Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A, May 3, 2020 by Deacon John Girolami
First reading: Acts 2. 14a, 36b-41
Responsorial Psalm: 23.1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2. 20b-25
Gospel: John 10. 1-10
Today we celebrate the world day of prayer for vocations to ordained ministry and religious life. I would normally be telling you about the ordination mass that I had attended and who was ordained. Unfortunately, that celebration has been delayed. A young man named Paul Edmonstone has been called to the priesthood. Paul was assigned to St Francis a few years ago as part of his preparation time. Another friend of mine Joe Gigliotti has been called to the sacred order of deacons. Both of these men along with others will be ordained, God willing, in August.
Their path to get to where they are today, I am sure has had many twists and valleys. There would have been steep inclines and many obstacles in their way. It is that way for anyone choosing to discern their call to serve God, men and women alike. It was that way for me. But one does not choose this life of service. The church also discerns to see if it feels this life is what God is calling you to. If the church feels it is right, then you are called to ordination.
But as members of the faith community we are also called to help all those discerning. We need to help them decide. We need to encourage them. One person was helping a young person decide whether she should do missionary work. This is what she told her young friend. …
“I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you; something worth living for; something that energizes you; that enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what that might be, that is for you to find, to choose and to love. “
Today is also Good Shepherd Sunday. It goes hand in hand with this call to serve. You see, when we are called to serve, we are called to be like the Good Shepherd. We are called to care for the sheep, the members of the church, the followers of Christ. We are called to make Christ known to everyone especially the poor, the sick and those in any kind of need.
Psalm 23 gives some characteristics of this shepherd. He provides to his sheep everything that they need. He gives them a place to rest; cool water to drink; he nurtures them; takes away their cares. He shows them where to go, where it is safe. He journeys with them. He will never leave them.
This is what the Jewish people believed the good shepherd, the messiah would be like. The Christ would be the true shepherd who would gather the scattered children of Israel and care for them.
But Peter in his letter today tells Christ’s followers that now “you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”. He takes this concept further. The Good Shepherd not only cares for the physical wellbeing of the sheep, but also their souls.
In the gospel Jesus again expands this image of God which his followers understood. Yes he is the good shepherd but he also says that he is the gate, the gateway to eternal life, to happiness, to life with the Father.
Where does this image come from? In Christ’s time the place where sheep were kept was a pen surrounded by stone walls. It was called a sheepfold. Thorns covered the walls to protect the sheep. The shepherd was positioned at the entrance of the fold which had no door. He squatted there and blocked the entrance with his staff in hand. Even if he fell asleep, raiders would not come near. Neither would wolves. The shepherd decided who could come near the sheep. Usually several flocks were put together for protection. But the sheep would only obey its own shepherd.
In the morning the shepherd would call out his sheep and they would follow him. He would bring them to food and water. They felt protected and loved. The shepherd never betrayed them.
Jesus says that by following the path he has set for us, by following him, we will be saved. We will share in the life promised to us by our Savior.
This image of the shepherd can be seen in the ministers of the church. First of all, the bishop always carries his crozier, his staff. It usually has a hook on the top, to direct the sheep in a certain path. The other image is the stole that a priest wears. It is worn over the neck on the shoulders. It symbolizes a lost or injured sheep who is being carried by his shepherd.
These modern day shepherds continue the work of the good shepherd. First, they defend the sheep and protect them if they should be attacked. They will fight for them. Then, they also protect the sheep, find a safe place for them, they gather them together and guard them. Finally, they nurture them and help them grow strong.
Deacon, priest and bishop are all called to serve the people of God. The best explanation I ever heard was in a homily from our former pastor Father Don Wilhelm. He said that the Bishop is called to lead the people, to set the way to follow and to defend to flock. The priest is to journey beside the people, to be at their side in daily life. He shares their sorrows and their joys. The deacon is behind the bishop and the priest. He is there to help those who have fallen behind; the sick the dying and the grieving, the poor and those in need. Leading the whole group is Christ the Good Shepherd.
“Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will find pasture”. That pasture is heaven itself. Jesus is the gateway to eternal life. It is always open to those who love him.