Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday

April 30, 2023
Holy Family Parish
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
1 Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Easter that is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Part of our celebration incudes the administering of the sacrament of confirmation to eighteen young men and women of your parish. This is a day dedicated not only for prayer for priestly vocations but also to pray for our ordained priests and bishops that we continue to grow in configuration to Christ the Good Shepherd.

It is noteworthy that the Gospel that the Church has selected for today’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday stops short of continuing in the next lines of John’s Gospel spoken by our Lord, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In our Gospel reading for today Jesus identifies Himself as the Sheep Gate. He identifies Himself as the Sheep Gate before He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. Christ is both His Church’s entry way into eternal life and the guide and protector of His flock, the Church, on the way to the green and lush pastures of eternal life.

The vocation of a priest and bishop is to be configured at priestly ordination to Christ as Head and Shepherd of the Church but not configured to Christ as the Sheep Gate. The pastoral ministry of a priest and bishop must point always to Christ as the center and entry of the Kingdom of God and not to the priest or bishop himself as the center and entry into the Kingdom of God. The priesthood is not a vehicle for personal celebrity, nor is it a career in social media influencing or politics. The priest’s ministry as a pastor is one of configuration and not only imitation of Christ. It is being a pastor as Christ has ordained him to be and not only doing what Christ directs him to do. To be configured to Christ the Good Shepherd means that the priest is to lay down his life for His sheep; it means accepting a shepherd’s share in the cross of Jesus Christ.

The priest gives his voice to Christ whenever the priest prays the words of consecration — “This is my body; this is my blood.” Or again, “I absolve you from your sins.” This fact indicates that the priest’s human character ought to be humble and virtuous so as not to become an obstacle for the faithful to encounter Jesus Christ in the priest’s life and ministry. The more that a priest strives to live with God’s grace in conformity with the demands of the Gospel, the more clearly his life and witness can become transparent for people to see Christ through him.

The priest’s life and ministry are instrumental for Christ to use as Christ desires to shepherd and to nourish His flock with the Word and Sacrament. It requires the priest and bishop not only to speak the words of Jesus and to do what Jesus has done, but to speak them and to do them in the ways that Jesus spoke and acted — in obedience to the Father, with kindness, and integrity in the Truth. A young man who is called to the priesthood hears His call from Christ alone but in the Holy Spirit and through the instruments of his family, his priests, and his local parish.

The sacrament of confirmation that I will administer to you, our candidates, instills in you the gifts of the Holy Spirit to recognize the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd to answer His call for service of the mission and to belong to Christ’s flock, the Church. The gifts of the Holy Spirit bring a real change in your lives that you may enter eternal life in the present, not alone, but with Christ’s flock, the Catholic Church, through the Sheep Gate of Christ. The Rite of Confirmation can be distinguished into three parts: the renunciation of evil and profession of faith, the imposition of hands and prayer by the bishop, and the anointing on the forehead with Chrism.

Many years ago, when you were infants, at your baptism, your fathers and mothers along with your godfathers and godmothers renounced on your behalf the empty promises of the devil and professed the true faith as members of the Catholic Church founded by Christ. In a sense, they let you lean on their faith as they taught you by word and example to follow the Commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. This first part of the Rite of Confirmation connects this sacrament with baptism as you are now ready and prepared to accept these graces and obligations in accord with mature freedom.

What does it mean for each of us to renounce the empty promises of the devil? The world, the flesh, and the devil offer their own means of satiating our appetites — the food they offer may be real, it may be pleasant, it may be convenient, it is very likely to be stolen, but in any case, it never lasts, it fails to nourish us, and ultimately it will poison us. To be made whole and to be truly nourished, we need to come to the Good Shepherd who is Christ and to enter through His Gate and only there can we be well-fed. The gifts of the Holy Spirit sharpen your ability to hear and strengthen your willingness to answer the voice of Christ, your true shepherd.

It is the truth that the devil is a liar. It is the truth that Christ can neither deceive nor be deceived; if the interior promptings we receive are calling us to cut corners on the Ten Commandments, to ignore the Church’s teaching of the Gospel in favor of a selfish and angry philosophy, or to place ourselves first before God or other people in all things, we can be confident that the voice offering us those promptings, no matter how sweet and reasonable it may sound, is not that of the Good Shepherd but that of the cunning thief and liar.

The second part of the Rite of Confirmation involves the prayer of the bishop while being joined by the assisting priests in imposing hands over you. The gesture of imposing hands over you suggests a roof for your protection from hostile and destructive elements of sin and temptation. It is a roof under which you belong and not simply a place in which you fit in. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are gifts of belonging and clarify the unique character of your belonging to Christ’s Catholic Church which He formed from the blood and water flowing from His side as He died on the cross for our sins.

“Belonging” is rooted in a kind of homecoming. The place and the people who know you and whom you know are at the heart of belonging. The place and the people that you know and who know you, and the place and the people from where you are, and what “you are for” are at the heart of belonging. Belonging speaks of family and it speaks of the Communion of the Church.

“Fitting in” by contrast involves compromising enough so as not to be kicked out or cancelled by a group. Fitting in is a way of showing that you are useful for purposes of a group of individuals — purposes that are not your own but require your passive compliance. When you are fitting in you are settling for merely being useful to others; when you belong you are cooperating freely towards a higher goal that you and those to whom you belong both know and love. Belonging involves my being received in love and receiving others in love. Belonging involves offering and receiving, not simply being absorbed by an ideology. God invites us to belong to Him and to each other; atheism as an ideology obliterates us for the purpose of fitting in to a mob. The gifts of the Holy Spirit enable us to accept Christ’s invitation to belong to Him. The devil and this world demand that we submit to fitting in.

The final part of the Rite of Confirmation is the anointing with Sacred Chrism, consecrated and perfumed olive oil that I blessed during Holy Week for use throughout the Diocese of Fort Worth. This part involves my calling you by name as you are presented by your sponsor who accompanies you to the sheepgate of belonging. I then anoint your foreheads with chrism while tracing the Sign of the Cross with my thumb. The aroma of the perfume represents the sweet aroma of holiness, being one with God. The cross symbolizes the only path through the sheep gate. Our share in the cross of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of the Eucharist makes present the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross out of love for us. The Eucharist nourishes us and enables us to love in the unique way that Christ loves. Without our worthy reception of the Eucharist, safeguarded by regular reception of the sacrament of penance, the grace of baptism and confirmation is incomplete. This is why our expected presence and participation at Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation is both a gift and an obligation.

The renunciation of evil and the promises and profession of faith, the prayer and imposition of hands by the bishop, and the anointing on the forehead with Chrism: these are the tangible reminders that we both priests and the faithful laity have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit to recognize the voice of the True and Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We strengthen these gifts when we spend time with Him in prayer and the authentic worship of the Mass. We can only recognize His voice amidst the chaos and noisiness of evil because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have each received and which we use for service and love of our neighbor.

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