I arrived in our religious community’s General House in Rome a few days ago for some meetings. I felt inspired to walk to St. Peter’s basilica during one of our breaks from the meetings. I learned that it was about a 45 minutes walk one way, that the directions there were complicated, that it was more difficult to get directions there along the way since I did not speak the language and that I might not make it back in time for the next meeting session. I was undeterred. I stepped out of the house and prayed, “Mother Mary please guide me.” Coming to an intersection and not knowing whether to go left, right, straight on, or turn back, I instinctively turned and asked a man standing behind me how to get to St. Peter’s. He replied, “I am walking there myself. Let’s go together.” He happened to be a priest from the Fiji Islands and we had a great time on the way there, I enjoyed my brief visit there, and made it back in time for the meeting.
This has always been the story of Mother Mary in my life and vocation. I did not know then how to respond to what I sensed as a call to religious life and priesthood. I remember many months of discernment, anxious about how this will work out, where it will lead me to and if I will be happy following that path. Turning with confidence to Mother Mary for direction gave me courage to take the very first step and surrender myself to divine providence. It has not been easy or hassle free but it sure has been a great experience of God’s constant goodness leading me along the way. Even when my steps may seem to falter now and then, a glance at Mary always brings courage for the very next step of the journey no matter how gloomy the future may look. I believe we can rightly call her Our Lady of the next step.
The Reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows St. Peter and the Eleven proclaiming the saving works of God to the Jewish crowd. They Jews were “cut to the heart” on hearing about Christ’s death and His being raised by the Father. They asked the Apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” St. Peter calls them to just take the first step, “Repent and be baptized,” and they will see God do things that they could never imagine. If they responded to divine grace and made this first step, they will receive “forgiveness for their sins as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” By taking the very first step, they will be cleansed of their sins that hold them back and begin to be led and moved interiorly and powerfully by the Holy Spirit. They will experience the goodness of the Good Shepherd if only they will take the very first step.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd who has come “so that His sheep may have life and have it more abundantly.” However the flock will never know Him as the Good Shepherd unless they are willing to leave the comfort and security of the sheepfold. The shepherd does not force or threaten his flock but He “calls his sheep by name and leads them out.” He wants to lead them to “verdant pastures to give them repose there.” But will the flock be willing to be driven out of the sheepfold? Are they willing to take the very first step out of the known and familiar and be led along the journey step by step? It all begins with that first step.
St. Peter reminds us that we “who have gone astray like sheep have now returned to Jesus Christ, the shepherd and guardian of our souls.” We returned to Him through faith and baptism. Jesus does not use violence on His flock. “When He was insulted, He returned no insult; when He suffered, He did not threaten.” This is how good our divine shepherd is to us today even when we ignore and offend Him. But He continously moves us step by step along the path that leads to Him. He gives us the opportunity to take a new step towards Him everyday of our lives and at every moment. Our transformation into Christ is not a one time thing but one that constantly calls us to take the very next step in faith not knowing what lies ahead simply because we hear the voice of the Shepherd calling us.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is sometimes difficult for us to take the very first step in life and we are in need of all the help we can get to make this step. Everything in life begins with a first step and this is usually the most difficult step to take because we do not know how it will turn out. Whether it is learning how to walk, read, write, or play a musical instrument, we are in constant need of prompting and encoragement. This is where mothers come in. Nothing moves us more powerfully than to hear our mothers whisper to us at those moments, “Go for it. You can do it. It is okay.” This Mother’s day, we remember and express our deep gratitudes to our mothers living and deceased for helping us make these very first steps in life.
Likewise in the spiritual life, once we cooperate with divine grace and make the first step, we open ourselves to know the goodness and power of God. Mother Mary is crucial for us in making these new steps in the spiritual life too. Humanity was hopelessly held in the bonds of sin and God invited Mary through the Angel Gabriel to take the first step on behalf of mankind in reponse to God’s gift of Himself in the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. She made that first step even when she did not know where it will lead her or what it will cost her. In addition, she experienced the goodness of God that kept her faithful to the divine plan to the very end. She is indeed our Mother today who makes us realize that God’s loving care is concrete, immediate and personal and she constantly encourages and prompts us to take the necessary steps.
The celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, remains constantly with us, leading and guiding us to Him. The difficult part for us is taking the first step. What are we afraid of losing by making this step? What securities and comforts are we holding on to now? We do not have to be like the the rich young man in Mk 10:17-22 who rejected the invitation of the Good Shepherd and went away sad because of his abundant wealth. But we can look to Mary with confidence and beg for her guidance. She will help us to take the very next step and assure our hearts of God’s constant goodness.
Our Eucharistic Savior comes to us to constantly invite and move us to make those steps towards Him. He assures us in St. John’s Gospel that after He has pepared a place for us, “He will come again to take us to Himself so that we can be where He is too.” (Jn 14:3) He will never force us but will continue to call us by name. We will never know for sure beforehand where our steps will lead us or what they will eventually cost us. If we find ourselves reluctant or unable to take the first step, if we find ourselves overwhelmed with fear of the future or scared to let go of our securities, we must rememebr that we never lack grace if we beg for it with sincerity and a prayer to Mary from the depths of our hearts, “Mary, please guide me,” is all that we need to make that step. Once we make that step, we will know for sure that not only is God is with us but He is indeed a Good Shepherd.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!