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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Acts 13:14, 43-52, Revelation 7:9, 14-17, John 10:27-30
Theme: The Mystery of God’s Call

Four clergymen, taking a short break from their heavy schedules, were on a park bench, chatting and enjoying an early spring day. “You know, since all of us are such good friends,” said one, “this might be a good time to discuss personal problems.” They all agreed. “Well, I would like to share with you the fact that I drink to excess,” said one. There was a gasp from the other three. Then another spoke up. “Since you were so honest, I’d like to say that my big problem is gambling. It’s terrible, I know, but I can’t quit. I’ve even been tempted to take money from the collection plate.” Another gasp was heard, and the third clergyman spoke. “I’m really troubled, brothers, because I’m growing fond of a woman in my church — a married woman.” More gasps. But the fourth remained silent. After a few minutes the others coaxed him to open up. “The fact is,” he said, “I just don’t know how to tell you about my problem.” “It’s all right, brother. Your secret is safe with us,” said the others. “Well, it’s this way,” he said. “You see, I’m an incurable gossip.”

Jokes like this have shaped our views of priests as if there is no difference between the life and work of a priest and that of other Christians. That is true only up to a point. We see another dimension to the life and work of priests when we consider it from the aspect of vocation or the call of God. This is the aspect that the church wants us to dwell on today as we observe the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Today the church invites us to reflect on the meaning of God’s call and to pray for an increase in vocations.

In the gospel reading Jesus identifies himself as the shepherd: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). His Jewish listeners must have gasped in shock to hear him say that. This is because, for Jews, the shepherd of the flock of Israel is none other than the Lord God himself (Psalm 23:1). Jesus went on to make explicit what is implied in his claim to be the shepherd of the God’s flock when he said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). That the Father sent Jesus and delegated him with full authority to act in His name is only half of the story. The other half of the story is that Jesus in turn delegated his chosen disciples to act with full authority in his name. We see this in the first farewell ceremony with his disciples as recorded by John. He commissions and delegates his disciples in these words:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).

Some people today would gasp at the thought of an ordinary human being forgiving the sins of other ordinary human beings. The Jews of Jesus’ time also gasped at the thought of their countryman Jesus forgiving the sins of his contemporaries. This does not make much sense when one considers only the human factors involved. But when one looks at it with the eyes of faith, one begins to see that it is God Himself who has taken the initiative to send Jesus and equip him with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Similarly, it is Jesus who takes the initiative to call those he chooses: “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16). And he equips them with the same power of attorney which the Father delegated to him. That is why he could say, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). This is the mystery of the call of God.

As we pray today for an increase in vocations let us also pray for a better understanding and appreciation of the life and work of ordained ministers so that more and more people avail themselves of the grace which God makes available through them. Let us also pray that more young people will be drawn to follow in their footsteps and generously answer the call of God.

-          On the Gospel: In the Good Shepherd We Understand the Priesthood

Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a day that Christians are invited to reflect on the meaning of God’s call and to pray for vocations. To help us reflect on the meaning of the priestly vocation, the church presents to us in today’s gospel the figure of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Last Sunday we saw Our Lord three times giving Peter the charge to “feed my sheep.” In that way he made Peter a shepherd, a pastor. Our Lord continued his work of shepherding his people through Peter and his co-workers: the apostles and disciples, and through their successors: the Pope, the bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, and committed lay people.

Peter was like the captain of a team; by entrusting the work of feeding his sheep to Peter, Jesus was entrusting it to us all. Today we see that this work which Jesus has confided to the church is in danger. In the past forty years many priest have left the priesthood, and vocation to the priesthood is now at an all-time low. There are many contributing factors to this crisis but one of them, I believe, is a loss of understanding among the people of God of what the priesthood is supposed to be. That is why on a day like this we will do well to reflect on Jesus the Good Shepherd, because in him we see what a pastor, a shepherd, should be.

In biblical times there were two kinds of shepherds. There was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just the available job. He could move from one flock to the other depending on the conditions of service, but he would not risk his life for them. Seeing the wolves or thieves coming he would flee for dear life and leave the flock at the mercy of the invaders. Jesus said that he is not that kind of shepherd.

Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same flock all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and could tell you the personal story of each of the sheep, when and where it were born, the problems it has had in life, its personal characteristics, etc. He gives personal attention to each and every one of the sheep. He knows which one is likely to lag behind after a long walk and he would go and carry that one in his arms. He knows which one was likely to stray from the flock and he would keep an eye on that one when they get to dangerous places. He knows which ones are pregnant and need a special kind of food. When attacked by wolves or thieves he would fight to the death to defend even one of his sheep. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

By the way, the expression "laying down one's life" comes from the fact that the sheep were kept in an enclosed space with only an opening for the sheep to go in and out. At night the shepherd usually lay down across the opening so that the sheep would not wander out and wolves would not get in. The good shepherd accepts personal inconveniences like this for the good of his sheep. If any got lost he would climb mountains and hills looking for it and calling out its name. And whether the lost sheep had fallen into a pit or was trapped in a bush of thorns, as soon as it heard the voice of its master it would bleat and the shepherd would go and rescue it.

By calling himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus shows the kind of leadership that should obtain in the community of his followers. It should be a leadership where each person is called by name. In today’s computerized society we are no longer called by name. We are known by numbers: your checkbook number, your driver's license number, your social insurance numbers, your credit card number. You are simply number so-and-so. But the Good Shepherd today reminds us that we must not allow that to happen in the church. Each one of us is a distinct personality, with a distinct history and a distinct set of abilities and needs. Like the Good Shepherd, we must show this personal touch in the way we relate to one another. This is the way God relates to us, this is the way priests and all church ministers, including parish secretaries, should relate to the people of God. When people begin to see that we are not just doing a job but a service to God and God’s people, then they will be able to see the meaning of Christian vocation and be more willing to join in this ministry. We pray today for all in pastoral ministry that they may display in their work the qualities of the good shepherd and not those of the hired hand, and we make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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