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A Different Perspective

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

First Reading: Acts 2:14, 36-41
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Second Reading: First Peter 2:20-25
Gospel: John 10:1-10
 
Turbulent times call us to a deeper, more mature faith. The Crucified Christ teaches us that we carry within us - individually and as a community - the wounds of our world and of our Church... and the Risen Christ teaches us that these are also the wounds of Christ which have the potential to heal from the hurt that we have endured. The Cross conditions us to self-denial, to contradiction, and to the possibility of total failure. The Empty Tomb assures us that the victory and the power of the Risen Lord are ours. It is through that power that we defy the world and its standards.

We are still in confrontation with sin and failure - with evil - every day. Every day, we see sin and death and disaster presented to us right in our own living rooms. The 2017 Easter message of Pope Francis was quite clear. He called upon Risen Lord to guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace, and to grant the leaders of all nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and world suffering. He called for "bridges of dialogue to be built, by continuing to fight the scourge of corruption and to seek viable and peaceful solutions to disputes, for progress and the strengthening of democratic institutions in complete respect for the rule of law."

But not everyone's perspective is that of the Holy Father.

We humans inflict and bear wounds - sometimes through our whole lives. We have a memory of happiness and joyful moments; but we can also trace through our memories the hurts inflicted on us and the ones we have put on others. We are conscious of the world's suffering - but sometimes are totally unconscious to our poor, to those violated by clergy, to the victims of attacks on fleeing refugees, or those suffering from famine in parts of the world other than our own.

Oftentimes, our perspective can be clouded by our own desires or our lack of attention to the experiences of those who need us the most.

Each day we are called to give our response to the world: a communal response based on a common faith, expressed within our common community - our church.

But our Church is in turmoil as well. Despite talk of being a "welcoming" church, many are still placed on the "outside looking in" - the divorced and remarried, gays - and yes, even women. There are victims - and families of victims - who continue to suffer here as well. "Transparency" and "accountability" are words which have been used so casually and so often as to seemingly become devoid of meaning anymore. "Honesty" is a much better term that should be brought back into our ecclesial vocabulary.
 
Pope Francis is a breath of hope to a broken church - he sees the Church as a community of service, free from "all mundane spirituality" and one which can "offer itself as an open space in which all of us can meet and recognize each other, because there is space for dialogue, diversity and welcome in it."  But Francis is only one man; and not everyone sees through his eyes.  While Francis is popular among people around the world, he faces opposition not only in the Roman Curia but also among some of its members.

The Church is more than just an ecclesial institution - it is a community of people - educated, adult people, who do not need to be treated as if their own personal experiences of God count for nothing. Authenticity is not determined by the demand for blind obedience from those in power, but by how that power is put to use. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus used His Power to heal, to reconcile, to bring together and to build up. And He always allowed people to question, to think for themselves and to seek answers for legitimate concerns.

The Church is more than just a legislative body - as the People of God, it is a dynamic reality as well; it changes its manner of being and acting from place to place and from age to age. While upholding and defending its most fundamental truths, it must also be sensitive and responsive to the demands of the times, for it has to signify and mediate God's grace to different groups of people, in accordance with their particular gifts, needs, and capacities.

We are the Church - all of us, together, the community of disciples. We may be hurt, confused, angry, afraid. Nevertheless, we are one, and God is with us. The extent to which each person attempts to live out the spirit of the Gospels, is the extent to which his or her life-style enriches the church's basic mission in the world. And this enrichment knows no barriers: neither marriage nor celibacy, neither male nor female, neither conservative nor liberal, neither cleric nor layperson.

This is the only perspective that we as Christians should have.

The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd speaks to everyone. The earliest statue of Christ (4th century) found in the Roman catacombs, depicts him as a youthful shepherd with a lamb across his shoulders.  The relationship between the young shepherd and sheep gives us some idea of our relationship with Jesus. He describes that relationship to be as strong and intimate as the one he has with his Father. Nothing can break that bond. When the sheep go astray our Shepherd comes out looking for us. He does not give up on us, even though it will require his life. “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

The Gospel today reminds us that Jesus is the gate for the sheep, and that we can only be the people He calls us to be by living our lives as He lived HIs. Jesus modeled a life-style to which He was inviting all of his followers to share: one of concern and compassion, of service and dedication, one of relentless and abounding love... one that brings all people together in His own healing power.

Healing that which is broken requires change – a different perspective.

Changes do not usually unfold in any institution or society - much less in a universal church - by chance. They emerge as new developments and a new understanding of our traditions which enhance and shape our perspective.

At these times - and so many more - we are reminded (and comforted by) the fact that the Shepherd has come out looking for us, is calling us by name and will show us the path home - one step at a time. Even before we realize we are in need of rescue, the Shepherd has already noticed and is on the way towards us. Can we do any less?


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