Monday, April 26, 2010

First Homily as a Deacon – 4th Sunday of Easter, Year C

This Sunday is the fourth Sunday of the Easter Season, but we also call it "Good Shepherd" Sunday after the image of the Good Shepherd presented in our readings today. Typically we devote this particular Sunday to fervent prayers for Priestly and Religious Vocations and we should certainly do that today. But we also celebrate this year the fifth anniversary of the inauguration of our Holy Father's pontificate. On April 24, 2005 in St. Peter's Square, Benedict XVI celebrated his first Mass as Pontiff in the presence of half a million people. One hundred and fifty cardinals concelebrated with the Pope. Amidst all of that joy and happiness, who could foresee how he would be assailed today from all sides by accusations and the burdens he has endured? Indeed it is not easy to be a shepherd… but this is precisely what sets him apart from other shepherds.

    St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that as St. Paul and St. Barnabas spoke to the people and "urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God", some in the crowds "were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted" what they said. But, "both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly" and "the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region." In fact, "the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit." These great shepherds of the early Church, out of love for their flock made up of Jews and Gentiles, called them to faithfulness. Those who heard their voice and believed "were delighted" because they heard in Paul and Barnabas the voice of Jesus Christ. What set Paul and Barnabas apart from other shepherds, from other voices calling for the attention of the people? It was their willingness to truly love their flock. And true love always involves some degree of sacrifice, even suffering.

When a husband cares for his dying wife, this may not always bring the most pleasant feelings, but he does this because he loves her. When a son cares for his ailing father, this brings difficulty and disruption, but he does this because he loves him. When parents sacrifice their own goals, or wants, or needs in order to provide for their children, this can bring difficulties and disappointment, but they do this because they love them. Similarly, we can recognize a true shepherd by his love for his sheep.

    In our world today, there are many figures, things, and powers competing to be our shepherds, to lead us in the way they think we should go. Politicians try to lead us to toward or away from this or that cause. Universities try to lead us toward this or that philosophy. The media tries to lead us toward this or that set of values they think we should embrace or disregard. There are so many influences in our lives. To whom shall we go? How can we tell the good voices from the bad? Who are the good shepherds?

    True shepherds are those who lead their flock with self-sacrificial love. When the wolves come among them, does the shepherd run away, afraid for his own welfare, neglecting that of his sheep? Or does he stay, throwing himself among them, standing guard and confronting the wolves in order to protect the sheep? This can be a test for anything or anyone trying to shepherd your life. What does that shepherd do when you are really in danger, a danger that could envelope the shepherd too?

The story of the good shepherd that we hear from Scripture, about the shepherd who had one hundred sheep but was willing to leave 99 of them in order to find the one that is lost, teaches us a valuable lesson. All of humanity was the lost sheep lost in the desert, lost in our sins and distant from God. But before we could be lost forever, Jesus our Good Shepherd left the glory of heaven, so to speak, left the 99 and came among us to reclaim us as his own, to take our lot upon his shoulders and carry us home. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish." Through all the voices crying out to lead us, can we hear and recognize the voice of Jesus?

    When it comes to the Catholic Church, where we find His Voice, some of the shepherds have misused their position among the flock and have hurt them. Let us be careful though not to confuse the misleading voice of a few "wolves in sheep's clothing" for the larger Good voice of the whole.

Today we must show to the those inside and outside of the Church that the Church is still Good, that Jesus Christ is her Head and Shepherd and through the Church continues and expands his ministry of healing and forgiveness to all of mankind for all generations… That the Church is still True, it still loves, still brings the satisfaction of every deepest human longing. That through the sacraments of the Church we may still partake of the very Divine Life of God and are sustained by his own Precious Body and Blood. That the Church still suffers with us, prays with us, rejoices with us, worships with us, lives with us and is with us when we die, "wiping away every tear from our eyes." There is no better time than now to be ordained!... To do my own part in restoring this voice where it has fallen short. To do my own part in assisting Jesus in saving the lost sheep and calling them home.

    In his first homily as the pope, five years ago, our Holy Father shared the following sentiment that I join myself to today as I embark on this new ministry as a Deacon:

"My dear friends, at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love His flock more and more, in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another."

Together, we can cooperate with the Good Shepherd to help move the Church forward in truth, honesty, and virtue. Together, we can remain strong so the one lost sheep might find a faithful fold in which to be refreshed and restored in times of despair. Together, we can work and pray for peace and unity that can only come from Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd – OUR Good Shepherd.