Many of you may remember one of Chicago’s more colorful mayors: Richard Daily. He ruled the Windy City with an iron fist for 21 years from 1955 to 1976. Those who worked for him often found his abrasive personality hard to take.
The story is told that one day, one of His Honor’s speechwriters sheepishly made his way to the mayor’s office to ask for a raise – which he had not had in several years.
Mayor Daily responded to the request by saying: “I’m not going to give you a raise. You are getting paid more than enough already.
The fact that you are working for a great American hero like myself should be reward enough for you.” And thus ended the conversation.
A few weeks later, Mayor Daley was on his way to give a speech to a convention of veterans. The speech was scheduled to receive national attention. In order to seem a bit spontaneous, Daley made the practice of never reading his speeches before the event – this one was no exception.
As he stood before a vast crowd of veterans, and nationwide press coverage, the mayor opened his speech for the first time and began.
“I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m concerned for you and for your families. My heart goes out to you because I am deeply troubled by how our country fails to take care of you. So today, I am proposing a 17 point plan that includes the city, state, and federal government on how to better care for our veterans.”
By now, everyone was on the edge of their seats to hear what the proposal entailed. Mayor Daley turned to the next page of the speech and saw only these words: “Now you are completely on your own-------- you great American hero. . .”
No matter how great or how small we are – no matter how important or how insignificant ---- none of us can go it alone --- we all need help. We need advocates who work behind the scenes to make us who we are. We need people who motivate us, guide us, sustain us and lift us up – especially in moments of fear and frustration.
Here in this parish of St. Patrick – I do get to work with lots of people who, when we all work together -- make this parish great – and yes, sometimes working with such gifted people is reward enough. . .
I minister alongside our Deacons: Mike Lewis and Jim Koger. Our principal, Kaci Monaghan and the wonder faculty and staff she has gathered together to make our school an awesome place – even when we have to do distance-learning.
Lily Winklejohn, who is new to our Early Childhood Center and doing wonderful things.
Robin Lamb, our liturgist and business manager keeps us humming along at liturgy and financially – making sure our bills are paid, and music is played.
Lisa Angotti puts out the bulletin, works on keeping our website updated, and keeps our team happy with their salaries and benefits.
And Mindy Lehman helps to make sure the young church is ready to receive sacraments, and others are formed in our Catholic faith.
No one of us does this alone. . . We all work together to ensure St. Patrick is a place people want to belong to --- these are the advocates I have ---and you have---- to make all that happens in this parish possible – especially during the challenging times we have had during the covid pandemic.
Jesus says in the Gospel today: “I will not leave you orphans – I will ask the Father to give you an Advocate – to be with you always.
On our journey through life as a Christian – none of us has to be alone – no one of us has to do everything – we have a community of faith that uplifts us – the Holy Spirit that empowers us --- and a God who loves us so much – God sent his son to free us from our sins and gain for us eternal life. . .
Let us always rely on our Advocates – in our families, in our Church, within our faith – and also the saintly men and women who have gone before us – to motivate us, guide us, sustain us, and lift us up – especially in moments of fear and frustration.
And now a true story of one who learned well the power of an Advocate. . . a woman by the name of Sheila Walsh who tell us:
The first weeks of my pregnancy were a blur of absolute joy. I told complete strangers that I was pregnant. I read books to the wee one I was carrying and played an assortment of songs to see if he or she was more country or pop.
At our sonogram, we learned the baby was a boy and we were so happy.
Then one phone call interrupted our happiness. I would be 40-years-old when the baby was born – and my doctor had asked for some additional tests.
When the results came back, she asked us to come to her office. My husband, Barry and I, sat on one side of her desk as she sat on the other with a brown folder in front of her.
I don’t remember everything she said, but I remember this: “Your baby is incompatible with life.”
I stared at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. This was a phrase I had never heard before. Neither Barry or I said anything. We were stunned.
The doctor went on to explain about “markers” and “abnormalities” and what my results showed. I could see her mouth moving, but I felt as if I had a glass dome over my head and I could not hear her.
Then she said that she recommended a termination of the pregnancy – the next day! I heard that, and her words snapped me back to reality. “NO”, I loudly said. “Absolutely NOT. This little one will have every day God has planned for him to live.”
We drove home in silence. There was really nothing to say.
For the next couple of weeks, I was tormented with one thought: I had begged God to give me a child – and now God was going to take him away before we had a chance to love him. . . why?
I felt as if I were falling into a dark hole. Some days I felt angry, others I was overwhelmed with sorrow. One day turned the tide for me.
I woke up early and drove to the beach. The beach was deserted; my only companions were seagulls.
I took off my shoes and walked to the edge of the water and prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed before, out loud to the wind and the waves and the gulls.
Jesus. I said. My heart is aching. I don’t understand this at all, but I just want to declare here and now that we are in this together. I’ve always needed you, but I know right now that I need you more than I ever have. I don’t know how this will end, but I’m not letting go of you for one moment. You did not promise me happiness, but you did promise you would never leave me. I’m not letting go. I’m not giving up – we are in this together!
