We All Share in Feeding the Lambs
Like a lot of people, Don Caracium was an occasional churchgoer, as was his wife, though he was not Catholic. But at one point, he reached a point where instead of just showing up every once in a while, he decided that he wanted to join the church formally. And for him, this meant a yearlong process of attending meetings once a week in RCIA.
The instructor of the program was a wheelchair-bound man by the name of Dick with shoulder-length white hair, who was in his sixties and frail looking, though he’d claim that he was 35 years old and had a very strong spirit.
Don attended the classes until the day of the Easter Vigil approached. He recalls being so fired up that he decided to become an RCIA team member himself. Dick was a part of this, and it so happened that the deacon called Don one evening and asked him if he could pick up Dick. Don said it wouldn’t be a problem at all, and so he got in his car and went over to his home. And it was then he got to know the story behind the man in the wheelchair with the long hair who felt a true call to serve in any way.
He found out that he had been growing his hair for the Locks of Love organization so it could be made into a wig for children without hair. In his words, he said “I can’t do much, but I can grow hair.” Don also learned about Dick’s background. He had a deep knowledge of religion, and had studied it extensively before joining the Church. He was an Air Force veteran, and while being stationed in Japan he saw a need to help Korean War orphans. So he grabbed the bull by the horns and with the help of other servicemen, he set up an orphanage to help the kids. When he left the service, he worked for the church and became a religious education director. As his body began to betray him, he wasn’t able to do that anymore. In fact, when Don picked him up at his home, he had to have an oxygen tank, because of his emphysema. Going out on a cold night wasn’t a good idea, as it could make breathing very difficult. But that didn’t matter to Dick. He had a faith he wanted to share and pass on, and nothing was going to get in the way of that happening.
Unfortunately though time for him was short, and while he was able to continue teaching for a while, it wasn’t long before Don was going to Dick’s house to say his final farewell. On his final visit to Dick’s house, Don, who was also a musician and had starting doing this for the church, thought music might comfort Don, and so he went into the living room and looked through the song book until he came to “How Great Thou Art,” and he played while Kay, Dick’s wife, sang. The nurse later told Don that it was as though the Holy Spirit was guiding his hands, and it was as if heaven was saying “Dick, you did such a good job, we are going to give you a musical send-off.”
For Dick, living out his faith was a way of life. And for Don, who entered the Church, he learned a lot more than just what we believe – he learned the why and the how. That’s a special emphasis of the Easter Season.
In the Gospel this week, Jesus has the disciples set out to sea where they catch an abundance of fish. It’s very reminiscent of the first encounter Jesus has with Peter, where He tells Peter that from now on, he will be catching men. The second part though is a reminder that soon the Lord will be leaving, and it will be up to Peter and also the others to continue to do the catching part, setting out to sea even if they haven’t caught anything. The way that is done is through Peter’s hard work, and through God’s transforming love and power.
Peter is asked three times if he loves Jesus, and three times he says he does. He reaffirms the faith that he had wavered in when he denied Jesus. Jesus loves Peter deeply, and this is necessary so Peter can put the past behind him, but also to emphasize how serious the mission is. Jesus loves us too, even though like Peter, we may deny Him through our actions. There’s an important message for us though.
First, think about the words that end the Gospel this week, “follow me.” For Don, he came to realize that this meant learning the faith and taking it more seriously. The challenge for us is to truly follow the Lord by having an active relationship with him that doesn’t “plateau” with just Sunday Mass. This means trying to make sure daily prayer is included in our lives; that we “rediscover” our faith by learning about it, and take steps to help us increase our knowledge of the faith in our head and heart.
Secondly, think about “feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep.” Don did this by becoming an RCIA leader like Dick. All of us have different vocations, but through our baptism and confirmation we share in the work of Peter. Maybe God is calling you to try something new. There are truly so many ways to serve. For Dick, a wheelchair and a lung condition wasn’t going to slow him down from being a catechist. Every day there are so many ways we can serve our parish, our families, and the grater world. “Feed my lambs” is our commission too!
Lastly, think about the statement Jesus makes to Peter: “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go…He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” Being a disciple isn’t easy; ultimately it will lead Peter to his martyrdom. Faith is challenging. When we evangelize, sometimes people hate us as our message can be counter cultural. Sometimes family will ignore us when we try to help them rediscover their faith. Or we may have the pain of seeing people leave the Church. There is the setbacks too we can face when we are trying to evangelize people. And even just living our lives, we all know there is suffering when our faith is put to the test. Though we are in the Easter Season, the wounds are still on the body of the resurrected Christ, and it’s worth reminding ourselves again and again that Jesus suffered and died out of love for us, and though our suffering does not go away, Jesus suffers with us. Through the suffering came the joy of the resurrection, and through our sufferings for the faith, through our patience, we too can be transformed and transform others when we don’t give up. Think of the hard work that brings about good change; at the time it seems like suffering and so hard, but with effort, we see amazing changes in ourselves and one another for the better.
Peter will die not seeing much fruits of his labor – a small church still being persecuted. But because of he and those who served with him and followed him, our Church was born and thrives. All of us share in that work – and some days our nets will be empty. But through the Spirit’s guidance, may we strive to continually set out to sea to feed not lambs, but people with God’s love.
Blessings! ~Fr. Paul
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