3rd Sunday Easter (A)
May 4, 2014


Today and last Sunday would be a “study in contrasts.” Just allow me to attempt at making a comparison. Last Sunday was a story of two enthusiastic and happy apostles who galloped their way towards sanctity. All told, about 4 million people flocked to Rome for the occasion. Hundreds of thousands converged at the Piazza di San Pietro and beyond, clogging all available side streets and open spaces. Hundreds of millions more watched the solemn proceedings on TV and via online streaming.

Today, though, no one is watching. Who loves to watch a story of dejected and despondent men, dragging their feet towards any place away from (not towards) the city of dropped plans, dashed dreams, and utter disappointment, if not, defeat? They ambled about in shame. They absent-mindedly walked away from the city that once nurtured their brightest and fondest hopes. Their once mighty team was now a loser by any standard. Their ball captain has been silenced; their team put to rout; and just about everyone was hiding in the upper room, for fear.

I am not a particularly good ball player. Though I dabbled with a bit of soccer and basketball, I was nowhere near the status of belonging to an A-team, and those who would make a mad dash for the first and final five, and bring the team to a tumultuous victory from both ends. But I sure knew a good ball captain or a good playing coach when I saw one. God knows how many games we have lost, and how many games we have won. And those that we won, definitely were not due to my stellar skills and spectacular moves (or the utter lack of them!), but more due to who was in-charge … to who was directing the team … to who was egging everyone on!

I was too young when good old St. John XXIII was making waves. I faintly remembered radio announcers talking glowingly about good Pope John. I did not know why, but I do remember the good feeling of people who spoke about him glowingly, enthusiastically. He was a good ball captain. He egged everyone on, and urged everyone to become better with his simplicity, his candor, and his holiness. He was the grandfather of the whole world, and everyone seemed to wait with eager longing for his fatherly words of advice.

I was more than just old enough when St. John Paul II came to the scene. As a young professed religious then just fresh from philosophy, the captain impressed me immensely. He gave the world a rousing challenge and a welcome call: “Be not afraid!” The coach gave the world fresh breath of new hope. He was the apostle of hope, even as St. John XXIII was the apostle of joy. Both were agents of change and pushers of enthusiasm. Their sights were focused on the heavenly Jerusalem. And everyone knew that both of them were moving towards that city, not away from it.

In contrast, the two disciples today were moving away. They were beaten, not driven. They moved away from the “everlasting hills” that they did not see anymore.

But despite the seeming bad news from the two, today’s good news is clear. This is a good news that I would rather hold on, hang onto, and revel in. For I was so often like the two beaten bench warmers. How often have I lost enthusiasm when the dream of ever getting that coveted trophy is far from sight, and far from reach! How often have I lost, not just enthusiasm, but even faith when the going got rough, and I was not among the tough ones that kept going and going and going like Eveready batteries!

I am sinner. Like the two … devoid of hope, devoid of faith, devoid of energy … and this not just once, not twice, but seven times seven times. There was even a time I hated the Church and blamed her for my woes, for having been given a raw deal by those who represented the institutional Church.

But now I know my Savior lives. He has risen, indeed, as He had promised. And I know it vicariously, for the two despondent disciples were not left in the lurch. The Lord came to rescue them from the depths of misery. The ball captain and playing coach came, not just to egg them on, but to accompany them, to be their companion on the way (cum panis, which is the root word of companion, has to do with “bread!). He joined them. He marched with them; listened and talked to them, and then broke bread and shared bread with them.

The Risen Lord is close to the broken hearted! The Lord came to lift their spirits up, and to energize them for the work up ahead.

The Lord came once in 1959 … in the person of good Pope St. John XXIII. The Lord came once again to show the way in 1978 … in the person of St. John Paul II, as He did when Paul VI reigned, and suffered much all through his long reign.

The two discouraged disciples were discouraged no more. They went right back to where they were trying to run away from. The two modern apostles, more than acting like good team captains, now act as the Supreme Shepherd Himself.

And last thing I heard is, they don’t lead us to defeat and despondency. They lead us to courage, to faith, to hope, and love, and total victory in the Risen Christ!

Are you a good team player? Never mind if you are not among the first fielders or the first five or the last five. We all count, for the Shepherd up there, counts on each and everyone of us!

Here I am, Lord! Send me!