Appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Shutterstock

Servants of the Risen Christ

Jesus will not abandon you

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RaabFor 40 years of priesthood I have prayed the multifaceted images, metaphors and names of Christ in the Easter season. I have counseled rough and addicted people with the Good Shepherd. I have offered congregations Christ’s first word of “peace” after the Resurrection. I have sorted through hardships in fragile marriages with the consoling image of “abundance” in the Easter Gospels. These names and images of Jesus Christ help us find our identity as believers and as priests. Jesus as light, way, truth or vine — all reveal the love God offers as we serve our people and make our way home to heaven.

We may all find our way to the locked room with the disciples after Jesus’ death. They huddled together in a fearful sweat. Behind those locked doors they pondered their future with hand-wringing grief. I suspect that each of us knows fear all too well. We hide behind hearts that are weary, isolated and afraid all year long. Fear may become our natural place in life. Fear may push us away from prayer and intimacy. As bishops and provincials expect more from us, even in older age, we may want to hide our skills and talents, perhaps out of sheer exhaustion.

The first word from the Resurrected Christ is, “Peace.” I wonder if we can take some genuine alone time on retreat to bring our fear into the sound of Jesus’ voice offering us peace. How does his peace live in you today? How much do you need the Risen Christ to name your fear and call you forth from those dark places, just as he called his disciples? Are you embittered by how your life has turned out, or is Jesus showing you something more? Are you lonely enough to turn to him? Are you fearful enough to finally listen to the sound of his voice call, “Peace be with you”?

Another tender image of the Risen Christ is the shepherd. This image for you may seem worn along the edges. We have all preached this image for many years and perhaps have neglected that we also need to be found in him. Jesus chases us down. The Risen Christ desires us. God desires us, as leaders and priests, on the front line of the Church. We can do nothing alone. Our ministry is not ours, even though we often pretend we own it. We build buildings. We raise money. We solve problems. We listen to people complain. However, we also belong to the beloved. And the beloved belong to us. In my ministry among priests, I find that, most often, we are the ones lost among the shadows of our vocations, in the brambles where we thought our lives would turn out differently.

We need, more than ever, to allow our hearts to know him, to listen to his voice. I don’t mean memorizing Psalm 23. I mean knowing the shepherd firsthand. How do we encounter him? How is he chasing us down when we are caught in the thickets of life? How do we find ourselves on his shoulders after he finds us when we are most astray? Can we place our very hearts in his? How can we find the shepherd who once called us as a youth so as to love and serve him now?

Various images of the Eucharist reveal God’s abundance to us during the Easter season. We live not lives of scarcity in him, but lives of abundance. Scarcity is a violent trap. We can make decisions about our lives, our possessions and our people from the fear of not being or having enough. It is possible to change our hearts when aging, ill health or loneliness have stolen our perspectives of love. It is possible to know abundance even when bishops and provincials have let us down in our vocations and when the voices of authority have disappointed us. The disciples encountered the Risen Christ and love changed them. Fish and bread in abundance were always the results. That abundance may turn our soured hearts into places of love, tenderness and redemption. There will be leftovers to share with others.

I invite you to find the image of Jesus Christ in the Easter season that speaks to you. When you are overwhelmed by work, school ending and/or feeding on the scraps of parish life, know you are the servant of the Risen Christ. He will not abandon you, or leave you orphaned, or hungry or alone. You belong to Christ, and he belongs to you.

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, is the former pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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