Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 29, 2012: 4th Week of Easter (B)

Click to hear audio homily

Those of you who do not have a ‘green thumb’ will appreciate this story. After the flowers on the Easter lilies in our churches withered, I took them to the rectory to keep them alive so that I could plant them near Blessed Mother’s statue. In the morning, I put them out in the sun and added water to their pots. I checked on them in the afternoon, and they looked worse; the strong sun had beaten down already weakened plant. I quickly put them under the shade but as of day five, I only had three survivors left. I was a bit saddened by this, disappointed in my lack of skills and tender-loving-care to bring them back to life. This was playing on my mind when I was walking through the mausoleum the other day. Hanging on each of the mausoleum crypt were silk flowers that looked like fresh cut flowers, but didn’t require any water and care to keep them that way. A tempting thought popped in my mind. Why don’t I place silk flowers by Blessed Mother’s statue; I don’t need to water them or care for them. Then another thought entered—probably Blessed Mother reminding me—that her statue is still being neglected and uncared for.

Sometimes this is how we approach our loved ones. Before I entered seminary, one of the guys I worked with was describing his weekend to me. He was recently divorced and had two young daughters who came to his house every other weekend. He said he made sure he purchased everything that his girls wanted in their rooms— cable TV, laptops, gaming devices—every conceivable electronic device that the girls wanted, which they did not have at their mom’s house. There was something amiss about that, just as there was something amiss about my idea to place silk flowers by Blessed Mother’s statue. It lacked care, tenderness, and most importantly, it lacked love.
In the Gospel today, Jesus used two images to describe himself--one image to describe who he is not like, and another image to describe who he is like. He said he is not like a hired man who works for money to take care of a flock; a hired hand cares about himself and goes no further. He is not interested in caring and protecting those that have been entrusted to him. Therefore, if there were adversities which stirred in him fear, like a wolf, he would simply run away to save himself. However, Jesus said he is a good shepherd; fear or adversities did not cause him to lose sight of who had been entrusted to him. Going beyond his own self-interest and preferences, he was willing to lay down his own life for those that have been entrusted to him, because he cared and he loved them.
Do you remember the times when you acted like a hired hand, lacking tenderness, care, and love with those that were entrusted to you? Do you also remember the times when you acted like a good shepherd, when you went above and beyond adversities, beyond your own preferences to take care of another? We hear encouraging words from the First Letter of John that we are in some way all entrusted to each other. He said, “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” Hence, Our Lord calls us to be good shepherds to each other, for Father loves us because we lay down our lives for each other.  Perhaps we may never literally lay our life down for another, but figuratively speaking, we do so each day when we go about our day doing what the Father has called us to do. Maybe your job is to earn the money for the family, or maybe your job is to wash the dirty clothes for your family. When we perform the tasks to take care of one another then we are laying down our life for another.

Many moms have described to me that their young children have a change of personality toward the end of the day, usually around the time that the mom needs to be preparing dinner.  I’ve been told that a child will play all day long, but when he begins to tire out, it is then that the whining begins. When the mom’s patience is worn out and she is beginning to feel tired, then that is about the time the child is clinging to her legs. The mom knows that no amount of warnings or scolding will calm the child. A mom only has to lean only and pick up her child and hold him close. The child relaxes because of the physical touch his mom has given him.

That’s why we come here today, and for some of us every day, to receive the physical touch, the Eucharist, from the one who laid down His life for us. Our Lord treats each of us uniquely with his tenderness. Some of us may approach him feeling down, feeling as if we failed in some way, or feeling as if we are tired from facing daily challenges. We are reminded through mass that He is the good shepherd; each of us belongs to him and he knows each of us by name. When we see him lifted up at mass, we realize that each of us is precious to him and hence he has sacrificed his life for each of us. He treats us like a live, delicate flower rather than a silk flower, and we are called to do the same. Let’s take time this week to see if there are persons in our lives that we can be present to in person with care and tenderness.