Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
May 11, 2014
Acts 2:14.36-41, Ps 23, 1 Pet 2:20-25, Jn 10:1-10
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here:
The following text guided the homily:
Having it all with the Good Shepherd
The Fourth Sunday of Easter each year is called Good Shepherd Sunday because on this day the Church focuses on a section of the tenth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, in which Jesus reveals the relationship he has with each of his faithful followers. Jesus says about himself: “I am the Good Shepherd.” And his faithful followers, with the words of today’s responsorial psalm, joyfully respond: “The Lord is my shepherd. I want, I lack, for nothing!” We mark this fact, this relationship, in the heart of the Easter Season each year, because it is the heart of our Easter joy: the risen Lord Jesus is our Shepherd and with him we truly have it all!
But it’s key for us to believe and live by those famous words of the Responsorial Psalm. By them, we publicly confess as Catholics that our treasure is Jesus, that if we have him, but don’t have everything else in the world, we still recognize how rich we are. One of the prayers I’ve been saying for 25 years is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s famous Suscipe, which he prayed, taught his Jesuits like Pope Francis to pray and which they have helped the whole world learn how to say, too. “Take, Lord,” we pray with St. Ignatius, “and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own. Whatever I have or hold, you have given me. I return it all to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, which are enough for me and I ask for nothing more.” This prayer teaches us something very important about being a good sheep of the Good Shepherd: we recognize that Jesus’ love and grace are enough for us. In the midst of a consumerist society, in which we’re bombarded with advertisements that pretend that we’ll be happy only if we obtain what they’re selling, that we’ll be fulfilled only if we have money and houses, fame and fortune, power and position, we focus instead on the Good Shepherd’s love and grace. We confess that what Jesus provides is far more fundamental to happiness in this world and is absolutely essential to eternal felicity with him in the eternal sheepfold.
The Three Things the Good Shepherd Does
As our Good Shepherd, Jesus does three fundamental things. For us to be good sheep of the Good Shepherd, we need to allow him to shepherd us in these three ways.
First, Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds his flock — He “prepares a table for us,” as we pray in today’s Psalm. 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. Good sheep are not only grateful for this three-fold nutrition, but hunger for it!
Second, Jesus the Good Shepherd guides his flock — Jesus “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. He tells us he “calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out. … He goes ahead of them and they follow him.” Jesus takes each of us personally to himself, but then he leads us on a journey, a true adventure. That pilgrimage is what life is about. He doesn’t merely tell us about this life, he doesn’t just indicate to us where we need to go, but he leads us by example. To be his disciple means to follow where he is leading. St. Peter talks about this in the second reading: “Christ left you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.” Good sheep do.
Third, Jesus the Good Shepherd protects his flock — Jesus tells us very clearly that there are “thieves and marauders” who are seeking 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, as the gate to the sheepfold so that, essentially, in order to get to us they first need to go through Him. To protect us, not only was he willing to die for us, but did in fact die for us. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” he tells us later in his Good Shepherd Discourse. “No one takes my life from me. … I freely lay it down.” This is why we can act on his words, “Be not afraid!” because he himself 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 today’s 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.”
How the Good Shepherd Continues that work
Jesus continues to feed, guide and protect us, but does it for the most part by calling some of his sheep and making them effective shepherds. He takes disciples and makes them apostles and guardians. He wants to do this with each of us. If we’re a good sheep, then he wants us to become in our own circumstances a good shepherd of others, someone who helps Jesus feed, guide and protect others in this name. We see this transformation in the vocation of St. Peter. After the Resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked Peter three times: “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus was querying whether Peter loved him more than anything and everything else, because the Lord wanted that love to be the distinctive mark of Peter’s life from that point forward. Three times Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” After each response, Jesus gave him a commission, a task that would be the bedrock of all he would do in Jesus’ name. The first commission was, “Feed my lambs,” telling him in particular to take care of Christ’s young people. The second was “Tend my sheep,” which in the Greek means to guard and guide. The third was “Feed my sheep.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was entrusting the care and nourishment of his flock, young and old, to Peter’s loving solicitude. They would always remain Christ’s sheep — feed my lambs, tend my sheep, Jesus said — but they would be guided by a sheep like themselves whom Christ would choose, appoint, and help to be a shepherd after his own loving heart. And it’s obvious that St. Peter never forgot this lesson. At the end of the section from his first letter that we heard today, he says very clearly that it is Jesus, not anyone else, who is the “shepherd and guardian of [our] souls.” But he also said that that all of us are to “follow in [the Good Shepherd’s] footsteps” in feeding, guiding and protecting others.
