Sunday, April 21, 2013

Homily Good Shepherd Sunday 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 pray for your current shepherds, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, our bishop, Archbishop Kurtz, and the priests and deacons who serve us every day. With the pressures on the Church from the world around us, it is not easy to be a shepherd.

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 that set them apart. 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, by what he is willing to endure for them.

True shepherds are those who lead their flock with self-sacrificial love, who boldly preach the truth with love despite the pressures or ridicule. When the wolves come among them, true shepherds do not run away, afraid for their own welfare, neglecting that of their sheep. No, they stay, throwing themselves 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… for anyone you find yourself following, like a family member, a friend, or a public figure like a politician or someone in the media. What does that shepherd do when you are 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, illustrates God’s great love for us. 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?

The way to hear His voice is through some time each day in prayer and Scripture reading, by challenging ourselves and each other to remain faithful to the Church, by coming to Mass every Sunday and making a monthly confession… with these we will be able to hear and follow Jesus’ voice above all others. And when you bring your children to Sunday Mass and to monthly confession then you ensure that they too will be able to hear His voice above all the others vying for their attention. God forbid that the First Communion of these children today, becomes a rare Communion, or their last Communion. God willing it will be a weekly, if not daily Communion that nourishes them and the entire flock of Christ. For the sake of our children, we must follow His voice and remain strong so that they might find a faithful fold in which to be refreshed and restored.

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