From that time on, something inside me shifted. I had no idea how long I could carry our son, but I became relentless in my prayers, not for a perfect outcome but for the presence of a perfect Advocate.
At 35 weeks, my doctor called. I held my breath.
She told me that the day MY results had come back – so had the results of another 40 year old patient. My results had gone into her chart and hers into mine.
There had NEVER been anything wrong with our son. I fell to my knees and thanked God, but then I prayed for the mother who would be getting a very different phone call.
I believe in the sovereignty of God – and I’ve often wondered if I was allowed to carry this other mother’s burden for a while. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that when my heart was breaking, I learned to hold on to God as I never had before in my life.
Mrs. Sheila Walsh concludes: I don’t know what battle you are facing right now – what burdens you are carrying. It may be for your child, your marriage, your health, you sanity, your family or community – but I do want you to know this: no one has to carry those burdens alone! Pray and don’t give up – cling to those you love – rely on those who sustain you and lift you up. Know that you are not alone! Know that you have Advocates cheering you on. . .
If last week was considered good shepherd Sunday – a Sunday on which priests are traditionally recognized as the shepherds of their parishes – than this week should be considered servant Sunday – or a Sunday on which we recognize the service that DEACONS give to our parish and Church. . .
Because in that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the young Christian community in Jerusalem choosing the first seven deacons to serve the needs of the community.
So I want all of you, to join me – in recognizing and thanking the service our two deacons – Mike Lewis and Jim Koger do for our community of St. Patrick – and the outreach of ministry they do beyond our parish boundaries.
Those first deacons were chosen because they were reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom. We won’t dispute the point that our two deacons are also!
So, two men were walking through the woods when they came across a very large, deep hole.
They wanted to see how deep it really was – so they tossed in some small rocks and waited to hear the sound of them hitting the bottom. But they heard no sound.
So then they decided to throw in some bigger rocks. And, again, they heard no sound.
Looking around they noticed a rather large log at the edge of the woods. They went over and dragged the log to the hole and threw it in. Not a sound came from the hole.
But suddenly, a goat appeared, running like the wind. It rushed toward the two men, went right past them, running just as fast as it could. Suddenly, the goat leaps into the air and into the hole.
The two men just looked at each other, totally astonished – trying to figure out what they had just seen . . .
Soon after their unsettling experience, out of the woods came a farmer who spotted the two men and ran over to them. He asked them if they had seen a goat.
“You bet we did,” answered the two in unison. “and it was the craziest thing we ever saw. It came running out of the woods and just jumped into that big deep hole over here.”
“Well, that would not have been my goat,” the farmer said. “My goat was chained to a big log.”
So unfortunately for the goat – the only reason it ended up in the big hole – was that it was tied to the log that the two men chose to throw into the hole.
The question for us today and throughout our lives is --- what are we tied to and where is it pulling us??
Oh we all have something we are tied to. . . for some it is work, for others possessions, and others it is wealth or a lifestyle.
For some it is an addiction: drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating or shopping.
For others they are tied to an emotion, like anger or revenge. . . or tied to something in their past they just can’t turn loose of.
For far too many of us it is being locked into one’s own life – with little or no concern for others – like those whose needs were being neglected in Jerusalem.
Jesus reminded the disciples in today’s Gospel – and so reminds us – that the only thing we should be TIED to, with any kind of unbendable or unbreakable commitment --- is Him.
Jesus says, “You have faith in God: HAVE FAITH ALSO IN ME!
And if we are tied to Jesus, if we have faith in him – then we need not be afraid because we will abound with God’s love.
If we are one with Christ, our hearts will not be troubled because Christ will touch our hearts and lead us in our journey of life. To be one with Christ, to remain in Christ, to have faith in Christ – is not to be dragged down – for in Christ we can only be raise up!
In life it is so easy to be tied to THINGS that can ultimately only destroy us. Christ asks us throughout this Easter season to not let that happen to us. Rather let us be tied to Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ in whom our hearts find rest and our lives discover the new life that God offers to us each and every day.
Or, as St. Peter tells us in his letter today:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own --- so that you can announce the praises of Christ: who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
And to that we say: Alleluia!
It is odd, I think --- that on these Sundays following Easter during the year we are to be mostly reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew – we don’t read St. Matthew’s Gospel. . .
We did read Matthew’s account of the Resurrection on Easter, then we have 4 Sundays in the Easter season when we read from John’s Gospel, one Sunday from St. Luke’s Gospel – and we will read again from St. Matthew’s Gospel on the feast of the Ascension.
But then it is back to St. John for Pentecost and the two feasts that follow – then, finally back to St. Matthew when we get to the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time on June 21st – which seems like a long way off (maybe we will be back together by then!).
But that’s just the way--- not--- just this Easter season works – but also other Easter seasons in other years –we always read a good dose of St. John’s Gospel.
St. John structures his Gospel around seven statements of Jesus – which all begin with Jesus saying “I AM” – which of course gives us insight into who Jesus is.