I’d like to make three applications of this vocation we all have to collaborate as good sheep in the Good Shepherd’s care of others.
Feeding, Guiding and Protecting through Charity
The first is the common responsibility we all have with regard to the other members of Jesus’ fold, especially those who are most in danger. Before Mass, Marie Wong spoke to you about the 2014 Catholic Charities Appeal. The Appeal helps us to feed, guide and protect others.
The Catholic Charities appeal feeds so many. Last, the appeal helped 9,261 households, comprised of 14,387 adults and 6,754 not go to bed hungry. It also funded the Religious Education Office that seeks to feed children, youth, young adults and people of every generation with the nourishment of our faith. And it also underwrites all the chaplaincies in the hospitals of our Diocese, enabling Holy Communion to be brought to 58,000 different Catholic patients last year. Your generosity helps to fund this extension of the Good Shepherd’s feeding the multitudes through his Mystical Body the Church.
Your generosity through the Appeal also helps Jesus through his Church to guide his flock. It funds the counseling provided across the Diocese to families and individuals needing assistance overcoming issues of abuse, violence, the death of loved ones. It underwrites the chaplaincies at UMass Dartmouth, Bristol Community College and Cape Cod Community College to help keep our young people safely in Jesus’ fold. It makes possible marriage preparation programs for the engaged to help them center their marriages on God. It pays for the chaplaincies and various programs in prisons to lead people back to a good life after having gotten lost and in trouble.
The Appeal also continues Jesus’ work of protecting the vulnerable, giving shelter to 1,425 individuals and families each night of the year, including those who have been displaced by fires, those who find themselves out on the street due to unemployment, eviction or other causes. It helps protect immigrants from predatory practices of those seeking to take advantage of them or from desperation or falling through the cranks because of excessively complicated bureaucratic structures in government. It gives shelter to women whose boyfriends or husbands are seeking to hurt or kill them.
In these and many other ways, the Good Shepherd is calling us to feed his sheep and lambs, to guide them and to protect them, and so many Catholics have been faithful to this call through generous participation in the Catholic Charities Appeal.
Feeding, Guiding and Protecting through the Priesthood
The second application is to the priesthood. For the last 51 years, the Church has always celebrated on Good Shepherd Sunday the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and especially priestly vocations. It’s on this day that we unite ourselves to the Pope and to Catholics all over the world in praying to God the Father, the Harvest Master, to send out laborers, shepherds after the heart of his Son, into the fields.
Priests are the Good Shepherd’s indispensable instruments to feed his flock with himself in the Holy Eucharist, but they also nourish us with his holy Word and the teaching of the Church.
Priests guide Jesus’ flock one-on-one in the ministry of mercy in the Confessional, in spiritual direction and counseling and guide the entire flock in their work as pastors, the Latin word for shepherd.
They also seek to protect the flock of Christ from what Jesus calls in today’s Gospel “thieves and marauders,” those who would seek to harm them. This involves a defense not just from the devil, his empty promises and evil works, but also all those earthly gurus who try to lead people from Jesus and the narrow path that leads to life.
The priesthood is so important, because through it Jesus continues to shepherd us with love. In today’s bulletin, I’ve printed Pope Francis’ meditation for this year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. I’d ask you please to read it and to thank Jesus for the way that he has fed and tended you as his lamb and sheep throughout your life by those who love Christ enough to leave a family of their own, money and possessions, and their own will in order to serve you in chastity, poverty of spirit and obedience. Today we pray in a particular way that God may hear our prayers and raise up many such shepherds from among the boys of our parish and give many girls the vocation to love and serve him in religious life. This World Day of Prayer for Vocations is a day in which the entire Church is praying for young people to hear Jesus’ call, so it would be a day for you to ask a good young boy or man in your family, “Have you ever considered that God might be calling you to serve him as a priest?” Or to ask a virtuous, prayerful young girl, “Have you ever considered that Jesus might propose to you to be his bride in religious or consecrated life?” Don’t be afraid to ask these questions. Today you do so with the prayers of the Church throughout the world united with the constant prayers of the Good Shepherd.
