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4/17/16 Fourth Sunday in Easter - Fr. Reggie

In “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis said this about joy. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light, born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”

The first reading today tells us that the apostles were filled with joy. Joy is the hallmark of Christianity. Joy is the gift of this Easter season that we’re still celebrating today. The Easter season is 50 days long: it’s as though the Church is reminding us to celebrate. We need those 50 days to allow the joy of Christ’s resurrection to truly sink in.

But think about what Pope Francis said. We all have moments of suffering – and sometimes they seem to last more than 50 days! Joy, however, is possible in every situation, because it comes from the certainty that, when all is said and done, we are infinitely loved.

And Jesus tells us that in the gospel today. He says: “I know my sheep and they follow me.” I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” And then, in one of the most wonderful lines in the Bible, he says: “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Joy is the certainty of being loved. And we’re loved by God himself, whose love cannot change, whose love cannot let us down. Ever.  Jesus doesn’t promise an easy life. He doesn’t say “You will never have problems.” Jesus doesn’t promise us success as we understand success. He promises us that no one can take us out of his hand. He is God, he is one with the Father, and in him we are safe. In him we are loved.

This is today’s great lesson. Joy is the certainty of being infinitely loved by God. 

We are all familiar with cowboys and cattle ranchers.

At least, we have seen movies where cowboys are riding their horses and driving their cattle to market.  You need a bunch of cowboys to drive a herd of cattle. You have to push them from behind, forcing them to move, and you need other cowboys on the sides to keep them all together.

Shepherding sheep is different. A shepherd walks in front of his flock, whistling or speaking or singing. The sheep follow along behind. As long as they can hear the shepherd's voice, they keep following; they have to stay close enough to hear his voice. As long as the shepherd is close by, the wolves will not attack the sheep. Only when a sheep falls behindout of reach of the shepherd's voice, is there danger of getting lost and being attacked.

When Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me," this is the image he has in mind. 

He wants to stay close to us, and he wants us to stay close to him, close enough so we can always hear his voice.

That way we can be sure to arrive safely to the rich pastures and refreshing streams of a meaningful, joyful life.

He is not a distant God, and he doesn't want to save us from far away.

This is the image God has of himself: our good shepherd, leading us through the dark and dangerous valleys of this world by walking right beside us, by staying always within hearing - in the sacrament of confession, in the Eucharist, in the Pope, in the Bible... 

He is not a cowboy driving us on from behind and keeping his distance; he is our shepherd, and he wants us to hear his voice.

Imagine if we could have a daily meeting with the Pope or with our favorite athlete. We’d probably consider it a tremendous gift. And it would be.

There’s an even greater gift though: the chance to receive GOD each day in the Eucharist. St John Vianney used to say that if we want to be saints, we need to receive communion often. Jesus left us this gift as his real presence. When we receive communion we receive God himself, we’re united to him in a way that surpasses anything else.

So in the remainder of this Easter season, why not consider coming to daily Mass? If that’s not possible, what about picking 2 days a week besides Sunday to come to Mass?

Joy comes from the certainty that when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved by God. The Eucharist makes that love present. We can see it; we can touch it.

As we receive Christ in the Eucharist today, we thank him for his amazing love for us. And we ask him to help us to love him more and more each day. 

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