Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year A

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Arthur P. Purcaro, O.S.A. 
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b4, 5, 6
1 Pt 2:20b-25
Jn 10:1-10

“I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly,” the Good Shepherd proclaims in today’s Gospel passage. Abundant life, to be fully alive, seems almost a dream or a fantasy as we live this experience of lockdown, social distancing, necessitated by the viral pandemic. Yet that is what Jesus proclaims and what Pope Francis reminds us of in On Care for our Common Home, published five years ago this month, when he states (in number 240):

The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures.

To relate, to communicate, to reach out to one another, to go out of ourselves in order to live in communion is the path toward growth in holiness; what a gift, what a challenge! Life itself is a gift, meant to be shared. God has given each of us something special to share with one another and with creation itself. We are not independent but rather interdependent, intimately connected, interrelated, better together, more divine.

We experience that abundant life by sharing it, as God does with us, as Christ emptied himself to fill us up. The invitation of the Good Shepherd is to accompany him in his mission, to invite others to walk through the gate that stands open before us. By joining in Christ’s mission to bring abundant life to all of God’s creation, we experience that life even more fully.

This means engaging with those around us, entering into dialogue, promoting relationships in order to discover what is diminishing life in us. This means realizing that abundant life is not some after-death future promise, but available right now to everyone who will enter by the true gate, and it’s up to each of us personally, and all of us collectively, to extend the invitation.

In our society, which prizes so highly individuality and independence, for us to be followers of Christ, even more so in the footsteps of St. Augustine, means to be a sign and a witness of God’s plan for this work of creation, a testimony that our true calling is to reach out, to heal and forgive, to celebrate and care for one another, for all things, as God cares for us: without conditions, without limits!

This is our vocation, our calling, of particular significance today, Good Shepherd Sunday, when the Church reminds us that we all have something to give, to share, that no one is so poor that they have nothing to give, that we all need one another and are better together. Some are called to be loving parents, some to be dedicated to healing or teaching, some to religious life and others to ordained ministry. All together, working in collaboration, not reducing one another to objects, neither overestimating nor underappreciating what God has gifted the world with through our particular presence, this is what Vocation Sunday is all about.

St. Augustine of Hippo, writing sixteen centuries ago while reflecting on this Gospel passage:

He has accomplished what he taught us: He has shown us what He commanded us to do. He laid down his own life for his sheep, that within our mystery he might change his body and blood into food, and nourish the sheep he had redeemed with the food of his own flesh. He has shown us the way we must follow, despite fear of death. He has laid down the pattern to which we must conform ourselves. The first duty laid on us is to use our material goods in mercy for the needs of his sheep, and then, if necessary, give even our lives for them. He that will not give of his substance for his sheep, how shall he lay down his life for them? (Tr. 46 in John).

We will all become more fully alive, more fully human, more truly God-like, to the extent that we truly relate to one another. This is how we build up community, this is the one true gift we are called to share: the knowledge and experience of true community building. This is what life is all about, new life, abundant life, for us and for everything as well as everybody, forever.