In the course of this year – when we celebrate Sunday Mass – we hear five of these seven statements –
We already heard one – back on the 5th Sunday of Lent when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the grave – and Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha: “I AM: the resurrection and the life.”
Next Sunday we get one – when Jesus tells the apostle Thomas: “I AM: the way, the truth and the life.”
On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ on June 14th: we will have another of these sayings, when Jesus tells the crowds: “ I AM: the living bread come down from heaven.”
And, as you may have already figured out – we heard two of Jesus’ I AM sayings in today’s Gospel:
“I AM the sheep gate // and // I AM the good shepherd.”
So every 4th Sunday of Easter, no matter what the year -- is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because in each of the three years of the lectionary – we read a part of John’s Gospel in which Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd.
Over my 30+ years of preaching, without fail, that is the image I have always focused on and preached about – that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep, following obediently after him.
But this year, I wanted to pay attention and focus on the other I AM saying we hear today – the one that is so easily passed over:
when Jesus tells us: “I AM the gate to the sheepfold – and whoever does not enter through the gate, is a thief and a robber. . .”
In addressing the rural folk gathered to hear him speak that day – Jesus knew the image that would come immediately to the minds of his hearers when he said, I AM the gate.
In Jesus day, a shepherd was literally the gate or the door to the sheepfold. . . When sheep were kept in a town or village, there was a pen with a real gate.
But when the sheep were grazing out in the fields and on the hillsides – at night, for protection – the shepherd created a makeshift sheep fold with branches and brambles.
Once the sheep were safely in the fold, the shepherd himself (as shepherds were always men) would lie across the opening – so the shepherd was literally the gate – and as the gate, the shepherd could control the coming and going of the sheep and keep the flock safe from wolves and other predators.
So, what do we know about doors and gates? And I include doors because in Greek – door and gate are the same word. . . they are portals: exothrya
We know, for instance -- that there are all types of doors and gates – all sizes, all materials, some are warm and welcoming – others are cold and frightening.
We know that doors and gates keep us safe. We know they always lead us somewhere. We know that they indicate movement in our lives – when we pass through a door or gate we are going from one place to another – the portal connects us to what is next.
We know that doors and gates might reveal a mystery on the other side – as we never know for sure what we may find on the other side.
If we do understand that doors and gates, portals – lead us somewhere and indicate movement in our lives then---- education, is certainly a door. . . so is opportunity, and even sheltering in place can be a portal – leading us somewhere we may not have expected – because we would have never chosen it on our own. .
If we understand that portals lead us somewhere, and indicate movement in our lives – then should we not also consider prayer a door or gate – or service, or faith, or baptism, or Eucharist?? Because all lead us somewhere. . . helping us to become someone we weren’t before. . .
Last week we used the power of our imaginations to understand the Emmaus story just a bit better – let’s do the same with the image of a door or gate – the portals of our lives:
If I allow my mind to wander, some of the images that come to my mind are:
--The door to the house where I grew up-- in Southern Indiana – it was black, and had three windows across the top. An image for me of home/warmth/acceptance/love/safety.
--I picture the gate to one of our barnyards that a bull once tried to jump over – but didn’t quite clear --- and so it bent the gate down in the middle.
My mom took a picture of my little brother in his superman cape with his hands on the gate – as if he bent it down! So an image of strength/destruction/ and family frivolity. Maybe even of abandon/curiosity/and recklessness if we focus on the bull. . .
--I picture the doors of the churches I have belonged to or have led. So images of faith/belonging/community/peace and serenity.
--I can imagine the little doors of an Advent calendar – images of surprise/assurance/anticipation/ presents – s-e-n-t-s and presence – s-e-n-c-e.
--I can picture a prison door – so an image of being frightened/locked in/confined.
--I can imagine a friend of mine who is a bouncer at a bar – so a human gate, like a shepherd – allowing some to come in while keeping others out –
Fortunately I never picture Jesus as a bouncer– for Jesus is always welcoming us into the fold. . .
Although, unfortunately, I can picture some Church officials with their rules and regulations as bouncers: allowing some in – and keeping others out. . . If the Church strives to be a field hospital as Pope Francis calls us to be – then everyone should at least get their foot in the door of our Churches. . .
So if portals: gates and doors – indicate movement in our lives – and lead us somewhere – where does Jesus – who says I am the gate to the sheepfold: lead us?
Well, Jesus leads us to God – and to the Father’s house (as he will tell us next week).
Jesus leads us to abundant life. To eternal life. To a better life than we could ever dream of.
Only when we live in Christ – only when we enter through him – who is the gate to the sheepfold – does life on this earth truly become worth living, and life in the world to come is truly fulfilled.
There is no easy way into the sheepfold – if we think we are just going to hop over the hedgerow – then we are thieves or robbers – we don’t really belong. . . The only way in is through Jesus – and as Jesus told us many times in the course of his earthly life – the way to follow him – is to take up our cross – daily. May God give us the grace we need to do this – so that we can walk clearly and confidently --- in the light of Christ.