How the Good Shepherd Shepherds Us, Fourth Monday of Easter, April 27, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
April 27, 2015
Acts 11:1-18, Ps 42, Jn 10:1-18

To listen to this morning’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

The fourth week of Easter is an opportunity for us every year to ponder Jesus risen from the dead not just under the image of the Good Shepherd but the reality of his Shepherdly care. In today’s Gospel, in which I combined that of today and that of yesterday which ought to be considered as an integral whole, we see how Jesus shepherds us in the following five ways:

  • First he calls us by name — None of us is a number to him. He knows us by name and calls us each individually. We’re special to him.
  • Second, he leads and guides us — He doesn’t call us and leave us on our own, but he constantly calls us to be with him. He goes before us so that he can turn to us and say “follow me.” Because he knows us individually, he knows that we need direction and he constantly gives that personal direction.
  • Third, he feeds us — In the most famous Psalm, which is all about how God shepherds us, we proclaim that with him, we lack nothing, but have it all. He leads us  into green pastures to have us graze. He guides us to restful waters to refresh us. He sets a table before us and makes our cup overflow. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus looked on the crowd because they were “like sheep without a shepherd,” on one occasion he worked the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish and on other occasion he began to teach, knowing that people were hungering for nourishment for their souls as well. As our shepherd, Jesus always remembers to give us each day our daily bread, both material and spiritual.
  • Fourth, he protects us — The ancient shepherds used to risk it all to protect their sheep against savage animals like wolves but also against bandits who would come to steal them. Jesus came into our world courageously to do the same for us. When we get lost wandering away from the fold, he leaves everyone else to come to find us and rescue us when we’re in danger.
  • Finally, he loves us enough to die for us — Jesus says three times in today’s Gospel passage that he lays down, and lays down freely, his life for his sheep. I’ve always considered it crazy for a human being to die for an animal. It’s silly for us to die for our hamsters or parakeets or even for our pet canines and felines. But shepherds actually would die protecting their flocks from wolves, or lions, or evil bandits. The distance between human beings and animals, however, is nothing compared to the gap between God and us his creatures, and yet that’s precisely what God does. And he does so because he loves us.

These are all characteristics of how the risen Lord Jesus wants to relate to us as our shepherd. Our first task is to respond to his shepherding in each of these five ways.

  • To respond to his call and singular involvement involvement in our life, to recognize that we’re special to him and summons us to a special bond with him and share in his saving mission. He says that his sheep hear his voice and don’t recognize the voice of a stranger. Yet one of the problems we face is that of discernment, because, after the Fall, we can’t always readily recognize his voice, and so we seek to attune our listening, with the help of others, to his constant calling.
  • To follow him with docility and alacrity, knowing that we need his guidance and that he is constantly providing it. Our Christian life is not static, but dynamic. Jesus is always leading us out and he wants us following him. He’s leading us on a pilgrimage all the days of our life. Occasionally he will guide us through dark valleys with his rod and staff and we follow him there, too, as he gives us confidence to be with him even on the way of the Cross that is the path to glory.
  • To hunger for what he gives us, derive our nutrition from what he provides, and be grateful. It’s important for us to allow God to provide for us. That’s what God helped St. Peter to see in today’s first reading when God pronounced clean all food he had created. That’s key to spiritual childhood, that we recognize we need him. This hunger is important physically but even more important spiritually, and God seeks to feed our solves even more lavishly than he feeds our bodies, because for our souls, he gives us himself as nutrition.
  • Not to run away from his protection to get his attention, but to stay close to his strong arm. That’s what gives us great confidence and happiness. There’s a beautiful part of today’s Gospel that says that the sheep “come in and go out and find pasture.” Those verbs point to the fact that they’re secure enough, under the protection of the Shepherd, to wander about, without being paranoid about the wolves or thieves.
  • To receive the fruits of laying down his life for us. Jesus gave his life, as he tells us today, so that we might have life and have it to the full. The way we receive this gift is by coming alive, by seizing that gift of abundant life, which is not bios (biological life), but zoe (supernatural life). We don’t want Jesus’ gift of life to be wasted, but to invest it so that we may have more and more a share of his life, by entering into his life.

