Homily Rerun: Fourth Sunday Of Easter
Today is The Fourth Sunday of Easter, it is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The name is taken from the readings of the day. The Psalm of the day, Psalm 100:3 states, “Know that the LORD is God; He made us, His we are; His people, the flock He tends.” Our second reading from Revelation 7: 17 says, “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.” And of course, our Gospel today starts with, “Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (John 10: 27 - 28)
Good Shepherd Sunday is a day in which the Church recalls the relationship between God and His people as described in the image of Shepherd and Sheep.
In Psalm 23, David addresses God as the Shepherd of His people: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me; you restore my strength.” (Psalm 23)
In John 10:11 Jesus addresses Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
A shepherd is one who takes care of a herd of sheep by guarding, feeding and protecting them. In the Jewish society in the time period when Jesus walked the earth, shepherding was known to be a very painstaking and serious occupation. Sheep were kept for their wool and milk. Because of this, most sheep stayed with their shepherd for a very long time and a strong bond was established between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd often named each of the sheep and talked to them and called them by name.
In the Old Testament, we see that God has an uncontested affection for shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Prophet Amos, and the list goes on and on. God chose all of these men, who were shepherds, for some pretty important tasks. Shepherds can make very dedicated leaders. When it comes to taking care of their flock – their people – they may even be willing to put themselves at risk.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd the prophets promised. A good Shepherd cares about his flock. Jesus cares about us. He values each one of us. He goes whatever extra distance each of us needs to bring us back into His flock. His care for us gives us value.
Did you know that the title of parish priest, “pastor,” comes from the Latin noun pastor which means “shepherd” and is derived from the verb pascere – “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat?” A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock – responsibilities that belong to every church leader.
In the United States, most of the ranches have their own fields and facilities for grazing and caring for their livestock. In most of the rest of the world, the animals belonging to various families are all kept together in a large pen. This is particularly true regarding sheep. Now all sheep pretty much look alike. So if there are 200 sheep in a pen, how is a shepherd able to pick out just his 50 sheep? It is because of the close relationship the shepherd has with his sheep. He knows them and calls them by name. The sheep recognize his voice and they follow him. They will not follow another because the sheep do not recognize their voice. The sheep trust their shepherd because he cares for them. Jesus tells His followers, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)
How do we hear the voice of God? We hear God’s voice in Scripture – the Word of God. We hear God’s voice when we listen to our bishops and priests. God speaks to us today through those who have been ordained to be our shepherds! God speaks to us through the teachings of the Church. Are we listening? Are we reading our Popes’ encyclicals and exhortations ourselves, or just what someone else said or wrote about them? We need to be getting our information from the source, not someone else’s spin on what was actually said and written.
How many of us have even picked up a Catechism of the Catholic Church and leafed through it lately, let alone really read and studied what it says? Do you know what it says? Do you know the official teaching of the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals? Do we accept all the Church’s teachings or do we pick and choose? If we are truly Catholic we don’t have the option to pick and choose what we are going to believe. We either accept all of it or we are not truly Catholic.
Do we visit the U.S. Bishops’ web site once in a while and read what documents they have released lately? Not interested? Don’t care? Don’t have time? Doesn’t concern you?
We seem to have time to watch our favorite TV show and to play golf. We seem to have time to be on the computer. We seem to find the time to watch football, baseball, hockey, soccer or watch or do whatever else we want to. Are TV, Facebook, golf, sports, etc. more important than our souls? Are they more important than our eternal life?
Are we listening to Jesus when He speaks to us? Do we listen and follow Him? Do we know what the official teachings of the Catholic Church are, or just what we remember from what we were taught in religious education? How long ago was that for some of us? How good is your memory? Any Catholic who neglects ongoing formation remains a weak believer. We would shy from a physician who hasn´t read a professional journal, or attended a medical conference or seminar since medical school. How could an adult Catholic be content with Grade School-level, High School-level or even College-level catechesis from years ago? Our faith journey is an on-going process. From personal experience, I know that the things I was taught in grade school or High school, although they are just as true today as they were when I learned them, take on a different meaning now. With life experience and an ability to understand deeper meaning you don’t look at the information in the same way.
We can’t be cafeteria Catholics. There is no such thing. We must accept all of the official teachings of the Catholic Church. We can call ourselves Catholic, but not be following Christ, if we stray from the teachings of the Magisterium in the area of faith or morals.
When Catholics stray, they have given in to what they want to hear and believe, rather than hearing and accepting what the Magisterium teaches as the truth. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Catholic Church which preserves the revealed deposit of faith.
We only need to look at how many different flavors of Christian churches there are today to see how easy it is for us to fall prey to the grocery store theology – pick up only what you want to believe and leave everything else on the shelf. Accept only what you want to accept. That is the basic root of Protestantism. Then, what if you don’t like what that Church has to say? Move on to the next one. Keep on trying them out till you find one that you like. Some Christians keep trying one after another till they are tired of trying. If they still don’t find what they want, they start their own. I recently read a statistic that states there are nearly 40,000 Christian Denominations and Independent Christian Churches in the world today.
It takes humility for us to accept the teachings of Jesus and His chosen successors, the apostles - our Pope, and our Bishops of the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Only the divine identity of Jesus’ person can justify so absolute a claim as “He who is not with me is against me.” Whose side are you on? I’ll go with the Prophet Joshua on this one, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”