Sunday, May 11, 2014

4th Sunday of Easter, Year A: The Father and the Fold

Abridged version:
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 St. Peter stood up boldly to the Jews of his day, exhorting them to repent for their cooperation in the crucifixion of Jesus. And in his own letter, Peter described how he often suffered for doing what is good. But, he persevered, he followed the Lord’s example in suffering for the truth with humility and courage. Many people responded well to his courage – three thousand persons in one day were baptized! This great shepherd of the early Church, St. Peter, out of love for the flock made up of Jews and Gentiles, called them to faithfulness. Those who heard his voice responded because they heard in Peter the voice of Jesus Christ. What set Peter apart from other shepherds, from other voices calling for the attention of the people? It was his willingness to truly love the 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, 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 his 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. What does that shepherd do when you are in danger, a danger that could envelope the shepherd too?

The account of the good shepherd that we hear from the Gospel, about the shepherd who calls his sheep by name and leads them out to pasture, illustrates God’s great love for us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd walks ahead of us, periodically calling us forward, reassuring us in the chaotic world around us with the gentleness and familiarity of his voice. Jesus said, “the sheep follow the shepherd because they recognize his voice… they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers… whoever enters through me will be saved…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Through all the voices crying out to lead us, can we hear and recognize the voice of Jesus?

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, we will be able to hear and follow Jesus’ voice above all others. And when you bring your children to Mass and to confession then you ensure that they too will be able to hear His voice above all others. Politicians, Universities, the Media are all clamoring to shepherd us and our children. Only by consistently hearing the voice of the truth will their hearts and ears be attuned to that voice so that it pierces through all others. And only by experiencing the nourishment within the sheepfold, will their grow to love it rather than resent it.

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