Deacon Michael's Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter - April 25, 2021

Here's my homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter speaking to the "essential work" of self sacrificing love in the life of a Christian.

The readings on which this homily comments can be found linked HERE

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 What is it that motivates a soldier to jump on a hand-grenade to save the lives of comrades nearby?

It turns out that this is the single most common type of action that has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

How about firefighters that run into burning buildings, like on 9/11 while others are running out?

Or parents who shield their children from danger with their own bodies?

What they all have in common, in these extreme circumstances, is their willingness to put their own lives at risk to protect others, to put the well being of others before their own.

Such actions are universally respected and honored. 

If acting for the welfare of others for their own good and not our own is an act of love

...then these acts certainly are rightly seen as acts of love

...their real and potential risks make them acts of self-sacrificing love. 

John’s Gospel today uses the image of the Good Shepherd as one who willingly “lays down his life” for his sheep

...not so much as an instance of extreme in the moment heroism

...but as a matter of course, or identity, so to speak. 

So the shepherd willingly risks himself to save those in his charge

..and by following him, we his disciples are called to go and do likewise. 

That’s a tall order and has a cost that we need to be willing to risk as well. 

We are reminded of it each time we look there.

But there is triumph in it as well.

The Easter Triduum we prayed together from Holy Thursday, to Good Friday to the Easter Vigil

...reminds us of the whole of this reality

...including defeat and triumph, pain and joy, sorrow and celebration

...from the cross to the empty tomb.

The Easter story reveals what we intuitively know deeply about life as we experience it

...which is itself testimony to the strength and power of its truth

...and the story does not end in defeat and pain and sorrow, but in a transcending victory over them. 

So we are called by the Lord to live lives of self sacrificial love

...the love that he showed us by the “intervention” of his own life in word and deed

...all the way down.

Needless to say, living for the good of others over our own is not the lesson much of the world and culture offers. 

Here, often, the favored lives, the favored choices, the ascension to power and reward and fame follows the path of the hireling

...who acts for the pay, whether it’s in dollars and possessions, fame and celebrity lifestyle or power and pleasure for themselves. 

The impulse is for getting what I want, being who I want, however I want to, when I want to, by whatever means available

...and anything that gets in the way are hammered as a threat to my being, my freedom and liberty

It’s often sold and promoted as personal fulfillment and success. 

Many tell us that everyone acting this way somehow results in the greatest good and happiness for the greatest number

...even though, on the face of it, it seems as a prescription for chaos and exploitation

...of which we can see ample and increasing evidence.

Recent years has offered us many trying examples, both in society and the church, of poor leadership

...where the preservation or aggrandizement of position or power or ambition or image or reputation have resulted in the denial of truth and reality

...one that results in vulnerable others being left to the wolves.

This type of failure is particularly devastating in the Church, where the voice of the shepherd needs to be heard above all others. 

It contributes to the crises of credibility and confidence in institutions that we also see around us more and more.

All this highlights just how important it is for us

... each one of us

...to take personal responsibility for our own lives

...and the cultivation and development of our own faith and the shape and direction of how we are living it.

Others can fail us, but we are responsible for ourselves.      

Jesus tells us that His sheep know his voice and listen to him and follow him 

...and that voice calls us to lives of self-sacrifice rather than self-centeredness

...as the shepherd and not the hireling

..laying down our lives for others right where we are.  

In the middle of all of the contrary noise and conflict and division of the times we’re in

...it is even more essential for each of us to hear His voice

...and to act on it

...and to live as he calls us.

It is truly essential work.