In order to understand the Gospel message, it is crucial to emphasize 1 fact: Sheep depend on the shepherd for everything. Without a shepherd, sheep are doomed to die.
Sheep left to themselves are incapable of finding land that provides food and water. They must be led to pasture. They are also completely defenceless against both human predators, such as thieves, and natural predators, such as wolves.
Another important point is that the sheep & the shepherd have a very intimate relationship. When a shepherd comes for the flock, he walks in front. The sheep recognize the familiar voice of their own shepherd. They follow him & only him. They would run away from a stranger.
Who is the shepherd? Jesus is the Good Shepherd. In fact, Jesus is the perfect Shepherd. His only interest is our welfare: to protect us, to feed us, to nurture our life. There is no wrong in the way he looks after us or cares for us. It is impossible for Jesus to improve the way he loves us. As the 2nd Reading states, “He is the shepherd and guardian of our souls”.
Who are the sheep? While it is true that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the real purpose of this Gospel is to inspire us to be good sheep. “Good” is not to be equated with perfect or sinless. In this context, “good” implies our willingness to recognize the Lord, hear his voice and follow the path he shows us. The invitation is to allow ourselves to be shepherded by the Risen Lord.
Fr. Henri Nouwen, who lived from 1932 to 1996, wrote the following comments about this theme in his book, A Spirituality of Living.
“Oh, if we could sit for just one half hour a day doing nothing except taking this simple phrase from the Bible and holding it in our heart and mind. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1, NRSV). Say it three times. We know it’s not true, because we want many things. That is exactly why we’re so nervous. But if we keep saying the truth, the real truth—“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want”—and let that truth descend from our minds into our hearts, gradually those words will be written on the walls of our inner holy place. That becomes the space in which we can receive our colleagues and our work, our family and our friends, and the people we will meet during the day.” (pp. 16-17)
What Fr. Nouwen is challenging us to do is to allow these words to move from our mind, where they remain an abstraction, to our hearts, to the very core of our being, where they can take root. To say, “Jesus is the Good Shepherd” is to have faith. However, to say, “Jesus is my shepherd” is to have a deeper faith, is to be closer to the Lord. Each of us ought to ask ourselves this question: “Is the Lord truly my shepherd?
The more I allow Jesus to be my shepherd, the more I hear his voice in my life. Listening to that voice and doing what Jesus asks us to do is the key to receiving the abundant life that he desperately wants to give us. The abundant life that Jesus offers us is to be experienced at all levels – physical, emotional, psychological, moral and spiritual.
In our Catholic tradition, this 4th Sunday of Easter is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Christ, the Good Shepherd, continues to lead his people through his Bishops, Priests and Deacons, and calls many to follow him in this way. Priestly, diaconal and religious vocations should be a constant concern in the hearts of God’s people.
To that end, I would like to publicly congratulate Chad Franklin, our seminarian, who last week made his Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity. Chad, I want to assure you of our encouragement, support and prayers as you continue your journey towards diaconal ordination.
I am also glad that Bishop Marcel is our celebrant this morning. Every bishop chooses a motto upon his ordination. On the occasion of his installation as the 6th Bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste-Marie on January 13, 2016, Bishop Marcel chose the conclusion of today’s Gospel as his motto: “So that they may have life”. These words are found at the bottom of the prayer card that was distributed at the Installation Mass and the Masses of Welcome held throughout the diocese.
Bishop, the hope is that these will be more than just 6 words on a card. This past Friday, you consecrated our diocese to Mary, the mother of the Church. Through the intercession of Mary, we pray that Christ the Good Shepherd will continue to fulfill his ministry of giving us abundant life through your leadership. Bishop, through the intercession of Mary, under your direction, may God keep us strong in faith, hope and love.
But, we can’t stop here on our reflection on vocations. We ought to take a more expansive and more inclusive approach to Vocation Sunday. All of us – regardless of our state in life – bishop, priest, deacon, religious, single, married, widowed, separated or divorced – have been called by God.
As we reflect on our on the meaning of our individual call from God, let us consider 3 questions: As I seek to discover the purpose and meaning of my life, am I giving the Lord permission to lead me? Am I handing over every detail of my life in complete trust to the Lord? Is my heart going astray, or am I following the path that the Lord is showing to me?
As our Mass on this Vocation Sunday continues, let us place our lives in the hands of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. But more importantly, let us ask God to help us be good sheep who listen to the voice of that shepherd and then act upon it.
Amen. Deacon Roland Muzzatti May 3, 2020