FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR A
Railfan that I am, I recall the advertising campaign that the Long Island Railroad used to attract passengers going to the 1964 World’s Fair. Many of the railroad’s cars abandoned the famous Dashing Dan logo and instead bore, in huge letters along both sides of the car, the slogan: Steel Roadway to the Fair’s Gateway. Whether we arrived by train or automobile or bus, the very thought of walking through the Fair’s gateway was enough to get our hearts beating faster with excitement. That gateway – almost in our own backyard – admitted us into another world, an enchanted place that rivalled the Magic Kingdom created by Walt Disney across the continent in California.
The very word, gateway, congers up so much excited anticipation. The phrase, Gateway to, appears over and over again. Gateway to New England. Gateway Battery Park City. Gateway to College. Gateway to the Future. Typing those two words, Gateway to, into Google will produce 61,700.000 possibilities.
So, it is not surprising to find that Jesus, that master storyteller and image-crafter, finally gets around to describing himself as the gateway to… He does so in a last-ditch effort to win over some Pharisees “who did not realize what he was trying to tell them” when he described himself as the Good Shepherd. “I am the gate.” And then he states bluntly what he is the gateway to. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
The annual observance of Good Shepherd Sunday is an invitation to reflect on the full meaning of our life in Christ and what it offers us. When we do so, we discover – as many converts tell after their initiation into the Church – that Baptism is the gateway into a world more wondrous than any world’s fair or amusement park. And it is a real engagement with the real world, not a world of fantasy.
Baptism introduces us, first of all, into solidarity. The poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, “to comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.” Perhaps never have we comprehended the priceless value of our Baptism-born solidarity as much as during the last two months when we have been prevented from meeting together in church. Yesterday was an indescribably beautiful day. I loved looking out my office window at the green grass and colorful blossoms. But then my thoughts turned to the fact that it should have been the day of First Holy Communions. The grounds should have been crowded with beaming youngsters and their equally beaming family members as they sealed their solidarity in Christ with the sacrament of the Eucharist. Thankfully, electronic media make it possible for us to stay connected in prayer even at a distance. But we long to pass through that gateway that bears the banner, “Return to Normalcy.” Then we can truly feel and celebrate and enjoy our solidarity. Meanwhile, we are reaffirm today that ,until that banner flies over our city and our world, we must listen more intently for the voice of the Good Shepherd who cares about each and every one of us
Life in Christ gives us a moral compass in a world where traditional values are increasingly questioned and often flaunted. Just like Peter’s audience on the Day of Pentecost, we are called to save ourselves “from this corrupt generation.” We do that by listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd and following his example. He has left us, not just teaching, but “an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” Following Jesus is not always easy. It has led many to lose even their lives in witness to him. But self-discipline and self-sacrifice are the only paths to full maturity and satisfaction.
This past week, among all the tragic stories of people who lost their lives to the coronavirus, one stood out. Paul Cary was a paramedic in Colorado who could not ignore the voice of the Good Shepherd calling him to heroic service. He traveled from the relative safety of his home state to the epicenter of the pandemic to tend complete strangers suffering from the virus. Mayor de Blasio paid tribute to Mr. Cary with concise accuracy. “Paul gave his life for us,” he commented.
So, in the end, it is not about a Steel Roadway to a Make-Believe World’s Gateway, but a wood roadway to heaven’s gateway. The Cross has drawn us together into solidarity. It has given direction to our conduct as travel life’s roadway. And, beyond that, it lifts us up, along with the Risen Jesus into eternal life.
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