by Father James Rodriguez
On this fourth Sunday of Easter we continue to rejoice, feeling the warmth and light of the paschal flame, divided but undimmed. However, as human beings we have a tendency to forget. Good Friday already seems so long ago. The hunger of fasting is replaced with feasting and the pounds lost in Lent come back quickly. It is all too easy to bask in the Easter light, forgetful of the clouds that obscured the sun on the day of our redemption.
As an antidote to this complacency, the Church has given us today’s readings. We hear more about the missionary trials and successes of the early Church. We are reminded that ours is a faith rooted not in ideals or argument, but in a Person who is alive here and now in our midst.
Peter continues to give testimony to this fact, to this living name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, the name in which we, crippled as we are, find healing and salvation. The courage that fills and fuels Peter’s words is not his own, for we are painfully aware of how weak he was, a fact he himself proclaimed at the beginning of his friendship with the Lord. In spite of, or rather because of this weakness, God spoke through him, winning many souls to heaven. Think then, of the possibilities that lie before you and me!
See what love the Father has bestowed on us. See your high dignity, O child of God! We live in a culture that so readily objectifies and uses the very people that keep it going. Every day in popular music, movies, books and television, the human person is reduced to a mere tool for pleasure or productivity. When will we look in the mirror and see more? When will we look to the tabernacles of our churches and see the ineffable extravagance of God’s love? “He is there,” St. John Vianney used to say. He is there.
When I first arrived at Most Precious Blood parish in Astoria, my first and current assignment, I had a minor but beautiful decision to make. At my first weekday Mass, would I use my beautiful silver chalice or one of the chalices used by any number of priests assigned here before me? The silver one, possibly 100 years old, had been given to my home parish of Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights 60 years ago, then passed on to me at my ordination. It is ornate, with impossibly small and intricately detailed panels depicting the Stations of the Cross. I use it on Sundays. The other chalice, the one I use on weekdays here, is simple. It is brass and bears only one decoration: a small metallic image of the Good Shepherd.
It is the Good Shepherd that called me to the priesthood. It is he who calls you, dear reader, and me alike to fidelity and charity. He lays down his life for His sheep. We are called to do no less. He, who has power to lay it down, and power to take it up again, is the One who from the cross forgives and redeems us, setting the pattern of obedience and love that would inspire the unbroken chain of broken people who love him. The Good Shepherd, in love’s absolute freedom, died for us.
Will we then cower in fear when he calls us to imitate him?
In his riveting homily at his first prayer service back in New York, newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke of the temptations we all face: prestige, power, and popularity. He then went on to describe another “p-word,” one that has kept the Church rooted from the beginning: persecution. Cardinals wear red, he preached, to express their “willingness to be united with Jesus on the Cross in humbly shedding one’s blood if necessary for the good of his people.” For most of us, it is a “white martyrdom” that awaits, the slow and steady lifelong witness in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation (Phil. 2:14-15). We cannot and must not avoid giving testimony for our faith. We can’t give in to the fear that we are alone. We are not. The Good Shepherd walks ahead of and among us.
Pray for your priests. Pray whether or not you agree with everything we say. Pray because we have been called to be shepherds among you. Pray that our voices may ever resound in harmony with the one voice of the only true shepherd, who himself has called us and you to fidelity to the truth. This truth is not a list of ideals, but a Person, and that person has given us nothing less than his very self to lead, inspire, and nurture us.[hr] Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 4, 8-12
Psalm 118: 8-9, 21-23, 26, 29
1 John 3, 1-2
John 10, 11-18[hr] Father James Rodriguez was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2008. He serves as parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood, Long Island City.