Life on the Chrism Trail

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday

April 25, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 4:8-12
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
1 John 3:1-2
John 10:11-18

In our Gospel on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. In so doing, Jesus also speaks of two characteristics of His mission as the Good Shepherd. First, He knows His sheep with a closeness conveyed by the statement that He knows the name of each of His sheep and that in turn His sheep recognize His voice, and they follow. 

Secondly, Jesus the Good Shepherd teaches that He is willing to die for His sheep — which He does. The parable of the Lost Sheep in the other gospels shows us just how important this teaching and image is for the preaching of Jesus. The Shepherd is willing to take great risks to save the sheep even to the point of dying for the sheep.

The love and care that Christ the Good Shepherd has for His sheep is such that He has designed His flock as the Church in which all the sheep need not only Him but each other. They are to be one flock and the unity of the flock depends only on His centrality as the Good Shepherd. The hired hands, unlike the Good Shepherd, do not care about the sheep either as individuals or as a flock. The hired hands assess the value of the sheep by considering how useful they are. Hired hands are willing to cull the flock of the weaker and more vulnerable sheep for the sake of the hired hands’ private gain.  Jesus is very clear that He is not a hired hand and promises a harsh judgment for those who do not care for the sheep of the flock.

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, in loving obedience to the Father has given His life for us, His sheep. The obedience of Christ in carrying out His mission of salvation for us is not simply a formal compliance to the command of the Father. Rather, the obedience that Christ offers the Father exemplifies for us that He truly and deeply loves each of us as persons and as members of His flock. He desires that we know and love each other that all may be one. His execution on the cross is His free decision offered from an immeasurable love for us. His life is not taken from Him, He freely lays it down. He desires and shepherds in a way that places the weaker and more vulnerable sheep to be at the center of the flock, safe from the peripheries where they are prone to stray and fall victim to the wolf who cunningly attempts to pick off each member of the flock one by one. God has given us the opportunity to learn in the last year that sin, despair, presumption, sloth, and lukewarmness are much more powerful in our lives whenever we are isolated from one another. People will not believe that Christ matters if Christians act as though Christians do not matter.

The pastoral mission of Jesus is carried out in such a way that soon the stronger sheep of the flock surround the weaker members of the flock who are placed at the center away from the peripheries — these are the poor, the unborn, the terminally ill, the oppressed. The stronger members of the flock soon keep close and surround the weaker members because of the call of the Shepherd’s voice and His presence in their midst. Without the Good Shepherd and our obedience to His voice, we His sheep soon abandon each other and wander off lost on our own egocentric paths that drive us to pools of dank water, scorched and arid earth, and the vicious rapacity of the wolf. 

From this united flock who hears His voice, the Good Shepherd calls some men to be ordained and configured to His image sacramentally as priests. The vocation of the priest involves the same missionary and pastoral obedience and love that the Good Shepherd exemplifies and only that He can offer. By God’s grace alone, next month I will ordain six men to the priesthood for our diocese who have answered the call of the Good Shepherd to seek out the lost sheep and to lay down their lives in obedient love for the salvation of the entire flock.  Please pray for them. Also pray that as a local church we can follow in obedient and loving unity the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that out of our flock even more young men will be nurtured in hearing His voice and courageously answer the call to be shepherds and not hired hands.

The Good Shepherd leads us to Heaven. By speaking and calling, by protecting and dying…by the power of His Word…by making known His word so that His sheep who know Him and know His voice might follow. The Good Shepherd does not force, He does not use cruel or coercive measures…He does not trick or dupe or deceive. That is what mercenaries and hired hands do. The Good Shepherd simply and clearly speaks the fullness of the Truth in love that those who hear His voice might follow.

In hearing His voice, we come to recognize that our lives are not our own. We come to know that we must lay down our lives for others in accepting inconveniences, difficulties, and sufferings as our part of God’s plan. We follow the Good Shepherd by committing ourselves to follow the Commandments and to live the Beatitudes through loving actions to serve the poor and outcast. We begin by anchoring our lives in prayer. We seek forgiveness for our sins out of sorrowful love and we forgive others as the way of the life of a disciple of the Good Shepherd. When we freely decide to accept this life, we have not only heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, but we have listened to it and have become one with Him. It is time to decide.

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