Browsing Homilies

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:8-12 | Ps 118 | 1 Jn 3:1-2 | Jn 10:11-18

Here we are already at the Fourth Sunday of Easter, known commonly as Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year at this midpoint of the Easter season, the Church returns to this familiar image of Christ as a shepherd tending his flock. It is an image that retains much of its power even as the distance from farms and sheep increases for many of us. It’s still a very real, physical image, an incarnational one.

This image is powerful even for young children. They deeply desire the protective love that is evident in the image of Christ as shepherd. For those blessed with loving parents, this image of Christ blossoms out of those most natural relationships of loving protection and provision. For those children whose parental relationships are absent or broken, Christ the Good Shepherd can become a replacement figure, offering peace and protection on supernatural level.

The relationship that Christ invites us into endures throughout our whole lives. As we discern and enter into our vocations, it becomes ever more important to know the Shepherd’s voice. Being called by name and personally loved remains vitally important throughout our lives, and connects us to Mary Magdalene at Easter, who at last recognizes him when he speaks her name.

His loving guidance continues throughout our journey, even beyond the bounds of this life. We very often sing Psalm 23 at funerals, and its timeless words remind us that we shall want for nothing when we follow our loving Shepherd. His care even casts out our fear at death, the most fearful thing of all.

There is a sense of rest in this image. With the Good Shepherd present in our lives, we know that all is well and that we need not be afraid. Christ’s strength and guidance are enough for us. But when we listen to the Shepherd’s voice, we realize that we are called to be shepherds too. In another Easter appearance, Jesus calls Peter to feed his sheep. The very mission of the Church is a participation in the shepherding work of God. Priests, of course, play a special role in this work; that’s why they’re called pastors (even when unworthy of the title). But all of us are called to some kind of pastoring. As the crown of our heads were marked with Chrism, with Christ, we were anointed priest, prophet, and king. Yes, there is a ministerial priesthood, which ordination confers; but first there is a common priesthood in which we all share. My ordination did not make me another Christ, my baptism did. We are all called to pastor, teach, and guide.

For many people, parenting is the main place for this work. But any act of teaching or protection or forgiveness or guidance is part of the shepherding mission of the Church.

Often, we think of the Good Shepherd as a tender image: He cradles baby lambs and lays them on his shoulders to return them to their home safely. But there is a roughness to shepherds, too; it is dirty work that leaves them, as Pope Francis refers to as, “smelling like the sheep.” Our Holy Father first used this phrase after I had begun my first assignment at Saint Charles. There was a very devout, Daily Mass goer; an elderly woman from Lebanon (who I believe only pretended not to understand English when it was convenient for her). Often enough, she demanded a hug, which always left her strong perfume (which masked nothing) on me for the whole day. It got to the point where if I had the 7:00 am Mass, I wouldn’t shower until afterward. I’d walk back into the rectory, and there’d be Fr. Carlin eating his breakfast, asking how I was. I’d answer, “I got my hug from Souad,” to which he’d reply, “Good for you, kid, you smell like your sheep.”

This union of our Lord’s tenderness and strength is seen in motherhood, too, where women give up their very bodies, sometimes in terrifying ways, for us; we who are entrusted to their care.

But even as each of us takes up our part in the often-enough unglamorous work of shepherding, we know that we do not go alone. We are guided always by the best of loving shepherds: Jesus Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity, so that we might come to share in his divinity. 


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