12 May 2019
Graduation Ceremonies, First Communions and Mother’s Day merge into sensibilities intimately connected with May, the Month of Mary, Mother of God who continually brings us closer to Mary’s child: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Word Made Flesh. All these annual MAY events gain greater significance when placed in conversation with Jesus’ words in today’s readings.
Jesus’ statements as the Good Shepherd make for one momentous Graduation Address: Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, “You are mine, just as a child is connected to its mother.” Just as Graduations are touchstones to a lifetime of graduations growing in wisdom and life experiences, Jesus as Good Shepherd reminds us, we are nurtured by Him, educated by the Holy Spirit through faith and life experiences to grow in Wisdom, Understanding, Courage and more.
What could Jesus be saying to us in this and every Eucharist if not “You are with me always, and everything I have is yours –take and eat, live and affirm life in others.” We must enlighten the new generations that First Communion is not merely a one-day event, but a point of entry into an expanding House of God that has no walls, no ceilings, no boundaries—a intimate moment with Jesus to strengthen one’s experiences of Jesus, alone, and with and through others for a lifetime. How else may the Kingdom of God—Peace on Earth, Good Will to All be accomplished?
But like any good graduation address, Jesus, our deliverer, offers caution. Remember, Jesus speaks not only in the Gospel but through all the Scriptures. Today’s ACTS of the Apostles reading reminds us that living in the NOW and moving forward with Jesus isn’t easy. Good News we will continually meet opposition and hardship just as there was “ persecution against Paul and Barnabas,” as they were “expelled them from their territory.” Yet in Christ we find our courage just as Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”
When Jesus says “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” He articulates that same Eucharistic reality of JOY in His consistent presence in our lives, no matter the hardships we face. Indeed, people do try to lead us out of the kingdom of loving, forgiving, of humility, patience and kindness encouraging illusions of grandeur instead–why, we even do that to ourselves at times,–yet perseverance will be granted us as we appropriate the sacraments and scriptures as gifts of grace, experiences of Jesus for the journey.
At one commencement address, Poet Laureate Maya Angelou once said: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
The Good Shepherd finds us when we are lost and nurtures us like the best of mothers so that we rise above the loss, the regret, the foolishness of ourselves and others. Praying Mary’s Rosary reminds us of death—not for morbidity but for inspiration to live each day as our last, finding hope even in failures, the little “deaths” of every day.
In one of Steve Jobs’ last commencement addresses, he said: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
What are these statements put reiterations of Jesus’ Good Shepherd poetry? Eternal life comes to those not afraid of dying in faith, hope and love! Jesus entire life on earth demonstrates to us that impediments to grace will confront us, but God guides the faithful through each hurt, each betrayal, each failure. As we allow Jesus’ story to connect intimately to ours, Jesus will deepen our humility, fortify our courage and expand hope illuminating us with Wisdom This, in part, is why Jesus died and rose—not eschewing pain and suffering but engaging in it for a greater purpose: transformation through continual dying and rising.
The Book of Revelation today confirms this wholeheartedly: “I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. Then one of the elders said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Detective novelist Author Dashiell Hammett once wrote: “There are no great moments unless you have a pile of smaller moments to stand on.”
Our small moment today is receiving the Word and Eucharist in a new way, Trust in the virtue of humility, acknowledge we are like sheep, we need a Shepherd, we have a Shepherd, we can trust in our Shepherd. Recognizing that in every Mass we receive a mighty infusion of grace to live now with a vision of what the future can be the more we cooperate with Jesus and His vision for the world.
The inspiring abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote: “To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.” Is this not a reiteration of the humility embraced by so many Saints?
I quote these secular achievers to demonstrate that what is true and good in Jesus is universally good and true—no matter its source, no matter the faith or the virtue of the ones who articulate it. Just as the efficacy of the Eucharist is not in any way dependent on the virtue or goodness of the priest who celebrates it. Still, in so many ways, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has determined to shepherd us through others—mothers, fathers, friends, writers, entrepreneurs, teachers, the poor and anyone through whom God wishes to instruct us. May today’s mass open our eyes and ears to every truth, every grace in whoever stands before us so that both in and through the sacraments and in and through the world we will receive our Good Shepherd with greater authenticity, humility and love. And this is how we enter the realities of God’s kingdom today, tomorrow and for all eternity.
PS: Some other memorable quotes:
“Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.” Melinda Gates
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson