Mom was never one to give long speeches. Or even short ones for that matter. Just a glance and you knew you were in for it. Or just a look and you know you had done well. You knew without too many words, what was expected of you. And you knew, even when mom (and dad) said “no” to movies that the rest of my classmates were seeing, she was not being spiteful, but trying to shape us and prepare us for the kind of living that honors God. I am thankful that I grew up trusting that mom wanted LIFE for us kids, that she wanted us to grow up believing that God wanted no less for us. But it wasn’t until dad was dying in the hospital with a stroke that I realized the depth of mom’s desire about this.
I admit, it was a strange thing to my eyes. Someone had given mom a Divine Mercy prayer card that very week that dad had his stroke. (now keep in mind, this was 9 years before it became an official, recognized Sunday in the Liturgical year – so the devotion itself was not a well known prayer form) And there at the hospital, mom remembered that little prayer card, and there she was, praying this prayer I’d never heard of, over and over and over for my dad, asking God to take him home, to forgive his sins, to let him be granted the gift of the beatific vision. I remember thinking – I wish she would shut up. And I remember thinking, if I were dad, I would be finding a way to come out of my coma to say the same thing: “Mary, would you shut up – I got the message.” But what I came to recognize looking back over that experience is the passion that has always driven my mom – to help bring her husband and her children home to God in heaven. She wanted LIFE and LIFE most abundantly for us – and for her, that meant the life of heaven. So, whatever it took to get us there, that is what she would choose.
That is what the Good Shepherd tells us today in the gospel. That we will recognize the voice of the shepherd in this truth – that God wants only life and life more abundantly for us. That is our Savior’s motivation for us. Everything that is less than our truest and best self, everything that sells our souls cheaply, everything that does not pass the ‘life to the full’ test – that is the work of thieves and robbers; that is the work of the evil one.” Anyone else who comes with a different agenda is not to be trusted. Jesus, the good shepherd is all about ABUNDANT LIFE.
Maybe that comes easier to mothers than it comes to fathers. Or to women then it does to men, I don’t know. I who sometimes make the journey so complicated, to about achievement and performance and the doing of things – need to step back from my activities and let myself be led by that one desire of the Good Shepherd – life and life more abundantly.
So the question becomes in each of those countless decisions we make in a day: Does this action, does this choice, does this path I am considering – does it open me up to the kind of life that God has in store for me? And you’ll know it, not because you are free to do anything your mind can conceive of – (we call that hedonism) – but because you are free to do and seek only the loving thing. Sometimes that indeed is a limiting of my options. I don’t go to certain movies. I don’t hang out at certain drinking establishments. I don’t engage in shady business practices. But most often, it is a sharpening of my heart and will – I do choose to spend time with the difficult in-law. I do choose to bake that casserole for the homeless. I do choose to write to a person on death row. All those behaviors that model themselves after the gatekeeper – that are about a love that sacrifices and gives itself so that others might know life – that is the invitation.
This is why we need to return again and again to this altar, to this place, so that we can put aside all the competing voices in our busy world and listen for the voice of the shepherd. This is why mom and dad dragged us sometimes reluctant kids to church every Sunday, whether our hearts were in it or not. This is why mom said that Divine Mercy Prayer again and again as she knelt by my dying father’s bedside. For it is only around this table that we will see rightly. It is only here that we will truly hear the voice of the Shepherd, who has one desire for us – that we might have LIFE and have it more abundantly. May we live that life abundantly this day.