchen and had barely poured my glass of wine, and my phone rang. There was a call on our emergency line that somebody was actively dying at hospice. This person was not a parishioner at any of our local parishes. Hospice had been trying to reach priests at many of our neighboring parishes, but they were not available. Most probably they probably were visiting family. I looked at my wine glass and then I looked up… and said to Jesus, “You are really not funny!” I also said to myself, “You think you know what you are going to do next. You don’t!” 

When I got to hospice, there was an eighty-two-year old lady waiting at the Hospice main entrance to receive me. I am not used to that. Generally, the family meets me in the room.  She and another one of her daughters accompanied me to the room where her son lay ill. Her name was Barbara. Barbara had given birth to twelve children. I looked at her in awe. I said, “How did you do that?” She said to me, “Oh, it was all very easy! They were all good kids.” And indeed, they were! All her children except one were present to say goodbye to their sibling. After I prayed with the family and gave the Sacraments for the last time to Barbara’s son, I came to know that Barbara had lost another son twelve years back… also on Easter day! I hugged her and held her tight. I looked into her eyes and said to her, “I will never forget you! Barbara, I will always remember you.” As I left hospice, I said to Jesus, “Your sense of humor sucks but you are alive! You couldn’t be doing this if you were dead.” All my exhaustion, my hunger, and my self-pity had faded into the distance. By the time I returned back home and changed clothing, it was way past 9pm. 

Last week, I received a card from the family, thanking me for going to hospice and giving the Last Sacraments that night. They said that it brought peace to their hearts. I have many reasons for sharing this story with you. One of them is because I do not want to forget Barbara. I have other reasons too. Here are the three other reasons I shared this story with you.  

a) A God Who Gives it All. That Easter night, I told Jesus I was not amused by his sense of humor. However, I know where Jesus is coming from. Today’s gospel reading is where he is coming from, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” I am very glad that we have a God who lays down his life for his sheep. Often, religions get bank heavily on triumphalism. That is not our story. Our banner is a crucifix! This has implications for me as a pastor and for you in your homes, workplaces, and community. Following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, as a pastor, it means that I am willing to give without counting the cost. For you at home this can mean the very same thing. If each person in the home gives of themselves in the same way that the Good Shepherd does, that home will be a very life-giving home. It will be a very up-building and thriving home even though life may be demanding. Many problems arise at home when someone does not pull their weight, or sucks life out of the family. So too with our workplaces and our communities.  

b) Giving Does Not Make Us Poor. “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.” Jesus does not lose anything but giving it all. The resurrection story tells us that life is in giving it all. My position as pastor is not diminished when I give it my all. In fact, the opposite happened that night at hospice. Once again, the implication of this for the home and for our church is crucial. The question that we constantly have to ask is not “What am I getting out of this?” but rather, “What else do I have to offer?” I say this when I prepare couples for marriage. I say to them that the day one of them asks the question, “What have you done for me?” go seek a counsellor. Rather, each day the question each person needs to ask is, “What else can I do for you?” No one becomes poorer by giving. It is a hard lesson to learn. Resurrection, redemption, salvation happened only because Jesus lay his life down on his own.  

c) Lessons for Me. Coming Thursday, 25thof April will be the 24thanniversary of my ordination. Today’s gospel passage has great meaning for me, especially during this week. It reminds me of the purpose of my calling. The most important message for me as I celebrate twenty-four years of priest is simply this -  that the One in whose footsteps I was, ordained, and appointed as pastor to follow is none other than the Good Shepherd. Pray for me this week, that I might not give into self-pity, into pride, into the wrong exercise of my role as a pastor, or that I might think of me before I think of others. Pray that I do not get burnt out or ill and that I might keep my focus on the Good Shepherd who lays down his life. Pray for my family, especially, my beloved parents, who have given me to Christ and to Mary. Pray that my zeal will never fade, that my love for Christ and his people may never wane, and that my faith will never waver. Most of all, pray that I think like Jesus, talk like Jesus, act like Jesus. Pray that on my tombstone, I can inscribe, what I would like to be my epitaph, “Here lies a disciple.”  

The invitation this week is to follow the Good Shepherd. This Eucharist is where the Good Shepherd lays down his life so we may have life. So must we! 

-       Fr. Satish Joseph