Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
April 17, 2016
Acts 13:14.43-52, Ps 100, Rev 7:9.14-17, Jn 10:27-30
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The heart of our Easter Joy
The Fourth Sunday of Easter each year is called Good Shepherd Sunday, because on this day the Church focuses on the tenth Chapter of the Gospel of St. John in which Jesus reveals the relationship he has with each of his faithful followers. Jesus says about himself: “I am the Good Shepherd.” And we, his faithful followers, with the words of today’s Psalm, cry out, “We are his people, the sheep of his flock!” We make our hope the words of today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation: “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We proclaim with some of the most famous words God has ever inspired, “The Lord is my shepherd. I want, I lack, for nothing!” We mark this truth in the heart of the Easter Season each year, because it is the heart of our Easter joy: with the Risen Lord Jesus as our Shepherd, leading us to spreads of life-giving water, we truly have it all!
During the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that the Church is marking and that is meant to influence everything we do in some way, we can look at the reality of the relationship we have with our Good Shepherd from within the prism of mercy. The Good Shepherd intends to make us first good sheep, receiving his mercy and following him as faithful disciples. Then the Good Shepherd wants to form us to be good shepherds after his own heart, going out with his mercy, like he told St. Peter in last Sunday’s Gospel, to feed and tend his sheep and lambs with his manifold mercy. Let’s look at our relationship with the Lord through this lens.
Three Ways the Good Shepherd Mercifully Tends Us
Throughout the Good Shepherd discourse Jesus gives us in the tenth Chapter of St. John, roughly a different of third of which we get each year, Jesus reveals that he does for us essentially three things.
First, as Good Shepherd, he feeds his flock — As we pray in the Psalm, he “prepares a table for us in the midst of our foes.” Jesus feeds us in every way. He feeds us materially each day as he “gives us today our daily bread” (Mt 6:11). He feeds our souls with his word, for “not on bread alone does man live, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). He feeds us, ultimately, on his own body and blood in the Eucharist, the food of everlasting life. All three forms of nourishment he gives us are expressions of his mercy. And so the first question we have today is: Am I am a good sheep with regard to the way the Good Shepherd seeks to feed me? Am I grateful for how he provides for me each day? Do I hunger for his teaching that is meant to feed my soul? Am I starting for him in the Eucharist? And I am allowing him to transform me into the image of the Good Shepherd, seeking to care for others’ hunger, pass on my faith, and bring others to receive him worthily in the Holy Eucharist? If the answer is no to any of these questions, the merciful Good Shepherd wants to give us a new chance if only we allow him to shepherd us.
Secondly, as Good Shepherd, Jesus guides his flock — Jesus says earlier in Chapter Ten that he as Good Shepherd “walks ahead of [his sheep] and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” In today’s Gospel, he adds, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me!” To where does he lead us? He answers us in the Psalm that he “leads us in right paths for [his] names’ sake.” He leads us “besides the refreshing waters” of Baptism. He guides us toward the “verdant pastures” of heaven. In all of this we learn that Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. He doesn’t just give us the map of Sacred Scriptures. He comes personally to guide us in prayer. He comes to direct us in the moral life. He comes to lead us through the Shepherds he’s given us, from the Pope, to the Bishops, to his priests, to our faithful catechists, parents, godparents and others. That leads us to ask: Am I a good sheep who hears Jesus’ voice? Do I really follow him along the right path to which he guides me, or do I prefer to go my own way and do my own thing? Am I living a life of true Communion with him or are their parts of my life in which I’m following worldly gurus rather than my Shepherd? And then comes the second series of questions: Has my following of Jesus led me to be a good guide to others about the right path instead of the various wrong paths and dead ends prepared by the world? Am I able to echo the Good Shepherd’s voice in my conversations with others, especially when they ask about things of the faith, about controversial issues, about right and wrong, life and death, about prayer and the Sacraments? God guides us each day and wants to transform us so that we can be reliable guides for others. If we recognize that we haven’t really been following hearing his voice, following his guidance, and helping others to do so, this Jubilee of Mercy is a time in which the Good Shepherd wants to forgive us and strengthen us to start to do so again, if only we allow him to Shepherd us.
