The Five Ways the Good Shepherd Shepherds Us, 4th Monday of Easter, May 8, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Memorial of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich
May 8, 2017
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 mystagogical catechesis of the Easter Season commences with the apparitions of the Risen Lord to convince us anew of the fact of his Resurrection and how he seeks to have us seek the things that are above and live a new life. Then we have a four-day catechesis on the Sacrament of Baptist followed by an eight-day catechesis on the Eucharist. With Good Shepherd Sunday at the beginning of the Fourth Week, we begin to focus on various images and realities by which the Lord Jesus wishes to relate to us and bring us fully alive. Today everything is summarized in the passage, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus wishes us to overflow with his risen zoe. At the end of today’s first reading, the Church grasped that God wanted his “life-giving repentance” to be preached and offered to all the nations. To the extent that we haven’t lived with Jesus’ life, in which we haven’t related to him as good sheep to Good Shepherd, he wishes now to give us that life-giving repentance so that we might have his risen life in us more abundantly.
  • In today’s Gospel, in which I combined the first two sections of St. John’s tenth chapter concerning Jesus’ Good Shepherd Discourse, we see how Jesus shepherds us to give us life 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. Each of us is called!
    • 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.
  • 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 becoming good shepherds so that others through us may come to life to the full. Then we become capable of being his instruments in order 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!”
  • Today the Church in the United States celebrates someone who was truly a good sheep and a good shepherd of others, Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, the first American to be beatified on our shores, two and a half years ago in Newark’s Sacred Heart Basilica.
    • She heard the Lord calling her by name at a very young age and wanted to respond with her whole being. Her vocational path wasn’t easy but she never stopped listening to his voice and she sought to help others attune themselves to that same voice better.
    • She allowed herself to be guided by him along the paths of holiness, whether at home, at school, in spiritual direction, or in the convent.  She is a model of preserving and prudent discernment. She had long desired to become a cloistered Carmelite, but when she finally approached a Bronx monastery, the nuns thought that she should wait because of lingering problems with headaches, poor eyesight and other health issues. Her brother Charles, who had recently been ordained, and other family members suggested that she should join a teaching order to serve God with the brain he had given her and formed in the truth. She ultimately made a novena before the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 1924, asking Our Lady’s help — and Our Lady didn’t let her down. She discerned God was asking her to enter the order with which she was already familiar from her college days, the Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. She entered two weeks after her father’s death, in early 1925. And she sought to help guide others by the same Holy Spirit who had helped her in her discernment. Despite being a postulant for just three months, a novice for two years and a professed sister for five weeks — and despite much of that time being sick — she made great contributions to her order. She taught at St. Elizabeth’s Academy. She wrote two plays, several poems, letters, meditations and biographical recollections. And, most valuably, at the request of her spiritual director, Benedictine Father Benedict Bradley, and with the permission of her mother superior, she wrote 26 conferences on religious life that Father Bradley preached to her and her fellow novices as if he had composed them. Father Bradley acknowledged that he had received a grace to ask Sister Miriam Teresa to do something that was basically unheard of for someone so young in the religious life. “I believed that she enjoyed extraordinary lights, and I knew that she was living an exemplary life,” he stated. “I thought that, one day, she would be ranked among the saints of God, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to utilize whatever might contribute to an appreciation of her merits after her death.” It was only after her death that he put a note on the motherhouse’s bulletin board declaring, “The conferences that I have been giving to the sisters were written by Sister Miriam Teresa.” Her brother, Msgr. Charles, published those conferences a year later under the title of Greater Perfection,
    • She fed off the Lord in his holy word and in the Eucharist and sought to share the fruits of that contemplation with others. She was a brilliant young woman who wanted to use her gifts for God and others. As soon as she entered the Bayonne public-school system, she couldn’t hide how smart she was, not only earning double promotions but graduating as the salutatorian of Bayonne High School at the young age of 16. She went to the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, N.J., where she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in literature — academic achievements that were rare for women at the time. She took a teaching position at the Academy of St. Aloysius (now Caritas Academy) in Jersey City, where she taught Latin and English. During her two years with the Sisters of Charity, she taught at St. Elizabeth’s Academy in Convent Station. In these teaching positions, she was known not only for her clarity, but for her faith, often being found kneeling on the floor of the chapel praying the Rosary or adoring the Blessed Sacrament with outstretched arms. She also joined the choir at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other parish groups. And she was also known for her Eucharistic piety, receiving the Lord and helping others to receive him. “In partaking of the Blessed Sacrament,” she would later write down, “we have a most powerful aid to sanctification. God himself comes to perfect us, if we but so will.” She so willed, and so advanced in holiness.
    • She stayed under his protection and cared for others, especially her sick parents. Despite her desire to enter religious life out of high school, not to mention her genius that led many to try to persuade her to go to college, she readily forsook both in order to first care full time for her mother, who by that point was an invalid. It was only after her mother’s death from influenza that she responded to the advice of her family members to continue her education. After her college success, she decided to take a teaching position that would allow her to care for her widowed father. Growing up, she said, “Our home was ruled by love rather than fear.” Her home remained “ruled by love,” as she faithfully fulfilled the Fourth Commandment.
    • She received his gift of his life, his loving self-sacrifice, and made it the pattern of her life and what she summoned others to live. “The imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints,” she wrote, “is always possible and compatible with every state of life. The saints did but one thing — the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing — and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress.” To become a saint, she added, we must imitate his laying down his life, losing ourselves in order to find ourselves in God. “We shall attain that height of glory in heaven that corresponds to the depths of the humility we have sounded on earth,” she declared, illustrating the point by something she learned on public-school playgrounds: “The harder you hit a ball on the ground, the higher it rebounds. The perfection of humility is the annihilation of our will, its absolute submission to the divine in every least detail.” And that annihilation, she said, is a thing not of abnegation but of love. “The reason we have not yet become saints is because we have not understood what it means to love. We think we do, but we do not. To love means to annihilate oneself for the beloved. The self-sacrifice of a mother for her child is only a shadow of the love wherewith we should love the Beloved of our soul. To love is to conform oneself to the Beloved in the most intimate manner of which we are capable.”
  • Just as the risen Good Shepherd shepherded her, he seeks to shepherd us. And he does all of this training 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 fullness of life he is seeking to give us in the eternal banquet he is preparing for us, with Blessed Miriam Teresa and all the saints, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 10:1-18

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.”