And that leads us to the last thing we can focus on today. When we begin to share in Jesus’ life to the full, when we become Jesus’ good sheep listening to him, following him, consuming what he gives, staying under his protection and receiving his life to the full, Jesus helps us to make the transition from being good sheep to being good shepherds as well. Then we become capable of being his instruments to:

  • Call others individually by name — Everyone is precious to God and we need to treat them as precious. That’s what you do in helping every pregnant mother and seeking to help her to recognize that the child growing in her womb is likewise precious. It’s also one of the reasons why I have sought to learn every Sister of Life’s name, because you’re not just another Sister of Life, but special to God and special to every priest who wants to imitate the Pastor Bonus in becoming a good pastor. Names are how we relate to each other on a personal level, and if God calls us by name, we’re called to relate to others by name as well.
  • Set for them good example to lead them in the Master’s ways — The Lord seeks to use to guide people to him and after him to abundant life. The greatest way we can pass on the gift of faith is by showing others the faith rather than just verbally teaching it, and particularly by showing how beautiful the life of the faith is.
  • Feeding them with material and spiritually nourishment — Before Jesus worked the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish having looked upon the crowd that was like sheep without a shepherd, he told his apostles, “You give them something to eat.” He asked for the five loaves and two fish they had. So he wants us to share in his shepherdly care for others, feeding them materially and spiritually. So many parents do this naturally, but Jesus wants us all to do this.
  • Protecting them from wolves, thieves, and marauders — Jesus wants us, like him, to be good shepherd’s protecting others from harm. He contrasts himself from the “merchants” who run away when beasts or bandits arrive to harm the flock, putting their self-preservation over the protection of others. Jesus calls us to another form of life. For you, sisters, there are times in which you’re spiritual maternity will take the form of becoming Mamma Bears protecting your cubs. This is what Jesus will help you to become.
  • Loving them to the extreme — St. John writes in his first letter, “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). In forming us to be Good Shepherds, Jesus is helping us to be courageous, to lay down our lives for others in little ways or even by the supreme sacrifice. This is what a Good Shepherd does. This is what fathers and mothers worthy of the name do for their children. This is what Jesus is calling us to do for all our brothers and sisters. When we’re willing to die for others, then loving them is so much easier. And like Jesus we’re called to say, “No one takes my life from me. I fully lay it down!”

The way the risen Good Shepherd does all of this training is here at Mass. It’s here where he calls us, it’s here in which he guides us, it’s here that he feeds us, it’s here that he protects us from the evil one, it’s here where he loves us to the full and gives us his abundant life. Indeed, with the Lord as our Good Shepherd, we have it all. Let us with joy come to meet him at the banquet he has set for us here on earth, which is a foretaste of the banquet he is getting ready for us in the eternal verdant pastures.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 11:1-18

The Apostles and the brothers who were in Judea
heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God.
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem
the circumcised believers confronted him, saying,
‘You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.”
Peter began and explained it to them step by step, saying,
“I was at prayer in the city of Joppa
when in a trance I had a vision,
something resembling a large sheet coming down,
lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me.
Looking intently into it,
I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth,
the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky.
I also heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’
But I said, ‘Certainly not, sir,
because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
But a second time a voice from heaven answered,
‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’
This happened three times,
and then everything was drawn up again into the sky.
Just then three men appeared at the house where we were,
who had been sent to me from Caesarea.
The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.
These six brothers also went with me,
and we entered the man’s house.
He related to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying,
‘Send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter,
who will speak words to you
by which you and all your household will be saved.’
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them
as it had upon us at the beginning,
and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said,
‘John baptized with water
but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us
when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
who was I to be able to hinder God?”
When they heard this,
they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying,
“God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 42:2-3; 43:3, 4

R. (see 3a) Athirst is my soul for the living God.
or:
R. Alleluia.
As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling-place.
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Then will I go in to the altar of God,
the God of my gladness and joy;
Then will I give you thanks upon the harp,
O God, my God!
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
or:
R. Alleluia.

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 10:1-10

Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
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