I would like to begin my homily with some news today. Last Tuesday, I received word that I am being transferred this July to be the administrator of St. Joseph’s Parish in Shelbyville and sacramental minister at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, also in Shelbyville. I have to tell you that, when I go the call, my first question was: “But who will come to OLG?” Hang tight, I’ll answer that in a minute. My second question was, “Are there donuts after Masses in Shelbyville?”
But you should know that I love this parish with all my heart. I feel like we are a family here. It will be hard to leave. I look out each day at Mass and think, “I remember that baby’s baptism,” or, “I remember burying her husband,” or, “I remember going to their house and playing basketball with that kid,” or, “I remember her last day of 8th grade.” It has been an incredible journey with you and I will miss you something crazy. Winnie the Pooh said, “How glad I am to have something so special that will make saying goodbye so hard.” Amen. But fortunately, today is not goodbye. I have a month to get that all put together. I am here through July 4. Then I will depart.
Today we celebrate Mother’s Day. As usual, I start thinking about what I might say in a Sunday homily somewhere in the middle of the week. Last week I spent my day off in the garden, preparing my plot and putting the tomatoes and peppers and all that in there. I got quite muddy. I left my muddy cowboy boots on the porch, which prompted Msgr to call and leave a voicemail asking, “Mike, do you know anything about the muddy cowboy boots on the porch? It looks like Cowboy Bob was raptured. OK, bye.” hahahah. I’ve listened to that about a hundred times.
Anyway, I was thinking as I was gardening about how motherhood is a lot like gardening. A mother plants, a mother waters, fertilizes, weeds out the problems around the plants. She gives the plant life, she nurtures it, and watches it grow and produce fruit. This is motherhood! I say this partly to tell you: everything we, your sons and daughters turn out to be, you helped to make. Whatever good fruits we produce, it is because you planted us and helped us grow. That’s one motherly thought from today.
Now, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Wedding Feast at Cana. I’ve had a lot of weddings lately, praise God! The wedding feast at Cana was Jesus’ first documented miracle. And that miracle happens at Mary’s request. The wine runs out at the party, and Mary tells Jesus to take care of it. From the very first miracle, Our Blessed Mother has cooperated in the miracles of Jesus! She still does. Which is why we pray TO GOD THROUGH HER. She intercedes and requests miracles for us. This is nothing new: it is biblical and REAL! I’ve seen it all over the place….in my life and in the lives of parishioners. As Pope Francis said yesterday, “To be Christian is to be Marian!”
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter each year, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. We thank God today that we have a shepherd in Jesus, and that he is so good that he guides us to eternal life, and even as he says in our gospel today and in the psalm, to life in abundance here on earth, to green and fertile and peaceful pastures. If only we follow the shepherd that is Jesus, then we will get to heaven and have a life filled with blessings on earth. As he says in our gospel today: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Thing of it is, we’ll never get either heaven or life to the full on earth if we don’t follow the Good Lord Jesus our Shepherd. Jesus is the Shepherd. We are the sheep. The flock is the Church. The sheep are lost without the shepherd and without one another. A sheep by himself will quickly get eaten, devoured by the wolves and bad guys. Or he will walk off the cliff. But with the shepherd, the sheep live. They have life. Inasmuch as one remains in the flock, s/he will be fine. But when we leave it by sin or whatever, we put ourselves in a dangerous position.
As I understand it, the central message of our readings today is this: When we spend time with God, he will set us on fire. Take our first reading, which gives us a glimpse into the life of the early church. It was unstoppable! Those early apostles–ordinary, uneducated men–they set the world on fire. Last week in our daily readings we heard about how they spent time with the Lord and then preached him to everyone, got locked up in jail for it, and then by God’s grace escaped only to go out and do the same thing again. The high priest asks, “Didn’t you learn your lesson when I locked you up the first time?” And Peter said, “You don’t get it! We can’t help but preach Jesus! He’s our everything!”
There was a fire in them! Kind of like Jeremiah. You remember how Jeremiah was about ready to give up but then said, “If I say I’ll mention God no more, or speak any more in his name, there is as it were a fire, shut up in my bones, and I grow weary in holding it in and I cannot.” That’s the fire the apostles had! They couldn’t turn it off. It was a fire that spread like crazy. They set the world on fire, which Catherine of Sienna said we’re all supposed to do (yesterday was her feast day). Think! The billions and billions of faithful in our Church (I’m counting everyone in the Church Triumphant in Heaven)….all came to the faith because of their fire and the fire of those that came after them. The fire has spread down through our ancestors in the faith all the way from the apostles to you and me. And what a fire God has lit in us!
Doors are a beautiful image for divine mercy. We see them in our Gospel today, the Gospel we always have on Divine Mercy Sunday. It is the story of the first priests, congregated as they were in the Upper Room. They had the door closed and locked. Jesus came in anyway. That is mercy. Pope Francis picked up on this image of doors for mercy when he instituted the Holy Doors during the Year of Mercy.
Sometimes doors open for us. That is mercy. I think about when God gives a new job, or when a new relationship forms. It is mercy that opens these doors! Sometimes the doors of new opportunities and relationships open even when something that at first seems bad happens. I think about the story I use all the time of a couple that met because of a car accident. Their kids owe their lives to a car accident! Talk about a door that couple never would have sought out. It is mercy. God opens new doors for us all the time. Puts the right people together at the right time. I’m think about Fr. Rick and Fr. Rodolphe. We’ve been hosting our Haiti priests this weekend. The amount of assistance we as a parish provide our sister parish in Haiti, it is amazing, and it is largely because Fr. Rick and Fr. Rodolphe became friends in seminary. A big door opened there. It is mercy! And because that door opened, so many other doors have opened and will open.
Sometimes, though, the doors do not open for us. That, too, is mercy. I read this line the other day that I can’t stop thinking about. It is this. “If the door doesn’t open, it’s not your door.” Sometimes we are convinced a certain door is “our door.” But, for reasons we may never know, it isn’t. And God keeps it closed for good reason, and that reason is mercy. Sometimes we are convinced that some job or some promotion is meant to be ours, but someone else gets it. That’s because God has a different door in store for us. I prayed a long time when I was younger for the perfect girl to walk into my life. That door was not opened for me. It is mercy! Because had it opened, I wouldn’t be a priest. I know many men who were in seminary where the opposite happened. They prayed and prayed for a vocation to be a priest. That is what they wanted. But it didn’t happen, that door didn’t open. Now they are married because the right door opened at the right time. It is all mercy. So many people waste so much time trying to break down some door that isn’t meant for them.
A group of second graders was given a task of writing a short letter to God. About anything. Some funny things came out of this! One wrote, “Dear God, maybe Cain wouldn’t have killed Abel if they’d had their own rooms. It works with my brother.” There were some good ones. One girl wrote, “Dear God, If we come back as something, please don’t let me come back as Jennifer Horton. I hate her.”
Now you and I know that we don’t “come back” as something. I won’t come back as a bug or dog or king. That is ridiculous. But I tell you this: God does want to bring us back today….back to life!!
A good way to read scripture is to read a passage until a word jumps out and tthen talk to God about it. The word that jumped out at me today is one that pops up a few times in our text today. It’s “bystander.” The bystanders are the ones who sit on the side, who don’t really seem to care at all about Christ. They stand in opposition to Blessed Mother who never leaves Jesus’ side, Simon of Cyrene who carries the cross, Veronica who wipes his face, and the women who minister to him.