Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017
Reading 1ACTS 2:14A, 36-41
Responsorial PsalmPS 23: 1-3A, 3B4, 5, 6
- (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Reading 21 PT 2:20B-25
Homily— May 6 & 7, 2017
This is Good Shepherd Sunday and it is a good day to pray for vocations; especially vocations to priesthood, consecrated life and to the permanent diaconate. We have eight young people who will be making their First Holy Communion at the 9:30 a.m. Mass. You will find their names on the front of the bulletin. It was the day of my First Communion when Grandpa and Grandma Miller came to our yard on the farm after Mass. I went out to meet them at the car and Grandpa Miller said to me maybe you will be a priest someday. They both came from Luxembourg Europe when they were in their twenties.
I can tell you that I am grateful for my almost 41 years as a priest. God has blessed me in many ways and I have been supported by many people. I like what I do at least 90 per cent of the time! I hope that I am a Good Shepherd for you.
Saint John Paul II writes that “The shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know him. How wonderful and consoling it is to know that Jesus knows us one by one; that for him we are not anonymous persons; that our name—that name which is agreed upon by loving parents and friends—is known to him! For Jesus we are not a ‘mass,’ a ‘multitude’! We are individual ‘persons’ with an eternal value, both as creatures and as redeemed persons! He knows us! He knows me, and loves me and gave himself for me!”
Sheep are curious animals, and the biblical authors rely on our knowledge of their nature and habits to convey complex theological truths. During the time of Jesus everyone had a basic knowledge about sheep and their care. We never had any sheep on our farm and I have never worked with them.
During daylight hours, shepherds would follow their flocks, but at night the sheep would be penned together for safety, usually in a cave or other sheltered overhang. The sheep are first separated from the goats, which are left to fend for themselves throughout the night. Each shepherd would typically have between ten to twenty animals, and several of these small flocks would then be brought into the same pen together. A hundred or more sheep might be penned in for the night, protected from the elements and the threat of predators. Once the sheep are safely huddled together in the back of a cave, a makeshift barrier is placed across the entrance by the watchman or sometimes a shepherd would sleep there to protect the sheep.
In the morning the local shepherds come to the collection point. The barrier is broken down or the shepherd gets up and the shepherds call out to their animals. The sheep of each flock know the distinctive voice of their shepherd. The shepherd had not named each sheep but instead uses a musically intoned whistle that the sheep of his flock recognize and move toward. Each sheep knows the sound of his or her shepherd and will not follow another. I talked to a friend who was driving in Ireland and came upon a flock of sheep on the road. They got out of the car and tried to chase the sheep off the road but they were not interested in moving until the shepherd comes around the corner and yells something in Gaelic and the sheep get off the road.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We are to learn from his example and from his successors on this earth. St. Peter talks about how to respond to unjust persecution, the Greek word he uses for following in Jesus’ footsteps actually describes the meticulous process of tracing letters as one learns to write. It suggests long-term concentration and dedication as disciples learn to pattern their behavior on that of the master. Peter encourages the disciples to emulate Christ. He encourages them to meditate on how Christ refused to be caught in a pattern of reciprocal insult and how he made no threats against his persecutors.
What a world it would be if we could refrain from retaliating when someone hurts us. What if we say a prayer for someone who cuts us off when driving or races around us in an unsafe passing zone. Maybe we need to be patient and in not so big of a hurry to get out of the church parking lot. Maybe we could help someone to park appropriately when they block part of the aisle making it difficult for cars to pass.
Most important is to know the voice of Jesus and follow the lead of the Good Shepherd. Our Archbishop strives to serve others and is usually the last one in line to eat. It is good to allow others to go in front of you. It teaches us patience and humility.