12 May 2014

Like a duckling, Like a sheep, Like a child

Fourth Sunday of Easter
This time of year it’s not uncommon to see ducks, especially with all the rain we’ve had, and we may even see ducklings accompanying the mother duck.  What a disarming scene when you have those tiny little ducklings following behind their mother, going whatever direction she goes.  When children first learn to walk, they can sometimes resemble ducklings, waddling along, always trying to stay close to their mother if she starts walking to a different part of the house or yard.
            That image of a child (or a duckling) following its mother, is also the image that our Collect set out for us today as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.  In that prayer at the beginning of Mass we asked God to “lead us to share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.”  Our prayer reflects Jesus’ desire, made known to us by our Mother, the Church, to follow Him, to stay close to Him.  Because Jesus is leading us, not to the safety of the nest or a pond, but to the home that was prepared for us, the “eternal pastures” which our Prayer after Communion will speak.  Jesus wants us to go to heaven, and the way He has set out for us to go there is to follow Him.
            Jesus is the one who leads us to heaven, but He’s not just one teacher out of many.  Jesus is also the gate of heaven, “the gate for the sheep” as He said in the Gospel.  And only if we enter through Him will we find those eternal pastures, the salvation we hope for.  Buddha will not save us.  The Qur’an will not save us.  The Law of Moses will not save us.  Eastern Religions will not save us.  Our horoscope won’t save us.  Only Jesus is worth centering our life around.  Only Jesus saves.  Yes, it is possible for those who, through not fault of their own do not know Jesus, to be saved.  But if they are saved, it is only by Jesus and His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  Jesus is the only way of salvation, which is why it is so important for us to spread the Gospel and encourage others to be baptized and live their lives as followers of Jesus.
            Baptism brings us into a relationship with Jesus so that we can follow Him, like sheep, or like a child and its mother, or like a duckling and a duck.  The Gospel helps us to recognize that path, and where Jesus is leading us.  Simply being spiritual doesn’t cut it.  There are lots of paths, but they don’t all lead to the same place.  If we take Jesus at His word, that “whoever enters through me will be saved,” then it’s important to go beyond just liking spiritual stuff, or acknowledging that there is a divine being out there somewhere.  It is important that we get connected with the Good Shepherd who walks ahead of us so that we can recognize His voice and follow Him.  Otherwise, if we do not recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, we are likely to follow other shepherds, who are not good, and who will not lead us to pastures of joy and peace and love, but are only thieves and robbers.
            Peter, in our first reading, preached to the Jews and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah because he was convinced that his people, the Chosen People of God, needed to recognize in Jesus their Lord and Christ, and to be baptized and saved “from this corrupt generation.”  Peter didn’t tell them that as long as they were spiritual they were doing just fine.  He didn’t even say that if they just continued on as they were they would be good.  He told them to repent from their sins and be baptized, so that they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He was telling them to begin a relationship with Jesus, to be baptized, so that they could follow Him, listen to Him, and conform their lives to Him.  He acknowledges in our second reading from his first epistle, that we had gone astray, like sheep, but Jesus brought us back to Himself.
            Also in our second reading, St. Peter gives us a couple of examples of how we can be like Jesus.  He tells us to be patient when we suffer for doing what is good, just like Jesus suffered for us, and did not open His mouth.  Peter reminds us not to return insult for insult, or to return a threat for suffering.  Those are two ways that we follow Jesus.
            Another great way to follow Jesus is to honor and respect mothers, as we do today as a country.  Following Jesus means promoting the vocation of being a mother as a way of holiness.  Mothers sacrifice so much of themselves: sharing their body with a tiny, new human life through conception; nursing their infant; waking up at all hours of the night to care for their child; spending countless amounts of money so that their child can have what it needs and wants, even though the mother often goes without.  Mothers often ensure that their child receives the gift of new life, and begins to know the voice of the Good Shepherd from a young age through having the child baptized, and teaching the child about Jesus.  And it’s hard enough with a father to assist in the ways that he can.  Too many mothers today find no support from their husbands and, whether legally or just practically, have to raise their children by themselves.  Following the Good Shepherd means assisting mothers and fathers in raising their children, and when only the mother does the work of raising the child, assisting her all the more.
            Today we are invited to stay close to Jesus, like a duckling and a duck, like a child with its mother, like a sheep with the shepherd, so that we can enter through the only means of salvation: Jesus Christ.  May our “kind Shepherd…be pleased to settle in eternal pastures the sheep [He has] redeemed by [His] Precious Blood.”