April 21, 2024

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:8-12

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

Stuff happens. Life happens. Sometimes it is good things that happen, and sometimes it is things I would label as bad, but who knows what is good and what is bad. I have a friend whose father had a stroke, and they all prayed he would get better and live. He did, except that he had a personality change as a result of the stroke and became angry and bitter and not so nice to live with. Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?

Some people want to know why things happen. I simply say I don’t know. They want to know what God’s plan is, as if that would explain why what happens happens. I tell them I don’t think God has a plan. They shake their heads. Of course, God has a plan, they insist. I shrug and say I don’t think so, unless of course God’s plan is that we all become loving people, but beyond that, I simply shrug.

But God is all knowing, they tell me. God knows what will be. Maybe not, I think, simply because the future does not exist yet. It’s not as if the future is already predetermined, simply out there waiting to happen. I think maybe God knows what I’ll probably do, or most likely do, but sometimes I even surprise myself, so then I think maybe I surprise God, too. Free will and all of that, you know.

I think maybe God is like good parents who are always leading their children to goodness. St. John did write, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God … what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Still, children don’t always follow their parents’ lead. They go their own way, and then the parents adapt and try another way to lead them to goodness. I think maybe God is good at adapting to our idiosyncrasies and bullheadedness and flimsy whims. What else can God do with us but adapt?

But isn’t God in charge, they ask? So are parents, mostly, and we all know how well that works out. Sometimes, in the long run, it does work out, but not always, even when they’re good at adapting. I think God is probably good at the big picture and maybe not caught up in the details, unlike us. But you can’t just sit back and let it all happen one way or another, they’ll say. And they’re right, of course. It’s just not easy to know when to resist and when to give in.

One of the advantages of growing older is that we can look back on our lives and begin to see patterns. So, one of those patterns I’ve come to recognize in my own life is that my life has gone better when I’ve kept my hands off managing it too closely. Like most priests, I’ve been at a good number of parishes over the years, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. But the parish that went the least smoothly was the move I engineered to make happen. Oh, it was fine being there, just not as good a fit as some of the other ones. Some of those other ones I resisted mightily, but the archdiocese kept asking and so eventually I gave in, and they turned out to be great experiences. That’s why I try to keep my hands off my life now and go with the flow. Do I always do that? Not really, but I try, and when I succeed at that, my life seems to go better.

Sometimes people wonder, then, where all the stuff of life comes from. Why doesn’t it always go smoothly, and that’s a good question. I don’t know, I say. Maybe it’s me fighting life, and maybe it’s others doing so, and maybe it’s just the way life is. Who’s to say how it’s supposed to be? Stuff just happens — for all sorts of reasons, I think, or at least that’s what I’m inclined to say. I only know about my own life, and what I know is that it’s better if I don’t try too much to make it happen my way. Isn’t it that way with you too? I only wish I’d come to know that sooner.

The Gospel offers us the image of Jesus as a shepherd, and that makes a good deal of sense. We get lost, and we get found, and we get lost again, and we get found again. And so it goes. That’s why we say the shepherd is so good.


Do you think God has a plan for each of us? Why have you come to that conclusion?

Do you think God is shepherding you through life? Why do you say that?