Zita, Jesus and the Whisperers
User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, April 25, is the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C, Cycle II): Good Shepherd Sunday.
April 27 is St. Zita’s day. She has a great story. Born in 1218, she was sent to be a maid, as was common at the time, at age 12. Stationed with the Fatinelli family, she found ways to fit daily Mass and prayer into her schedule and worked hard. The other servants tried to undermine her because they thought she worked too hard and made them look bad. One butler tried to make advances to Zita, but she fought him off, leaving his face scratched and her purity intact. The Fatinellis promoted her to head housekeeper, and she lived her whole life serving them, until age 60. She’s the patron saint of maids … and, in the Hoopes family, of children who have to do chores.
Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100:1-3, 5; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30.
This year, Cycle C gives us the short form of the Good Shepherd reading. It is, in total:
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
It is both brief and mystifying. But it gives several core teachings.
1. It teaches that Jesus’ relationship with us is natural and total. We follow our boss at work because that arrangement is convenient, and we have to remind ourselves that we are following her for the sake of the company. We follow a police officer directing traffic for a similar reason. But in the case of Christ, we truly belong to him. Like a sheep — or a dog, in our experience — can tell his master from a random visitor, or a thief, and will respond accordingly, we hear Christ’s voice and resonate with it, happy to know he is close — and ready to do what he wants.
2. Jesus has the power — and intention — of keeping us safe with him always. As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “A baptized person belongs forever to Christ.” To leave Christ, we have to wrench ourselves away from him, through sin. We have to repeatedly deaden our conscience, quash feels of shame and guilt, and choose what’s against our best interest. In one sense, it’s easy to fall into sin through neglect. In another, it’s difficult: We naturally feel regret, self-disgust and unhappiness because of sin. Because we belong to Christ forever, he doesn’t easily let us go: He continually calls us back through our conscience.
3. Christ is truly God. The Jews of the time had a sense of God’s majesty and power but didn’t otherwise have a well-defined conception of the divine. Jesus had to use odd language to proclaim his divinity because he faced two problems. He had to both explain that God was a spiritual being not limited to a single space, and he had to explain that he was God, even though he stood before them as a man. Here, he uses one formula: He says his Father is greater than him but then says, “I and the Father are one.”
These dimensions of Christ enable us to suffer for him — even now. Today’s readings are extraordinary in that they speak of a very modern form of persecution.
The “wash their clothes in the blood of the lamb” in the second reading is a clear reference to bloody martyrdom.
But the first reading showcases a very different kind of suffering: social suffering. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said,” says the reading. In other words, they found ways to malign the Christians and denounce them. Then, they go another step. They “incited the women of prominence who were worshippers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.”
That’s right: The persecution we feel in our day is like the persecution the Bible describes. We won’t be thrown to the lions. Neither were they here. We will instead endure slights and whisper campaigns that set the prominent people in our social circle against us. With faith, hope and love, we too can find glory even in this martyrdom.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.