We are all God’s children now Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18 Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel reading is from John Chapter 10. Drawing on a powerful reflection on leadership found in the 34th Chapter of the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus compares himself to a “good shepherd,” one who is willing to “lay down his life for the sheep.” The hired shepherd who doesn’t care about the sheep will run away when a wolf attacks and the flock is scattered. This type of shepherd “works for pay” and “has no concern for the sheep.” Not so Jesus. We know from the whole Easter story we have been celebrating these past few weeks that out of intense love, Jesus gave his life for those he loved. In his farewell address to his disciples in John’s Gospel, Jesus told them, “No greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In this Good Shepherd discourse given earlier in the Gospel story, Jesus said the same thing: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own.” The enemies of Jesus wanted to totally discredit him and his cause by crucifying him, but Jesus put himself at such risk because love fueled his mission of compassion and healing. No amount of opposition could stop him. Paired with John’s Gospel in this post-Easter season are selections from the Letters of John. Most scholars believe these letters were composed later than the Gospel and their purpose was to ensure that the Johannine communities remained faithful to the fundamental message of the Gospel itself, particularly its breathtaking emphasis on God’s love for us and our responsibility to live by the “love command” given by Jesus. That is the message in today’s reading from the First Letter of John: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” The author is emphatic: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” As I was preparing this column, I read a recent Gallup Poll report on the sharp decline in the percentage of Americans who identify with a particular religious tradition — Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Within a few years, the percentage of those claiming a religious allegiance had dropped from 77% to an astounding 47%. It is sad to say that the drop among the Catholic population was among the steepest declines. The pollsters and those who have commented on the report note that the reasons for such a sharp decline are multiple and complex. Many of those reporting their disillusionment with organized religion still clung to their religious faith. There are a lot of sober reflections one might draw from such challenging facts, but the readings for this Good Shepherd Sunday took me in a different direction. Even as we ponder how we might welcome back home Catholics who have left, we might keep in mind Jesus’ words in today’s readings. Jesus laid down his life out of love for us — all of us — whether we realize it or not. In the Gospel selection today, Jesus declares, “I have other sheep that do not belong to his fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” The Letter from John affirms that “we are God’s children now” even when we don’t know yet what that means. The bad news of the Gallup poll could simply discourage us. But one of the deepest convictions of our Scriptures is that God loves us and forgives us even when we are unaware. Jesus, “God with us,” lays down his life for us, in spite of ourselves. Rather than wringing our hands about loss of membership, perhaps the word today urges us, through the way we live and speak, to be witnesses of that divine love that must be the heart of the church’s message.