Out of sheer excitement over the image of the Good Shepherd last Sunday, I forgot to give the mission perspective in our reflections.
When we focus on the image of the Shepherd, particularly his care and compassion, this leadership quality is what gives birth to mission and nurtures excellence in mission.
This leads us into this Sunday’s Gospel, the beautiful image of the vine and branches: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you are nothing.”
The other week I was with a former student who is starting a new career. I first met him some 20 years ago and had kept in touch through the years to discuss his own mission journey.
In his 30s, he narrated how his journey has made Christ more real to him. When he was younger, all the ideas and conversations about life, mission and God just seemed to have gone way over his head.
The past week I kept mulling over this in my head.
Being an educator, a teacher to whom the formation and education of this young man was entrusted, I asked myself what we missed. What was it that we did not do right? Is our philosophy and framework not a good fit any more to the needs of our students?
No clear answers
Honestly I have no clear answers or helpful reflections.
We lead people to discover their mission through the greater knowing, loving and following of Christ.
This is a core process. This speaks of remaining in Christ—he is the vine and we are the branches.
This is what St. Paul exhorts, for us to be “rooted and grounded in the love of God” that came to us through and in Christ and makes us live our life, our mission, with Christ.
Yet this is all easier said than done. We can say it time and again and, yes, it often goes way over our heads.
The danger is that with each relationship comes a set of roles with corresponding expectations; and the time will come when roles and expectations clash and pull us in all directions. It leads to our disintegration.
The trouble is the connectivity of technology which fills our life with many roles, and our default response is to fill in the impending void and emptiness that disintegration brings with more of the same. We clutch at straws.
The other default is we “turn to Christ,” but we do so with our baggage that caused the disintegration.
The image of the rich young man comes to mind. “I have done all these things since my youth,” he tells Christ. To which Christ responds, “There is one more thing you must do. Go sell everything you have and come follow me.”
We tend to spiritualize without stripping ourselves of all the baggage. It is a palliative spirituality. We need to choose to do “the one more thing”; allow the disintegration to take its course and lead us to the dark night of the soul—the crisis of the Agony in the Garden that leads us to a choice, “yes” to God’s will and mission for us.
Early last week, I saw a couple that I was preparing for marriage. They were a somewhat different couple.
They have lived abroad and both with PhDs in advocacy fields. The conversation was very deep. I think it helped them, but most certainly it helped me a lot.
In my conversation with the couple, I found myself going back to the roots of my commitment.
It was in 1980 when, with great clarity, I knew God’s mission for me and the deeper confirmation 14 years later to love others into excellence, the excellence of whatever makes them a more loving person.
As I remembered that moment 21 years ago and retold the story to the couple, it felt as if I was seeing the story again with new eyes, and slowly I felt my heart burning within.