“My sheep hear my voice…No one can take them out of my hand.” (John 10:27a, 28b)
Allow me to take you inside the heart of a shepherd:
It was a rough week. It began for me late Sunday night on the phone with jubilant Venezuelan friends who were awaiting good news from their homeland, but once again they had hope pulled out from under them for the umpteenth time. I went from celebrating with them to consoling them…
Monday afternoon we were all taken back to a place where we’ve been far too often lately when he heard of the Boston Marathon bombings: disbelief, sadness, yet for some reason we’ve become numb to this pain since 2001, so sadly there wasn’t much in the way of shock. My first instinct upon hearing the initial reports was to start contacting my dozen or so former students that are currently studying in Boston. As cell phone service was erratic at best up there, it took time for all of them to respond, but thankfully they all did sooner or later. Some weren’t too far from where the blasts went off, and many of them gathered in a common place just to be together because being with those you love is so important in times of fear and uncertainty. All of them were grateful that I was checking in on them and praying for them. Even from a distance, the shepherd never forgets his sheep.
The week’s headlines was a cavalcade of bad news piled upon bad news. The explosion in West, Texas that was forgotten far too quickly, a massive earthquake in the Sichuan province in China that’s killed hundreds, and…this is getting depressing. I’m supposed to preaching Good News. I’m getting there. As if the headlines from the world weren’t enough, the parish was inundated with funerals this week, and problems that just seemed to pile up. By the time Friday night had come around, I was ready to put the troubled week behind me when another shootout took place in Boston.
Again, I took to the phone to make sure my kids were ok. I sat there in front of my TV watching this drama unfold praying for those who so bravely put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. A police officer had been killed the night before, so my thoughts turned to all police officers and first responders because so many of my friends protect us every single day including my own brother. As I was watching this shootout take place on live television, I tweeted: “Praying for the Boston area police officers and federal agents. #staysafeBPD.” About an hour after that, one of former students who more often than not is far wiser than me, responded that I should pray for the 19 year old kid as well. I was taken aback because I was so focused on the cops’ safety, but in the very serious text conversation that ensued, she was firm in reminding me that as a Catholic and as a priest I should set an example. The student had become the teacher. Everything came into focus for me at that moment. Hate was no longer part of the equation. Prayer, mercy and forgiveness were. My next tweet was basically a summary of what she told me: “A wise young lady just reminded me that as we pray for everyone in Boston, we must pray for this 19 year old too…because we’re Catholic.” I pressed send thinking that it was going to erupt in a firestorm of disagreements on my Twitter and Facebook timelines, but with one lone exception, it became a moment of great evangelization. It became one of the most retweeted comments I have ever posted, and I cannot take credit for it because it came from the heart of an extraordinary person who reminded me that first and foremost I was a shepherd called to lead my sheep into the loving and merciful pastures of the Lord.
As I reflected on the events of that evening, I meditated on the fact that we can’t be limited in our prayers because we do not have a limited God. His mercy shines on all whether we consider them righteous or condemned. And who are we to decide? Cardinal Sean O’Malley introduced this very delicate topic of forgiveness in his homily this morning in Boston for the victims and their families. We all belong to God. He doesn’t make distinctions between his good children and bad children. All of us are in his hand, and he assures us that “no one can take them out of his hand.” So this Sunday as we pray for young Michael, Officer Sean, Krystle, and Lu, we must also pray for Dzhokhar and his deceased brother Tamerlane. Once we introduce forgiveness into our prayers and take out all hate and ill-will, then we truly become free to love and free to live extraordinary lives worthy of God’s children.
So the heart of the shepherd this week was saddened and troubled and worried and challenged, but in the end this heart was full of peace because it belongs to all of you. My prayer to Christ, the Good Shepherd is that my heart may always beat in unison with his. That my heart may always turn to those who need Him the most. If we listen to his voice, then we must ask him what he wants us to do. We saw so many heroic and selfless actions take place in Boston and in Texas this past week. People opening their doors to total strangers, running into fires to save others, staying behind until everything was over. We shouldn’t have to wait for tragedies to take place for us to demonstrate the glorious strength and resolve of the human spirit. These actions are things we must do on a daily basis because we all belong to the same flock. The very best of humanity was on display this week because God’s grace shines brightest in the face of darkness. Just look at the cross. It was indeed a rough week, and this Sunday we gather as a flock to be comforted by Christ, our Good Shepherd. We pray for an end to violence, we pray that we may learn to forgive, we pray for the victims, we pray for the suspects, we pray for all, but most of all, on this day, we pray for what our hearts long for the most: peace.