Third, as Good Shepherd, Jesus protects his flock and dies for us — Jesus tells us very clearly earlier in the tenth chapter of St. John that there are “thieves and marauders” who are trying to fleece, milk, kill, cook and consume us. Against those who come “only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus sets himself as our protection. He tells us in today’s portion, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” To protect us, not only was he willing to die for us, but he did die for us. “The Good Shepherd,” he says, “lays down his life for the sheep.” This is why we can act on his words, “Be not afraid!,” because he himself mercifully will protect us from everything that can eternally harm us, provided that we stay in his fold. Thus we can say with trust and confidence, as we pray in the Psalm, “Even though I walk in the darkest valley — and some of us have been in that dark valley! — I fear no evil, for he is at my side, with his rod and his staff to comfort me.” But how are we doing as good sheep of this Good Shepherd who protects and dies for us? Do we allow him to drive the thieves and marauders of our soul far from us or do we cozy up to the things that will spiritually harm us? While no one can take us out of Christ’s hands, do we voluntarily wander as lost sheep, as prodigal sons, failing to appreciate the gift we have in Christ’s holy protection? And do we allow this mercy to change us in such a way that we seek to protect others from spiritual harm even to the point of sacrificing ourselves for others’ good, even to the point, if we need, of dying? If we need help in answering a sincere yes to any of these questions, this year is a year he desires to give us that help.
Icons of the Good Shepherd
One of the ways Jesus mercifully continues to feed, guide and protect us is through the priesthood, by taking some of his sheep and making them effective shepherds in his image. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter each year, the Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, especially priestly vocations, that those God is calling to become priests after the heart of the Good Shepherd will hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow him, that they will be encouraged by their families and parishes to say yes to Christ’s calling, and will persevere in becoming the priests that God wants and you deserve. In the letter the Holy Father wrote to guide our prayer today during this great Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis reminded us that “every particular vocation … is a gift of divine mercy.” Every vocation, “has its origin in the compassionate gate of Jesus.” That’s literally true in his case, when he first heard God’s calling him to be a priest when he was going to Confession as a 16-year-old boy in Buenos Aires. But if we are going to continue to receive the gift of his mercy, we need priests who can hear our Confessors. If we’re going to be able to hear and follow the Good Shepherd’s voice, we need priests who are powerful and compelling preachers. If we’re going to allow the Good Shepherd to feed us, we need priests who are able through the grace of Holy Orders to consecrate and give us his Body and Blood. Today is a day in which Pope Francis has asked priests to “urge all the faithful to assume their responsibility for the care and discernment of vocations,” to remember that every priestly vocation is born within the Church, grows within the Church and is sustained by the prayers of the Church. So today we pray for all the priests of the world that God may bless them and form them more and more to be good sheep and good shepherds so that they can form us to be better sheep and better shepherds. We pray for all those men in seminary preparing for ordination, that God may inspire them to become truly holy. And we pray for all those boys and young men whom God is calling to serve him and others as priests, that they may have the courage to hear and heed the Savior’s call and with him go out after lost sheep everywhere and bring them back to Christ’s sheepfold.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd never leaves his flock untended. He continues to feed, lead and protect us in a special way each Mass, through the priests whom he entrusts with the mission to tend and feed his lambs and flock. After we have just listened to the Good Shepherd’s voice speaking to us in the Gospel, as we prepare now to receive his body and blood, and get ready to be sent forth by him to help shepherd the world, we ask him to fill us with joy that we are his people, the sheep of his flock, and to make us extremely grateful for the “table he has prepared for us” and ever more attentive to his voice speaking to us through his priests, so that we might know how to follow him all the way to the verdant pastures of heaven.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 13:14, 43-52
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them
and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.
On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered
to hear the word of the Lord.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said,
“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it
and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.
For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”
The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this
and glorified the word of the Lord.
All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region.
The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers
and the leading men of the city,
stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them,
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Responsorial Psalm PS 100:1-2, 3, 5
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
Reading 2 REV 7:9, 14B-17
I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Then one of the elders said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“For this reason they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Alleluia JN 10:14
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 10:27-30
“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.”