Mothers’ Day – Pastor’s Reflection (May 12, 2019)
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter we encounter Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as recounted in St. John’s Gospel, chapter 10. Faced with this image I always think of my mother, who has always claimed that she could sleep through the loudest thunderstorm, but that if a child of hers coughed in the middle of the night she would awake immediately. These words of hers have always captured for me what it means to have ears attuned to another.
On Mothers’ Day, as on Fathers’ Day, we celebrate the mystery of our connection to our parents: for many of us this bond has a depth and a duration surpassing biological explanation. My parents live far away, and my life has followed a path they could never have foreseen, but even at 57 years of age they remain my principal guides and their voices come regularly to my ears in encouragement and challenge. They also laugh at me. My mind recorded those tracks many decades ago and simply replays them as necessary, which is frequently.
“Attuned to the voice of the Shepherd” describes the mystery of our connection to the Risen Christ which is a bond transcending ethical conviction or doctrinal affirmation. His voice is there at the time of shock and relief, of loneliness and connection, of success and failure. This is a work of the Holy Spirit by which Christians walk freely in the world while at the same time remaining attached. We discover that we must make complicated decisions about work and love, about health and money, about business and politics. In such moments there is no book to open and no wisdom figure to consult. Yet we pick our way through all kinds of complications with a wherewithal that often surprises us. By the mystery of the Good Shepherd we are alone, but not alone.
This living connection makes parishes like ours happen. Many people attend Mass and otherwise receive the sacraments in our two churches, but at the core of the parish are those who have been led into our midst to be generous with their time and their energy, our volunteers. How do you explain that women and men come forward not just to be helpful in an instance but reliable over years? This service offers no recompense, no status, and no perks. It does not proceed from “Catholic guilt” nor even from some need to “save” the Church. I do not “lean” on people to help out. The presence of volunteers at the backbone of church life makes sense to me only as a work of the Holy Spirit prompting the exercise of human freedom and discernment.
Each parish event, liturgical or otherwise, amazes me by the individual and shared generosity that makes it possible. Such constant largesse dazzles me now as much as it did nine years ago when I arrived. All of it comes from individuals walking with Jesus, connected to Him by the Holy Spirit. Partnered in this way they volunteer as a way of taking ownership of their own Christian life, of becoming mature in what was given at baptism. With eyes to see and ears to hear every task done in the life of the Church becomes an occasion for delight as the works of God in ordinary people become manifest.
In my mind volunteering is voluntary: there is absolutely nothing required about it. Ponder then in freedom whether the Good Shepherd is leading you to a next step in church membership. God, who is not outdone in generosity, does not fail to make fruitful and rewarding what is done in His service.
Once in a while I get a flash of awareness that I am at last growing up. When I actually do my chores without having to be reminded I get a good word across time from my mom and dad. It comes as a quiet thrill to my heart and reminds me that even though I am far from our breakfast room table in miles and years, I remain profoundly connected to the man and woman who sat at either end of it insisting that the plate be cleaned (until they gave in and settled for one more bite).
Just so, Jesus makes a connection to us that reaches across distraction, anxiety, and sin, and we discover that these do not block the ears of the soul to his voice, calling us to one more step forward.