Gate

Homily of Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ | Fourth Sunday of Easter

These days of quarantine, we find ourselves fenced in. Fences are supposed to protect us. We are accustomed to fences. Some fences are topped with barbed wire or broken glass, some even electrified. Long before COVID19, we were already gating our communities, insulating and quarantining ourselves from the grime of the world outside. There is even a separate lane for those without gate passes.

Even when it comes to religion, we tend to retreat into subdivisions. This is the main beef of those who are so anti-religion. Religion creates fences. They separate people into those who are in and those who are out.

The problem with religion of course is that it is human. As the cultural and social expression of one’s faith in God, it is not exempt from sinfulness. Religion may give the impression that it is an exclusive club for saintly members only. It is not. Nor is it foolproof. Religion can be so easily perverted by false shepherds. It can be raided and run by thieves and charlatans. The problem is not religion. The problem is in the twisting of religion, the malpractice of faith.

Enter Jesus in the gospel today. He says he is the good shepherd. Then he mixes metaphors. He uses a strange image. He says, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He says it twice. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Imagine you had property and you fenced it high and you forgot to put the gate. If you were inside, you might think you were safe from outside. Perhaps you are, but you’re also trapped inside. If you were outside this high fence that had no gate, you’d be trapped outside. What good then is that property for?

There is no point in having a gate unless of course you’re happy to be trapped inside or you’re happy to be locked outside. Gates are not needed if you saw no point in getting in or going out.

But when Jesus says he is the gate, he is telling us simply that he is the opening we need. We would never appreciate openings if we’ve never been locked in or locked out or locked down in life. If we’re honest, we know those instances when we just want to lock ourselves in or out, when we want to lock others out or in. We can look at the fences in our lives and the people we fence out or those we try to keep in.

Now more than ever, we can appreciate openings because of this virus that threatens to fence our lives in. The Good News is that Jesus tells us he is the gate. Jesus Christ is the opening we need. These days, in this time of quarantine, he is in every opening we create for one another, in every simple act of connection we make to our own selves, to each other, and to our God.

Hold on to these openings. Even as the outside world locks us in these days, we can begin to unlock our hearts; we can become openings to and for each other. Our Lord is to be found in simple acts of communion in all sorts of altars in this time of quarantine.

Jesus is the Gate through whom we can freely come in and go out, and find pasture. To find pasture, to find rest and redemption, Jesus invites us:  go through me, not around me; use the gate. If you think you’re all set and happy inside, wait till you go outside and start walking on the grass. The open view will expand your heart. And if you think you’re all good and happy outside, come in and find comfort in the company of saints and sinners who’ve been trying to live in communion with each other inside. The closeness will warm your life.

Jesus here is speaking of a refreshingly new and happier way to relate to God, to ourselves, and to the world. He is not junking religion. He is only tearing down fences that have no gate or opening.

Let us be cautious then when we define ourselves by the fences we put up, the fences that separate us from those we disdain, those we are afraid of, the heathen and gentile and all those who do not believe or behave the way we do. There is a gate to remind us that we are saved by who we include and invite into our lives.

Time now to come in, if you’ve been languishing outside. Time to go out, if you’re all too settled inside. No need to climb over the fence. Use the gate.

Jose Ramon T Villarin SJ
JesCom Mass

3 May 2020

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