4eaHomily for Mass – Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

(Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: 7:30am, 9:00am & 5:00pm)

11 April 2014

(Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41; Ps 22; 1 Pet 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10)

Today brings together a collection of observances. Because of the readings at Mass it has become known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the world day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. And I’m sure, even higher up the list in people’s minds is that its Mother’s Day. So, happy Mother’s Day to all the Mums here this morning!

On the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached to the people, his words ‘cut them to the heart’ and they were moved to repentance and to seek baptism, which they did in large numbers. In these days, having so recently contemplated the passion and death of Jesus, and then his glorious resurrection, we too can be cut to the heart when we think of what Christ has done for us.

If we contemplate the Son of God before He became man. Imagine him in the glory of heaven, surrounded by the praises of angels. Think of him: all powerful, all knowing, all present – with no need or limitations.

Then contemplate that this same Son of God chose to come among us in perfect obedience to the Father. Contemplate him emptying himself and taking on human flesh. As man he would experience hunger, weariness, fear, loneliness and temptation. He whom the angels had adored allowed himself to be insulted, threatened, hated, tortured and nailed to a cross. Can we imagine the love that moved him to do this?

This is the love that we think of when we consider him as the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.” His was a self emptying and sacrificial love – a love that completely eschewed thought of itself, and gave itself for the life of others, that they would have life in abundance, to the full. When we think of the vocation to motherhood, and the vocation to the priesthood, and the vocation to the consecrated life: are they not calls to exercise the same self-emptying, sacrificial love?

In Jesus’ time a sheepfold usually consisted of a circular wall of stones attached to the house or located out in an open field. Several small flocks were brought into the sheepfold at night to protect them from predators: whether thieves or wild animals. Sometimes the shepherd himself slept over the opening to the sheepfold: he was the gate. Anyone wanting to get at the sheep had to pass through him first.

“I am the gate of the sheepfold” said Jesus. Only through Jesus does one approach the sheep. Those who would lead the sheep, therefore, only do it through, with, and in Jesus … they must have the same heart of Jesus, the same love, that is self-emptying and self-sacrificing. Anyone who tries to approach the sheep in some other way – apart from the way of Jesus – is a thief and brigand, not intent on the full life of the sheep, and the sheep rightly run away, not recognizing the voice of the true shepherd.

For the sheep, Jesus is the gate to safety and to pasture: he is the gate leading to salvation. Through Jesus we come into the safety of the Church, a sheepfold which is meant to protect us, to nurture us. But we don’t just come in, we go out through the gate into the world. And it’s so important to remember that, just as we come into the sheepfold through Jesus, we go out through him. It’s only when we go out in the way of Jesus – when we live as he has shown, following the commandments – that we will truly find life in the world. As we contemplate the Risen Jesus as shepherd we are consoled by the fact that we are not left alone in the world. Our shepherd goes before us, he is with us. He wants us to build our relationship with him: to listen to his voice in the Word of God; to stay close to him in the sacraments he has given us; to celebrate the Eucharist he has given us, at least every Sunday.

The Good Shepherd calls each of us to follow him in a unique way – according to the gifts that he has given us. Today we pray for those who follow him in the path of motherhood … recognizing the unique and irreplaceable way that mothers are called, and are able, to share the love of God with their children. We pray as well today for those whom God calls to follow him as priests. The priesthood shouldn’t be seen in some functionary, bureaucratic, or utilitarian manner … the priesthood is the love of the heart of Christ made visible. Priests should be the living embodiment of the Good Shepherd in our midst. We need to pray that this will always be so.

The sheepfold that Jesus is ultimately the gate of is the sheepfold of heaven. He is the gate of heaven: through him we have found the path to eternal life with God. In this easter season, and as we live in the midst of the world, this is what gives us joy. Let’s rejoice, that he, the Good Shepherd, is with us until the end of time, seeking us out and leading us safely home to God the Father.

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(1) The Word Among Us: Daily Meditations for Easter 2014.
(2) 365 Days with the Lord, 2014.