Sunday, April 17, 2016

Knowing the Good Shepherd

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
In his message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which is celebrated each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter) Pope Benedict XVI observed, “Hope is the expectation of something positive in the future, yet at the same time it must sustain our present existence, which is often marked by dissatisfaction and failures… To have hope, therefore, is the equivalent of trusting in God who is faithful, who keeps the promises of the covenant.”

This sense of hope is at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel which places before us one of the greatest biblical images of God’s faithful care and mercy: the Good Shepherd. The Evangelist John uses the image of the Good Shepherd (cf. chapter 10) to illustrate the intimate way Christ knows each of us—the flock entrusted to his care—and how, like a faithful shepherd, he constantly watches over us and lifts us up.

Fresco of the Good Shepherd
from the Catacomb of Priscilla
The most important point of this Sunday’s Gospel is that eternal life is the Good Shepherd’s gift. Jesus is the source of life and because he has given his life for “his flock,” we have an abundance of life. It seems so simple, but this fundamental Christian belief is one that we can often take for granted. And that is unfortunate, because this Gospel also includes an unspoken invitation for us: we have to be attentive and receptive to this gift of life and accepting that gift means that we listen to and follow the direction of our Shepherd. We see this lived out in the ministry of Barnabas and Paul who, through their preaching, came to understand that they were being called to a new mission field, seeking out new disciples who would listen to the voice of the Shepherd speaking through them (cf. the First Reading: Acts 13:45-47).

And so, on this Sunday when we pause to pray that God will gift the Church with an increase in men and women dedicated to the Kingdom as priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters, the Readings remind us that each of us (and not only our pastors) is called follow the example of the Shepherd and listen to his commands by building up the Church as we promote what Henri Nouwen has called the “three spiritual qualities of the resurrected life”: unity, intimacy, and integrity. “We are called to break through the boundaries of nationality, race, sexual orientation, age, and mental capacities and create a unity of love that allows the weakest among us to live well” (from The Road to Daybreak).

While we can (and should) take comfort in the Shepherd’s provident care and protection—and the gift of eternal life that he offers us—we can only say we truly know this Good Shepherd if we are willing to listen to his voice and follow his commands in our daily lives. In this Fourth Week of the Easter Season, we would do well to remember the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria: “The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey… People who hear God’s voice are known by him.”

How is the Good Shepherd calling you to share in his work of caring for the “flock” of the Church?

What do you do to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life?

As we continue to celebrate this Easter Season, how are you living “the resurrected life”?

Words of Wisdom: “Our work and the only work of religion is to create unity wherever you go. If you are not creating unity, you are part of the problem and you are certainly not one of the children of God. You can come to Mass as much as you want and come to communion as often as you can. But you are not in communion. Our job is to live in radical communion and not just to ritualize it on Sunday”—Deacon Jim Knipper in Hungry and You Fed Me

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