Good Shepherd SundaySunday Readings
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21, 2013 (4EasterC)
By Alex McAllister SDS
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New American Bible
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For our Gospel reading this morning the Lectionary gives us the last part of Chapter Ten of John’s Gospel.
In the other two years of the liturgical cycle we have in turn the previous two sections of this chapter dedicated to the Good Shepherd. This year we have just the last few verses from Chapter Ten.
In this short text Jesus plainly tells us 1) that we are the gift of the Father to Jesus; 2) we are his and no one can steal us from him and 3) he will give us eternal life.
These three things are important.
First, we are the gift of the Father to Jesus. We don’t come to Jesus by ourselves—no, we are led by the Father. What a wonderful reassuring thought this is. That the Father is so interested in us and finds us so precious that he chooses to entrust us to his Son.
Second, no one can steal us from Christ. Yes, we can reject him ourselves, if we are foolish enough to do so, but no one can take us away from him. With this in mind we need have no real fear of persecution or temptation. Any deviation from the true path is our sole responsibility and this is not something we would ever want to do.
Thirdly, he will give us eternal life; indeed it is his own life that he shares with us—the divine life. There is no greater thing that could happen to us than to be taken up into heaven to live with God forever.
Jesus then states very clearly ‘I and the Father are one.’ This is Jesus openly declaring his divinity. That he is human is clear to his hearers, but for him to say ‘I and the Father are one’ is a declaration of divinity beyond all doubt.
The next line in the text, not part of our reading today is: ‘The Jews fetched stones to stone him.’ They see this declaration as the highest form of heresy and, of course, this is what ultimately leads to his passion and death.
That’s the text set before us and very interesting it is too. However, we call this Good Shepherd Sunday and on this day we pray particularly for vocations to the priesthood and so it is important that we spend a few moments thinking about the situation of the priesthood today.
Clearly the priesthood has been experiencing a series of crises over the last forty years. First there was a great exodus from the ranks of the priesthood in the sixties and seventies. There was a new freedom in society at that time as well as major reforms taking place in the Church. It was a time of great upheavals and many left the priesthood.
For example, I have four cousins who were priests during that time. Two of them left and two of them stayed; I know that it caused those who left great personal anguish as well as a lot of heartache for their families and friends.
Then in the eighties and nineties there was a great dearth of vocations with very few people coming forward. While this was the case for priestly vocations it was a much greater problem for the religious orders of women. I suppose that the increasingly secular society has played its role here.
There has in the new millennium been a slight upturn and this is reflected in the Salvatorians since we have two men entering the novitiate here in Thornbury in September and they will, in a year’s time, join our one student in London.
You don’t need me to tell you about the abuse crisis which has played its part in undermining the role of the priest within society. Hopefully this has not put off too many of those experiencing a call to the priesthood and religious life. Though it has certainly not made it easy for anyone.
Thankfully the Church is at long last facing up to this problem and is now dealing with it appropriately. There is no more sweeping under the carpet and there is now a much better and more professional approach to psychological problems of all kinds.
I would urge you to pray for priests on this Good Shepherd Sunday. During this coming week please set aside some time to pray for priests. Please pray for vocations, pray for those with difficulties, and pray for those in positions of responsibility; that each one may respond to the call of the Lord and give their very best for the building up of his Kingdom here on earth.
Today we formally accept a group of young people as candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Some come from Thornbury and some from Wotton under Edge. They have been studying hard and learning what it means to become a full member of the Church.
They realise that the role of a Christian can never be a passive one. They know that Christ wants us to be his active co-operators, his agents in the world of today. They understand that he does not treat us as servants but as friends and co-workers.
Christ is our Good Shepherd, he guides and protects us, he goes after the lost sheep, he leads us into abundant pastures and cares for his flock.
But that doesn’t mean that we are passive and dependent creatures. We are not destined for a life of subservience and expected to merely follow. We are not meant to act like silly sheep, even if some of us can’t help it from time to time!
The analogy or example describes Christ not us. He is the Good Shepherd, in a spiritual way he does all the things you would expect of a shepherd. But he does more because he gives his life for his sheep. And he does so in order that we may enter into eternal life with our sins forgiven.
He does not therefore treat us like a flock of passive sheep but as friends and fellow workers. He shares his life with us.
These young people understand these things, they are prepared to commit themselves once again to Christ. They have accepted the challenge of being a disciple of Christ and one of his active collaborators in the world. And they willingly take up this challenge.
So today we congratulate them and assure them of our prayers that they may be faithful to the Gospel values and so become good and effective apostles of Christ.