Easter: an unopened gift?

John 10:1-10 (4th Sunday of Easter, Year A)
Jesus as the Good Shepherd, S. Callisto catacomb, 3rd century
What happens if someone gives you a gift and you never unwrap it? Obviously you would never get to enjoy the gift. It would never really become a part of your life and would just sit on the shelf unused. Year after year during the Easter season we celebrate the greatest gift we have been given: the new life we have received from Jesus. Do we, however, truly experience this new life? As the years go by, do we experience the peace that should come with this gift of new life from Jesus? To be honest, I often do not experience this peace. I do not think I am alone. Perhaps it is because we do not truly open and use the gift Christ has given us. Oftentimes it sits on our shelves, unopened and unused.

We cannot experience the new life Jesus won for us by His death and Resurrection without our participation. Jesus does not simply wave a magic wand over us and we instantly feel and peace. We need to do something. This point is illustrated by two images for Jesus that we find in the Gospel of the day. 
  1. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This is an image we are more familiar with. If we were to continue reading on in this chapter from John, we would read about how Jesus is a shepherd who gives life to His sheep through His own death. 
  2. Jesus, the Gate. This is an image we are less familiar with. Jesus describes Himself as the gate of the sheepfold. Why a gate? When we think about it, the image makes a lot of sense. Imagine that we are trying to enter a beautiful, lush pasture that is gated all around the perimeter. The only way that we can enter into such a pasture is through the gate. Jesus is the gate that leads to the pastures of new life, both now and for eternity. What this image draws out is the fact that though Jesus has opened for us the way to salvation and new life, we personally have to walk through the gate
Jesus has given us the gift of new life, but we need to open this gift, we need to do something in order to experience it.

We pass through this gate and experience the new life Jesus has won for us by responding to our vocation. Before the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics thought that the only people who had a vocation were priests and nuns. This way of thinking is still out there. For example, when I was at the seminary and someone made the decision to leave the seminary, people would sometimes say that this individual “lost his vocation”. The Second Vatican Council, in the document called Lumen Gentium, affirmed that each and every baptized Christian has a vocation. In fact, we all have the same vocation: holiness. The primary calling of each of us is to be holy, which means to live like Jesus did. It is by becoming holy that we truly experience the new life that Jesus has given us. This fundamental vocation of holiness is lived in different ways. These different paths towards holiness are what we usually think of when we think of vocations: married life, priesthood, religious life and the single life. This weekend we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is a great time to remind ourselves that for each of us our primary vocation is to be holy. We also want to pray in a special way that young people in particular will be able to discover the special path that God is showing them to become holy, whether it be a call to the priesthood, married life, religious life or single life. In our baptism we have all been given a vocation and it is by accepting and living this vocation that we pass through Jesus, the true gate, to experience the fullness of life.

We respond to our call to holiness by laying down our lives for others in imitation of Jesus. Jesus laid down His life for us in a total and absolute way by dying for us on the cross. Though we probably are not asked to literally die for others, each of us is called to lay down our lives for our neighbors in a very concrete way through service. Recently, I saw a short video that became very famous online called Interview for the World's Toughest Job. In this video, someone made up a fake job and advertised it online and in newspapers. A number of people, believing that it was a real job, applied for the position and real interviews for the job were held. The video is a compilation of a few of these interviews. During this interview, the applicants were gradually told the expectations and requirements of this job:
  • must serve a client who can be very demanding and offer little thanks
  • must possess a large number of skills and talents in order to serve client
  • there are few, if any breaks while working
  • expected to serve their client 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • this job pays absolutely nothing
Each of the people being interviewed responded that the job description sounded inhumane. Some asked if it was even legal. The man doing the interview then revealed that millions upon millions of people actually do this, the world’s toughest job everyday: moms! This weekend, we celebrate Mother’s Day. We want to give thanks to our mother’s for the great love and service they have shown us. Motherhood is a striking example of how people, in imitation of Jesus, concretely lay down their lives in service of others out of love.

When we serve other people, we experience true peace. Service is the way that we unwrap the gift that Jesus has won for us by His death and Resurrection. Service is the path through which we enter Jesus the gate. In order to be an authentic, sustained way of life, this service must be motivated by the faith and love that comes from encountering God. Blessed Mother Teresa, someone who was known around the world for her faith, love and service, formulated the following saying:
The fruit of silence is prayer,
the fruit of prayer is faith, 
the fruit of faith is love, 
the fruit of love is service, 
the fruit of service is peace.

I find this saying very helpful. When we do not experience fully the gift of new life that Jesus gives us at Easter, we can use it as a type of diagnostic tool. Are you not feeling peace? If so, ask yourself if you are serving others. Are you unable to serve your neighbor? If so, ask yourself if you feel love for them. If you feel no love for those around you ask yourself if you have faith. If your faith is weak, check on your prayer life. If you are struggling in your prayer life, take time for silence so that you can rekindle an encounter with God. Today let us test ourselves. Where in this prayer from Mother Teresa are we getting blocked? What can you do about it? Let us unwrap the gift of new life we receive from Jesus. Don’t put it on the shelf, unused and ignored.