Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter Year A
Theme: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday May 3 2020
A few years back on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, Albany’s Irish population, taking no notice of the heavily falling snow, paraded proudly down Central Avenue to the skirl of bagpipes. At the same time, I was huddled with a group of nurses in the hospital’s ER discussing the possibility of a sudden rise in admissions due to frostbite, especially from the kilted piper population.
As we joked gently, Kevin, ER charge nurse that day, offered a sharp comment about the steely bond between St. Patrick, Catholics and alcohol. “But Kevin, you’re Irish and Catholic, aren’t you?” I asked. Blushing just a bit, he offered, “Yeah, I’m Irish alright, but I’m not Catholic. I’m not anything.” Another of the group, thinking she’d heard wrongly, jumped in: “You must be something; Protestant from Northern Ireland maybe?” “No,” Kevin confessed in a now low voice. “I’ve never been to church in my life.”
Good humored jibes at the Irish turning to something more serious, Kevin innocently asked a question: “What does it mean to be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Buddhist, anyway? I really don’t know.” In a trice, a chatty group of ER nurses and a chaplain stood a bit stunned.
Thinking about his question all the next week, I found myself surprised that Kevin had had no religious upbringing, not because his name couldn’t be mistaken for anything but Irish, but because I’d seen with what compassion he cared for his patients. And I remembered the many times he’d called on me to assist a patient and family on the last lap of the homeward journey. How could someone so caring and so attuned to spirituality have never been to church, I wondered. How could someone who’d made serving others his life’s work have no religious affiliation of his own? Kevin’s simple question hung uncomfortably in the air.
In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus the Good Shepherd asserts that his wide embrace encompasses all those who desire to enter the fold legitimately through the sheepfold gate.
Further does he insist that, though this gate be wide, it will only allow entry to those who love God and neighbor with wholeness of heart, soul, mind and body. “And when he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4) Thinking back to Kevin’s question (“What does it mean to be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Buddhist?”), I imagine that Jesus might answer, “Those are rather arbitrary labels meaning very little to me. Do you love? Do you really love? That’s the only question whose answer really matters.”
Having watched for some years how Kevin gently shepherds his patients health-ward and sometimes heavenward, I feel sure I’m not attributing heresy to the mouth of God. From what I have regularly observed, Kevin has found a home not with any religious denomination but with all suffering humankind. He’s found a home in nursing, in healing, in shepherding health-ward all who come to him.
His quiet question haunts me still: “What does it mean to be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Buddhist?” As I consider that question further, I’m tempted to respond: “Kevin, don’t worry about it. You’ve already found a home with God right here in the ER. You’re likely as home as anyone could be this side of heaven.