Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 26)

I recently came across a story a story regarding two young siblings named Johnny and Mary. Mary had a serious disease and needed a blood transfusion. The donor would had to have been someone who also had the disease. Her brother Johnny fit the bill for two years earlier he had recovered from the same disease.

The doctor approached Johnny to see if he was willing to give blood for his sister. When the doctor asked the question Johnny hesitated in thought, his lower lip starting to quiver then he said, “Yes, for my sister.”

The children were wheeled into a sterile room. Mary was pale and thin due to the disease. Johnny was healthy and strong. They did not speak but when catching each other’s eyes they smiled. The needles were inserted first into Mary then into Johnny. As he watched the blood starting to flow the smile faded from his face. When the transfusion was almost complete Johnny spoke. His voice crackled as he asked: “Doctor, when am I going to die?”

It was only then that the doctor realized why Johnny had hesitated and almost cried when he had first asked him if he would donate his blood – Johnny thought that giving his blood meant giving his life. The doctor quickly told Johnny he would live but then stood in quiet awe realizing that this young child was willing to give his life for someone he loved.

Continuing our celebration of Easter we are once again reminded of God’s immense love for us. He created us in love and he redeems us in love. The First Letter of John speaks of us as God’s children. We are God’s children through union with his Son, Jesus Christ. Through baptism we are united with Christ in his death and promised a like share in his resurrection from the dead. In union with him we become children of God.

Jesus himself speaks of the great love God has for us when he calls himself the “Good Shepherd.” The shepherd leads and guides the flock. He leads them to pasture where they will find food and water to sustain their lives. He gathers them together again and watches over them that they may be safe from harm. The Good Shepherd “knows” his sheep and they know him. They listen to him and are willing to be led by him. They entrust themselves to his care and protection. In this way they are kept safe from the wolves and robbers.

We find comfort in the image and are uplifted as we reflect upon it. At the same time we are moved to profound awe when we hear Jesus say: “I am the Good Shepherd … and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” No ordinary shepherd will offer himself for his sheep. Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. His love for his sheep is beyond calculation. He willingly offers himself on their behalf: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.”

Jesus manifests his Father’s love as well for he tells us: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again…. This command I have received from my Father.” In his love the Father sends his Son to lay down his life in love. Jesus willingly accepts this mission in love and we have life through this love.

Reflecting on this love we are filled with awed silence. Yet as we become more and more aware of this great love we want to respond. Our response manifests itself in three ways: gratitude, proclamation and love.

Psalm 118, which serves as the Responsorial Psalm for Sunday’s liturgy, helps us articulate our gratitude. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever.” The psalm is one of thanksgiving. Through it we express our appreciation for the love God has for us. We extol his greatness. We acknowledge that he is our “refuge,” our “trust” and our “savior.”

The first reading for Sunday’s Mass comes from the Acts of the Apostles as do all the first readings for the Easter Season. Acts recalls the response of the apostles and early disciples to the resurrection of Jesus – they proclaim. The reading is a good example. Peter proclaims to the leaders of the people and the elders. Just previous to this he had been in the temple with John. There was a man there “crippled from birth” who had been regularly “carried and placed at the gate of the Temple called ‘the Beautiful Gate.’”

There he begged from the people entering the temple grounds. Seeing Peter and John enter he had asked for alms. Peter says to him: “Look at us.” He does. Peter then says: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” Peter took his hand and raised him. The man “leaped up, stood and walked around, and went into the temple with them walking and jumping and praising God.” Peter begins a speech in praise of Jesus. Meanwhile the captain of the Temple Guard and the Sadducees confront him and arrest him. This is where Sunday’s passage picks up.

Peter proclaims that it is in the name of Jesus that the cripple man now walks. Peter says Jesus is “the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Peter is filled with the life Jesus offers. Empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly proclaims Jesus. The proclamation is further witnessed by the other apostles and disciples who do the same.

We too have life in the life Christ gives us. We too have the gift of the Spirit. We too have shared in the love of Christ and can offer this life to others through the proclamation of that love.

The third way we respond to this great gift of God’s love is to love as he loved. You may recall the passage in the Gospel according to John where Jesus speaks of the greatest love. He says: “No one has greater love than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He then says: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father…. This I command you: love one another.”

In response to Jesus’ love, in his laying down his life for us, we are to keep his commands – the greatest of these is the command to love. The way we live a “good” life is to live a life of love. Laying down our lives in service, care and concern for each other is our response to the love Jesus has for us.

In the story above, the doctor was awed by the love Johnny had for his sister Mary. He was willing to die for her. Johnny did not have to die for her but Jesus did die for us. He gave completely of himself so that we might live. Jesus died and then rose from the dead. In his resurrection we rise with him to life. May we grow ever stronger in our response to his love through gratitude, proclamation and love.