Years ago, Basilian Fr. Lee Higgins was known for preaching “fire and brimstone” missions to high schools. Back in the 1950s he would scare students into practicing their faith. A favourite story of his was of a young unmarried couple who had had sex, and then were killed in a car accident before they were able to go to confession—and thus went straight to hell. There was no hope for them.
I’m so glad that in these past years the Church has put more emphasis on God’s tender mercy and love. That’s what comes through to me every year with the celebration of the Good Shepherd, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. There is so much we can learn from it, especially with the readings that we have this year. Jesus is willing to lay down his life for us—which, of course, is what we celebrate with his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. He died in order that we might live. He is committed to us; it is who and what he is—his vocation, as it were—and not just a job. And he even does it for those who are not “of this fold.” Many times we have understood that line to refer to Christians who are not Catholic; lately I have come to believe that it refers to all people, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof), or their economic status, ethnic origin, or any other seeming difference. That is because we are all children of God, as John tells us in our second reading.
That second reading was used at my ordination to the priesthood. I remember spending time with it, and looking up the original Greek words. I learned that the Greek verb dédōken, translated here as “given” has a connotation of abundance, and can also be translated as “lavished.” Isn’t that amazing? God “lavishes” his love on us, and makes us his children! What more could we ever ask? And we are brought yet again to the insight that is both an incredible obligation and a difficult question: If I, and you, and all people are God’s children, what does that imply? How am I called to treat my sisters and brothers?