I offer this homily (and take off my hat) to any brothers who are celebrating Mass or live streaming during this crisis
Bottom line: As we begin to move out of this isolation, we return to Jesus' basic program: Repent and be baptized.
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter we celebrate Jesus the Good Shepherd. He cares for us individually as we hear in the Responsorial Psalm: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want...Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side."
But Jesus not only guides us individually, he makes us members of his flock - the sheepfold described in today's Gospel. Sheep have an instinct to stay close together. It's a good instinct because an outlier becomes easy prey for a wolf or some other predator.
Being isolated in our homes has perhaps made us aware of the need for physical closeness. I'm not talking so much about hugs and holding hands, but the importance of simply being together. We're doing the best we can with live streaming, zoom meeting and virtual communities but it only goes so far. We belong together. Jesus calls us his flock because like sheep we need to share physical space.
This human need was brought home to me by books like Bowling Alone, Hillbilly Eligy and Alienated America. Those books show that many people have fallen into despair not just because they lose a job but because of the collapse of marriage, church and civic life. Our happiness, our sense of purpose depend on having people who need us and who we can rely on. Like sheep we don't do well living isolated.
Here's the problem though: We belong together, we need each other, but we have a tendency to pull apart. You can see this in our current crisis. This is the first major epidemic where most people have computers, internet and cell phones. These devices can connect people, but they can also allow us to live in a world of our making where we don't have to be bothered by other people. All of us have seen children wrapped up in their video games. We older people can also find things more entertaining that being with others.
I worry that as this lockdown eases, many people will have fallen into routines where isolation becomes the "new normal". That could lead to further unraveling of marriage, family, church and civic life.
Some say that our current "fast" from the Eucharist will cause people to have deeper hunger. I hope so, but the fact is that our human nature has a downward pull. We follow the path of least resistance. You can see that even in matters of physical health: eating right, exercise, regular sleeping habits, etc. We know we should eat our veggies, but so much easier to open a bag of Doritos. The same happens in our spiritual life. As St. Paul says, "What I do I do not understand, For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate." (Rom 7:15)
In today's reading from Acts the people ask Peter "What are we to do?" The first thing he says is "repent". I don't know about you, but I need daily repentance. For me the penitential rite is a necessary reminder. So Peter says "repent". And he immediately adds "and be baptized": A deeply social act that unites us with Jesus and with other members of his flock.
Repent and be baptized. Community requires effort. For sure when two people fall in love, they want to spend every moment together. But that glow waxes and wanes. We human beings have ways of irritating each other. People sometimes only think about themselves. And they sometimes talk only about themselves. They have strange moods and make demands, spoken and unspoken. People say words that wound deeply. And way before the coronavirus hit, some folks have been experts at social distancing - only they distance from spouse or family members.
It's rough living with one person. Forming a family or a community is even more difficult. Community is always fragile. Our relationships weaken and even break. Ultimately only God can heal us. St. Peter speaks to us: "For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
We need Jesus. We need his Church. We need to gather like sheep in flock. The theologian Karl Rahner said that we must accept the burden of community if we are going to experience the freedom of the Gospel. We cannot have Jesus as our shepherd without becoming members of his flock.
While Jesus shepherds us individually, he calls us to be members of his sheepfold by baptism - and by the renewal of baptism that we experience in confession and the Eucharist. As we begin to move out of this time of isolation, we return to Jesus' basic program: Repent and be baptized. Amen.
Audio Homilies for Mercy Sunday:
From Archives (Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru