12 May 20194 Easter

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Easter
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Cycle C John 10: 27-30

A preacher once told this story about everyone's favorite psalm, the twenty third. In a family gathering, a youngster stood up and recited it from memory. It was a beautiful rendition. His words flowed like music. His folks applauded enthusiastically and asked him to do it a second time. He proudly obliged. Then the patriarch stood up. In a cracked and halting voice, he began, "The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want..." His family sat there hypnotized till the conclusion. They were too overwhelmed to applaud. One of their company later summed up the reaction of all, "The boy knows the psalm, but the old man knows the shepherd." A poet was sharing some of his work with an audience. He invited them to listen not only with the ears of their head but also with the ears in their hearts. We would do well to do something similar with today's Gospel. It does much to flesh out the person of Jesus.

He becomes less a mystery and more an open book. The Teacher refers to His relationship to us as that of shepherd to sheep. Some of us might like to think that the application of shepherd to Himself was original with Him. Yet, scholars are quick to burst our bubble on that point. As a matter of fact, the term shepherd applied to leaders was quite common. The Greek poet Homer who lived out his life about a millennium before the Christ called the celebrated soldier Agamemnon "the shepherd of the people." And a trip to even a third rate museum on some city's back streets will show you images of the pharaohs of Egypt standing with the staff of the shepherd in their hands. Thus, when Jesus used the term in reference to Himself, no one was surprised. But, as we all know from history, not all shepherds are the same. Many generals and pharaohs oftentimes seemed to be direct blood kin to such as Ivan the Terrible or Messrs Stalin and Hitler. All in all, many shepherds do a pretty dreadful number on their sheep.

But, as Arthur Tonne points out, the Christ took very special care of the physical needs of His sheep. Luke 18 tells us he restored sight to a blind man. John 2 tells us that Mary told her Son, "They have no wine." And we all know what happened. Recall too the Roman officer who pleaded with Him in Matthew 8 for his ill servant. It almost goes without saying the servant was on his feet in an instant. Matthew 14 tells us what He did with five loaves and a few fish for a famished mob. Surely our shepherd is one of a kind. But His concern went beyond the physical. Eagerly this shepherd listened to His sheep with both the ears of His head as well as the ears in His heart. He was a most effective counselor, advocate, and listener. There was about Him no condescension. He was quite willing to spend, as we like to say, quality time with His constituency. Check it out in the Gospels.

Look up Nicodemus, the widow of Nain, the blind fellow, the leper, etc. If you wanted His time, consider it yours. His own agenda He put on the back burner. His time becomes your time. You need no appointment to approach Him. This shepherd is an all time winner. And, as today's Gospel indicates, He was most anxious to get His sheep out of this transitory life and into eternal life. In the words of the union organizers of old, He believed not only in bread on the table but roses too. His agenda was twofold - making both this life more attractive and making heaven the final stop. If you have the patience to hunt them out, you will find that references are made to eternal life a dozen times from chapters 3 through 6 of John's Gospel. And today's Gospel raises that number to a mighty thirteen. "I give them, said the Nazarene, "eternal life; they will never be lost." (vs 28) If you are given the option of knowing either Psalm 23 or the shepherd, be smart. Choose the shepherd every time out.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Easter
Fourth Sunday of Easter: How to Do Your Laundry

I want to start today by speaking about a task that all of us have to learn how to do, at least, all of us who are not totally spoiled need to learn how to do. The task is doing the laundry. Unless our Moms taught us when we were really little, the chances are good that we learned how to do the laundry the hard way. Probably at one time or another all of us had whites that ended up pink, or grey or the traces of some other color that dominated the load. That's when we learned that it is not a good thing to wash your whites with your colors. Evidently, that rule doesn't hold in God's washing machines. In the vision from the Book of Revelations, our second reading, people are seen who had just done their laundry. They are wearing robes that are sparkling white.

The robes represent their baptismal garments. But the reading says that they washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb. It is all symbolic. They carry palm branches which is the symbol of martyrs. The people in the vision are those who died for the Lord. In today's Gospel reading the Lord tells us that his sheep will never perish. He says, "No one can take them out of my hand." When we study the history of Christianity, we learn about thousands and thousands of people who were persecuted for their faith, people who had everything taken from them, but no one could take God's life from them. The martyrs, those who gave witness to Christ with their lives, will never die. We are all also aware of the thousands who are suffering this present day because they are Christians.

God's love for them is strong. They may be assaulted or even killed, but they will never die. They have affirmed their baptism with their testimony to Christ. They have washed their baptismal garments in the Blood of the Lamb. The first reading presents Paul and Barnabas being persecuted for the faith. They were not put to death. That would happen later in both of their lives. At the stage of their Christian lives presented in today's Gospel, Paul and Barnabas are mocked by their own people, Jewish people, as they presented the faith in Antioch in Pisidia, This was not the Antioch in Syria that our patron, St. Ignatius, was from, but a city right in the middle of present day Turkey.

Paul and Barnabas were run out of the city, symbolically shaking the town's dust off their feet as Jesus instructed disciples who are rejected to do in Luke 9:5 and parallel passages. I do not know whether any of us here will be put to death for our faith. I think all of us would be willing to die for Christ. Realistically, the chances of that happening are slim, unless of course, some of us choose to care for people in those countries where Christianity is persecuted. So, it is easy for us to say, "I would die for Christ." But are we willing to be persecuted for him? That is the question we have to ask ourselves when we are called upon to take a stand against popular but immoral positions. Certainly abortion is the foremost of these, but there are other positions demanding that we stand up for Christ and accept persecution from the pseudo intelligentsia around us. For example, we need to take a stand against the bigotry and hatred when and if it is used by politicians who appeal to people's basest instincts.

I've recently been blasted for doing exactly that, but it makes no difference. I have to proclaim the gospel and affirm that a Christian cannot give in to hatred, especially that which might be lurking within the recesses of his or her mind. Nor can a Christian close his or her eyes and ears to those who promote hatred. If in some people's minds relating the Gospel to the current times is, to use the attacker's words, "spewing a political position," then we need to accept persecution and promote Christianity. Sometimes we have to accept persecution from those within our own families or circle of friends when they expect us to join them in affirming popular immorality.

Many times people will say that it is so wonderful that two people have found each other and are now living together, even though they will not marry for social security reasons for the elderly or for commitment reasons among the young. When we say, "I can't accept that," we will be attacked, persecuted, or at least excluded, but we cannot turn from the truth of the Lord. There are times that we suffer simply for doing what we need to do. Many of you are or have been care-givers. Some for your husbands or wives, some for your parents, and some for a chronically ill child. You have been pushed beyond your comfort zone so many times that you forgot what a normal event-less day is like. I'm sure you could find ways to turn from your responsibilities, but your love won't let you.

Your love is God's love, sacrificial love. All good parents, you folks, love their children sacrificially. You cannot count the times that you have gotten up in the middle of the night to care for a child. It is what you do. Your day revolves around your children's needs, not your wants. Sometimes you are exhausted, but always you are loving. You are also loved by your children in their own way and loved by your God who sees how well you love Him through your children. That doesn't make your life easy. If Christianity were easy, the Lord would never have said, "Take up your cross and follow me." The Lord says to us today: "Use my laundry service. Wash your robes white in my blood. Stand up for me, care for my children, and know that I will always care for you. Don't be afraid. You will not perish. You are mine."

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Easter
It's You, Aslan (May 12, 2019)

Bottom line: As Lucy says, It's you, Aslan. It's about Jesus. Today he tells us: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life." Happy Mother's Day! At the end of Mass I will have a blessing for moms. It will follow the blessing for those with anniversary of matrimony during May. I want to put this in the context of this year's Easter theme, that is, Jesus' two-step program. The first step, you remember, is to believe - trust Jesus. Then the second step, touch his body, his wounded body, the Church. The act of trust brings great benefit, as we saw last Sunday. After a frustrating night of hard work, the disciples hear Jesus voice.

Although they were ready to wrap things up and get some rest, they cast their net and make an enormous catch. Best of all, when they come ashore, Jesus prepares a wonderful breakfast for them. When we believe, when we trust Jesus, good things happens. Today we see that the act of trust involves hearing Jesus' voice in a particular way. We are like those sheep whose ears perk up when they hear the shepherd's voice. Just so, says Jesus, he knows you and me. He says we will follow him and receive eternal life. What does this mean? To me the Narnia stories beautifully illustrate what it means to know Jesus and in him to have eternal life. One of my favorite scenes is at the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The children have an amazing adventure and at certain points they realize how Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus) comes to their aid. Now the adventure reaches its end and the children must return to England.

Aslan tells the two older children - Edmund and Lucy - that they will not return to Narnia. They become sad and Aslan tries to comfort them. Lucy begins to sob. "It isn't Narnia, you know," she says. "It's you, (Aslan)". Yes. In Narnia, it's about Aslan. For us it's about Jesus. Jesus says, "I give them eternal life". Eternal life, heaven, doesn't mean sitting on a cloud playing a harp or even having some kind of party with friends or going to some beautiful place like Narnia. In reality, eternal life is nothing more - and nothing less - that knowing Jesus and being known by him. That's why Jesus says, "I know them and they follow me. And I give them eternal life."

As Lucy says: It isn't Narnia, you know. It's you, Aslan. So again, the first step is faith, trusting in Jesus, knowing him The second step is contained in the first. "I know them and they follow me." In following Jesus we become members of his flock, his Church. We see this in our parish mission. Last week I quoted the opening line, "Blessed to live in this beautiful valley, we are Christian in union with Pope Francis and Archbishop Sartain". The concluding line then lays out our three tasks "lift up Jesus, love one another and make disciples." Jesus wants us to become disciple makers - to bring people to him and his Church. That's a big challenge, especially today. So many of our children have left the Church. They have become what sociologists call "nones". Not "nuns" like Sister Barbara or Mother Carmen, but n-o-n-e-s. When they ask "what is your religion" many respond "none".

There are many reasons why people become nones. We share some blame when we fail to give a good example. The example has sometimes been horrible, for instance clergy abuse. On top of that we face a hostile culture that loves to portray Christians negatively. Our culture often undermines faith, for example, by asserting that science disproves God's existence. It does not. I'll say more in future homilies about how, although we cannot prove God's existence, we have evidence - good reason to believe in him. The Bible identifies three forces against us: the world (that is, a corrupt culture), the flesh (our inner weakness) and the devil. Those forces make people flee from God. We, however, want to fight back. With Jesus help we will fight back.

Mothers are fighters. If I ran into a bear I would pray it's not a mama bear with her cubs. Mothers are fighters but they do need us men. None of us can fight alone. We must unite with Jesus and with each other - become full members of his flock with Jesus as our Shepherd. As Lucy says, It's you, Aslan. It's about Jesus. Today he tells us: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Easter

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Easter
Fourth Sunday of Easter

This Sunday is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday since in each year of the Liturgical Cycle an extract from the tenth chapter of St John's Gospel is read. This chapter gives us the teaching of Jesus to his disciples about his role as the Good Shepherd. It is a particularly wonderful image and down the centuries Christ has often been depicted in Christian art as the Good Shepherd; often he is portrayed as carrying a lamb on his shoulders or leading a flock of sheep. This is also a day on which we pray for priests and for an increase of vocations in the Church. This is most appropriate since the Good Shepherd provides us with an excellent model for pastoral ministry. Even the use of the word pastoral in this context refers us to shepherding since that is precisely what it means.

What does a shepherd do, one might ask? Well, he guides his flock of sheep, taking them from one area of good pasture to another. He also keeps them together as a flock, making sure that none of them get separated or lost. He cares for their health and also helps individual sheep who get stuck in a bush or fall into a ravine. Above all he protects the sheep. He protects them from unsavoury characters who might want to steal them but also from wild animals who may wish to devour them. All in all, his task is to promote the welfare of the flock that has been placed in his charge. This is an excellent and all-encompassing model for ministry in the Christian Church.

Indeed, in many countries the role we call parish priest is often given the title pastor. This is the case in the USA and in several other countries. When Christ teaches us that he is the Good Shepherd he is giving all those who exercise ministry in the Church a model to look up to, an ideal on which to pattern their ministry. Actually, the word good in the title Good Shepherd could also be translated as model or ideal. We could just as easily hear Jesus saying 'I am the model shepherd' or 'I am the ideal shepherd.' Indeed, we should not think of this idea of Christian ministry as being restricted to Bishops, priests or religious; we should think of it as something that involves us all, especially perhaps mothers and fathers.

They too need to have all these same characteristics of the Good Shepherd as they do their best to raise and educate their children in a proper way. So, Christian ministry is not confined to clerics or to professional religious people but is something that belongs to the whole Christian community. It is something that each one of us share in as we progress on our pilgrimage of faith through our life on earth. Each one of us needs to look to the Good Shepherd and to take him as our model and example of how to conduct our Christian life. We can all, each of us, draw inspiration from our kind and loving Good Shepherd. We can all, like him, become guides, unifiers and protectors of those in our care. It is important on this day in which we think about ministry to say a few words about vocation and in particular about vocations to the priestly or religious life. Some people discover that God is calling them quite late in life but actually most of those who are chosen discover it in childhood.

At quite a young age they may come to the realisation that God wants them for a specific purpose, that God desires that they become priests or religious in his Church. It may be that they do not think that they are worthy to embrace such a mission or perhaps they do not even desire to live the life of a priest or religious but at a certain point they just know that this is what is the will of God for them. When this realisation dawns on them they face several choices; they can embrace the call wholeheartedly, they can completely reject it or they can delay it for a time. The temptation is always there to reject such a call. I myself have met a fair number of people who felt that God was calling them in this way but they decided not to go through with it. Most of them told me that they regretted making that choice and wished that they had given it a go.

This was a factor in my own decision to study for the priesthood; I didn't want to be like them, to have an unfulfilled ambition. But, of course, no one can be the judge in his own case; while an individual may feel that they have a vocation it is up to the Church authorities to decide whether the vocation they are experiencing is truly authentic. The Bishop or Religious Superior makes the final decision after taking the advice of those involved in the training of a priest or religious. A lot of discernment and experience goes into arriving at such a conclusion and it is not done lightly.

The whole body of the Church is involved also in praying for individuals who experience God's call. We pray that God will call many more people to ministry as priests and religious in the Church and we pray too for the proper discernment of these vocations so that we may receive a real an authentic ministry from our priests as well as from our brothers and sisters who join religious orders. It is important that parents do not block such vocations but encourage their children who might be tentatively experiencing the call of God. Life in the priesthood or in a religious order is not easy; it is certainly challenging and many sacrifices have to be made but the rewards are great.

Leading a Christian community in prayer and worship, preaching the Word of God, preparing young and old for the sacraments, counselling the confused and desperate, showing compassion to the sick, and reverently burying the dead; all these things have their own rewards. To be available to the members of the Christian community especially in times of need is always something that is going to be fulfilling. So, we challenge those members of our community who are suitably qualified and in the right state of life to open their hearts to the fact that God may have plans for them. And, if they do come to realise that God is calling them in this way, we urge them to have the courage to step up to the plate and to embrace this unique call which comes from the Lord above.

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