Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
April 21, 2002
Acts 2:14,36-41; Ps 23; 1Pet 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10
1) Each of the Sundays of Easter continues our reflection on the magnitude and reality of this awesome event. The fourth Sunday of Easter is called in the Church “Good Shepherd Sunday,” because the Gospel always focuses on one part of the 10th Chapter of the Gospel of St. John, in which Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd and describes what being the Good Shepherd means, as well as what it means to be one of his sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. As he says, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep out of love. When you come to think of it, how stupid is it for a shepherd to die for his sheep? A human life is so much more valuable than the life of a sheep, but God’s life is much more valuable than man’s. A shepherd would really love his sheep in risking his life for his sheep; Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves us tremendously in giving down his life for us. No matter how many times, we’ve wandered, he’s come to hunt us down to take us back. He’s left 99 other others to come in search of us, and bring us back on his shoulders, even when our presence is a weighty Cross on those same shoulders. Such was his love.
2) This is what St. Peter stresses in the beautiful passage from the second reading. “Christ suffered for you and left you an example, to have you follow in his footsteps. He did no wrong; no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was insulted, he returned no insult. When he was made to suffer, he did not counter with threats. Instead, he delivered himself up to the One who judges justly (God the Father). In his own body he brought your sins to the Cross, so that all of us, dead to sin, could live in accord with God’s will. By his wounds you were healed.” He concludes by a reference to Jesus as the Good Shepherd: “At one time you were straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd, the guardian of your souls.” So the first thing we have to focus on this Fourth Sunday of Easter is God’s tremendous love for each of us, that he knows each of us by name, that he calls each of us by name, and that he laid down his life out of love for us.
3) What must our reaction be to this extraordinary gift? St. Peter says that we must follow his footsteps, along the path of real self-giving love. Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice, that he walks in front of them and they follow him, because they recognize his voice. Shepherds would normally bring their flocks together at night. One of them would keep vigil to protect them while the other shepherds got some rest. In the morning, all the sheep, which had been together, would follow their own shepherds. They recognized their shepherd’s voice and none other. That is the way Jesus wants it to be with us. We’re bound up together will all those who are following other shepherds, from movie starts, to rock stars, to horoscope writers, to famous athletes, to talk show hosts, to various gurus, to curadeuses, some even to the devil. We’re called in the midst of all of that to tune in the Lord’s voice in all things.
4) He is the Shepherd who will provide everything we need. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. In verdant pastures, he gives me repose. Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” When we follow him, we have nothing to fear. “He guides me in right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk in the valley of death, I fear no evil, for you are at my side with your rod and staff that give me comfort.” Come whatever might harm the body, nothing can harm the soul, provided that we are following the Lord. If we follow him, “only goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the Lord’s house for years to come.” The Lord came to give us, as he tells us at the end of the Gospel, the fullness of life, but that fullness comes from following him, from hearing his voice, in all things.
5) We’re living in a day with so many conflicting voices. Our culture bombards us with messages contrary to the Gospel. During these past few months, many Catholics have even begun to doubt whether the voice of God works through all pastors and shepherds that the Lord calls by name and sends out. Some of them seem to be the thieves and marauders who came only to steal and destroy. And some were, and by their fruits showed themselves to be wolves dressed in sheeps clothing. God had promised 700 years before Christ came that there would be some such shepherds, in the writings of the prophet Ezechiel. God said that he himself would take care of the bad shepherds, but more importantly, that he would also take care of all of us. And he continues to do it through priests who remain faithful to him, who “enter through the gate” who is Christ, remain with him, and allow themselves to be the voices through which the Lord continues to speak directly to us.
6) This weekend is, at the explicit request of Pope John Paul II, Vocations Sunday, and it is fitting to talk briefly about the gift of the priesthood, because it has been called into question lately. The priest is called by Christ and is ordained in the person of Christ, the Good Shepherd, the Bridegroom of the Church, the Eternal Priest and Victim. How much we need holy priests, who allow themselves to be conformed by the Lord into an ever greater image of the Good Shepherd! The Lord is calling some of the young men in our parish to be priests as well and we pray, today, that they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling them by name.
7) One might think that it’s an inopportune time to talk about call to the priesthood with all the controversy swirling around it. But it’s actually the opposite in my opinion. These are the times in which those who love the Church, who have seen Christ damaged by those who betrayed him, will want to stand up and say, “I want to become a priest so that Christ will be glorified and respected and loved as he deserves.” In my own life, that’s one of the ways the Lord kept me considering the vocation during college. Story about the celebration of Mass. It can be the time now.
8 ) There has been a lot of talk lately about changing the standards of the priesthood, about lowering them. Many of the people who have had a problem with the Church’s teaching on sexuality have been calling for the removal of the requirement of priestly celibacy. This is exactly what we don’t need! The scandals have been caused by the lack of fidelity to priestly celibacy. It’s been caused precisely by the attitudes contrary to the Church’s teachings that have entered into the Church and influenced not just laity but priests, the attitudes of the sexual revolution. Allowing priests to marry women wouldn’t solve the problem of priests abusing teenage boys. Many wolves in sheep’s clothing are advocating the abolition of the celibacy requirement, but this would do tremendous damage.
9) Celibacy is a discipline of the Church which could be changed. This is completely different from the question of women priests, which could never happen. But it’s clear from the early Church that throughout the centuries it was the common practice that priests who were married would become chaste to be a priest. It was certainly true for bishops from the beginning. This points to a central truth. The principal reason for priestly celibacy is because Jesus Christ was celibate. He had no human spouse, but instead was married to his Bride, the Church. A priest is ordained in the person of Christ, the Bridegroom, the Good Shepherd, and that is the principal reason for priestly celibacy, to follow Christ more perfectly. The priesthood is a vocation of love, of a total life, of laying down one’s life for Christ and for the sheep for whom Christ died. As St. Paul recognized and wrote about in his letter to the Corinthians, it is impossible to serve Christ fully if you have all the cares of the world, the cares of a wife and a family. The priest is celibate, like Christ, so that he can be a member of every family, a father to every child of God, a spouse to the Church which is Christ’s own bride. Celibacy is the greatest source of priestly holiness and the greatest help to our being conformed into the Good Shepherd, because it helps us to love others with the complete self-giving dedication that Christ himself showed.
10) What the Church needs now is a rebirth in appreciation for priestly celibacy and for chastity in marriage and before marriage. Stories of those who tell me they wish I could get married. Many almost want priestly celibacy to fail, because they want to believe that it’s impossible to discipline our sexual instincts. But priestly celibacy is a tremendous witness to the possibility of responding to God’s grace in sexuality, making sure sex is always brought up to the dignity of love, rather than love’s being brought down to lustful sexuality. Is priestly celibacy hard? Yeah, it is, especially in our culture, in which we’re bombarded with sexual imagery. But it is certainly possible to say no to certain things, and it is certainly possible, with the Lord, to say yes to him, to love him above all things that one’s sexuality remains completely faithful to him.
11) On this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us be grateful for Christ’s own unselfish love all the way to giving his body and blood — all he had — out of love for us, and let us give thanks to him as well for the gift of celibacy among priests and religious, so that they, and every cell of their body, can be consecrated to the Lord, so that, in their giving their body and blood back to him, he can use that gift to continue to love and shepherd us all.