Feeding, Guiding and Protecting through Motherhood
The final application of this vocation to cooperate with Jesus in shepherding others is to mothers. Today throughout our country we celebrate Mother’s Day as we pray for our mothers living and deceased, give thanks to God for them, and give thanks to them directly for all of the ways that they have loved us through the years. The work of mothers is an extension of Jesus’ shepherding.
Moms first feed their children, through the umbilical cord during the most vulnerable stage of human existence, with food from their own bodies after birth, and then thereafter with so many thousands of meals lovingly prepared. They also feed their children through breast-feeding them with the faith, nourishing their kids by means of their own faith, carefully digested and given to them in ways the children can consume.
Mothers also guide their children along the moral path. Just as the Good Shepherd calls us all by name to follow them, mothers are often the first ones to call their children by name to enter into communion. By teaching their children how to pray throughout life, moms help their children learn how to discern Jesus’ voice calling them to follow him in life into eternal life.
And mom’s protect their children. They protect them in the womb. They protect them from bad influences. They protect them even from truths that the children are not fully ready to handle. They protect them from going from without, even sacrificing their own food so that children won’t go hungry. And in one of the greatest tributes to the power of motherhood, even the most petite moms become Mamma Bears when their children’s lives are at stake.
Today we praise mothers for all these ways in which they’ve loved us with the love of the Good Shepherd. In the bulletin, I’ve placed some beautiful words from Saint John Paul II about Motherhood in God’s plan. In his beautiful 1988 exhortation on the Dignity of Woman, Mulieris Dignitatem, he writes that the human person is fulfilled not by self-assertion but by self-gift, and maternity is a special expression of the woman’s gift of self. “Motherhood implies from the beginning,” he writes, “a special openness to the new person. … In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.” And that gift just keeps on giving throughout life. “This unique contact with the new human being developing within her,” John Paul II continues, “gives rise to an attitude toward human beings — not only towards her own child but every human being — that profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more.” He’s talking about spiritual motherhood, the feminine genius of nurturing others through their receptive encouragement, a divine gift of which our society and Church constantly needs more.
I’d urge you to read all St. John Paul’s beautiful thoughts because, frankly, we’re very much in need of the perspective of the Gospel he conveys to us. We’re living in an age in which motherhood is tragically denigrated by so many women and men who pretend that female fulfillment must involve the ability to flee from motherhood first through avoiding motherhood as if it were an evil through the use of contraception and, most notoriously, if they’ve conceived a child and already become a mom, through through the practice of abortion, which transforms mothers from Good Shepherds into wolves of their own children. Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel says that as the Good Shepherd he has come “so that they may have life and have it to the full.” Good Shepherds nourish and protect this life and all of us in the Church have a duty to defend life in the womb and to feed, guide and protect women in vulnerable stages of their life, especially in pregnancy, from the thieves and marauders, both human and diabolical, who will urge them to destroy rather than nourish and cherish the life they’ve conceived.
Today on this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus wants to help all mothers in their sweet but challenging vocation to feed, guide and protect their children, and to help all of us protect not only mothers and future mothers, but also the beauty and gift of motherhood in a culture in which many marauders are trying to rob us of this appreciation.
The culmination of Jesus’ shepherding work
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who promised never to leave his flock untended, continues to feed, lead and protect us through the vocation to charity, to the priesthood and to motherhood. We have just listened to the Good Shepherd’s voice calling us by name in the Gospel to let him shepherd us and follow in his footsteps in shepherding others. As we prepare now to receive his body and blood, we ask him to fill us with gratitude for the “table he has prepared for us” and ever more attentive to his voice, so that we might know how to follow him, up close, all the way to the evergreen pastures of heaven. The risen Lord is our Good Shepherd. With him we truly have it all!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
ACTS 2:14A, 36-41
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them,
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand persons were added that day.
PS 23:1-2A, 3B-4, 5, 6
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
1 PT 2:20B-25
If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good,
this is a grace before God.
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.When he was insulted, he returned no insult;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.
For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
“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 the shepherd 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,
the Pharisees 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.”