26Apr 26th April. Fourth Sunday of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 4:8-12

By the power of the risen Jesus we can be saved.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

2nd Reading: 1 John 3:1-2

The love of the Father, lavished on all God’s children

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

Christ is the true Shepherd; nobody can take away his sheep.

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Pastors who care for people

Jesus illustrates his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep, seeing himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. It’s about the <em>relationship</em> between the shepherd and the sheep. Though the imagery is old, the message is topical. It is relevant to us here and now. . By faith we accept Jesus, and our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God’s unbreakable love and faithfulness.

In order to enter eternal life we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. Easy options can draw us into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. But God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Paul and Barnabas ‘spoke out boldly’, and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord. Our faith urges us to take personal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.

“Good Shepherd Sunday” is an opportunity to think and pray about how priestly ministry the catholic church will fare into the future. In 2015 Ireland the average age of ordained priests is about sixty five, a statistic that urgently calls for significant change in how we recruit priests for the future, and what is to be expected of them. In a recent article about this impending crisis, Padraig McCarthy invites us to remember that there is no such thing as a priest-less parish. “There may not be an ordained priest as is the practice at present, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this take flesh in the coming decades? Are there factors which had value in the past which now are an obstacle to the mission of the church? What new model of ministerial priesthood is called for?” Fr. McCarthy divides the shepherding challenge into three questions that are worth examining by bishops, priests and laity:

1) Who will be the true shepherds in the coming years?
2) How will those shepherds carry out the mission to those outside the fold?
3) What needs to change in the Catholic Church, so that each local community can have a full Eucharistic celebration every Sunday?

***

A very personal relationship

When people go to Rome on pilgrimage, they usually try to include a visit to the Catacombs, the earliest Christian cemeteries in existence. The earliest Christian art is there in the catacombs, in images are very simple and unadorned compared to the art that would emerge in later centuries. Yet these pictures are very striking just because of their simplicity and directness. One of the images of Jesus most found in the catacombs is that of the Good Shepherd. One is in the Catacomb of San Callistus, showing a young beardless man with a sheep draped around his shoulders and holding a bucket of water in his right hand. Clearly the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that we find in today’s gospel spoke to Christians from the earliest days of the church.

The shepherd image in the catacombs appealed to Christians from the start, because it conveys the personal nature of the relationship between Jesus and his followers; it portrays the close personal care that the shepherd has for the sheep. The shepherd has gone looking for the one sheep that was wandered off and having found it, he takes it home to the flock upon his shoulders. There is a bond between the shepherd and this one sheep. That is what Jesus conveys in today’s gospel. He declares that he knows his own and his own know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. It is an extraordinary statement to make. Jesus is saying that the very personal relationship he has with his heavenly Father is the model for the equally personal relationship he has with each one of us. Jesus knows us as intimately as the Father knows him, and he wants us to know him as intimately as he knows the Father. There is a great deal to ponder there. When it comes to the Lord we are not just one of a crowd, lost in a sea of faces. In a way that we will never fully understand, the Lord knows each one of us by name. He relates to us in a personal way and he invites us to relate to him in a personal way. He wishes to enter into a personal relationship with each one of us. I am often struck by a line in Saint Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, where he says, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’. We can each make our own those words of Saint Paul. When Jesus says in today’s gospel that, as the good shepherd, ‘I lay down my life for my sheep’, he is saying that he lays down his life for each one of us individually.

The Lord who knows us by name, who gave himself in love for each one of us, also calls us by name. Today is Vocations Sunday. The Lord has a calling that is personal to each one of us. He calls us in our uniqueness with our very particular temperament, our unique identity, the background that is specific to each one of us. No one of us is like anyone else. Parents know how distinct and unique each of their children is. They will all have been given the same love; they grow up in basically the same environment. Yet, from a very early age, their uniqueness becomes very evident. The family is a microcosm of the church as a whole. From the time of our baptism, we are each called to be the Lord’s disciples, to follow the good Shepherd. However, the way we do that will be unique to each one of us. The particular way in which the Lord works through us is unique to each one of us. I can do something for the Lord that only I can do. Each person in this church can do something for the Lord that only he or she can do. Each one of us has a unique contribution to make to the work of the Lord in the world, to the life of the church, and that contribution is just as important as anyone else’s contribution. We each have a unique vocation and each vocation is equally significant. Each one of us is vitally important to the Lord. When we each respond to our unique vocation, we give a lift to everyone else. When any one of us fails to respond to that vocation, we are all a little bit impoverished.

The first reading talks about the stone that was rejected by the builders becoming the keystone of the building. There is a clear reference there to Jesus himself, the rejected one. We can all feel at times like the rejected stone, for whatever reason. Yet, we are never rejected in the Lord’s eyes. He continues to call us in the way that is unique to us. He sees us as the keystone for some aspect of his work. He recognizes the potential for good that is within us all. On this Vocations Sunday we commit ourselves anew to hearing and responding to the call of the good shepherd. [Martin Hogan]

3 Responses

  1. Soline Humbert

    As stated above,”Good Shepherd Sunday” is an opportunity to think and pray about how priestly ministry in the catholic church will fare into the future.”
    It is therefore encouraging to know that others,in other parts of the church are also reflecting on the issues and are trying to respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    For instance in this recent report from INDIA.
    Statement of the
    Indian Women Theologians Forum Meeting,
    Papal Seminary, Pune, 17th – 19th April 2015
    On “The Common Priesthood of Women”

    “New Wine requires new wineskins,” new visions and liberative insights cannot be contained in old structures. This was the realization that struck us during our critical theological reflection on “The Common Priesthood of Women,” which was the theme of the annual meeting of the Indian Women Theologians Forum, held at Papal seminary in Pune, India, from 17th to 19th April 2015.
    Recalling the commemoration of the institution of the priesthood on Maundy Thursday, led us to ask: Did Jesus really institute the ministerial priesthood or was his celebration of the Passover meal the culmination of his ministry through symbolic gestures like washing of the feet, breaking of the Word and bread and entrusting his disciples to carry on his mission of bringing about the reign of God?
    It is evident that Jesus did not belong to a priestly family nor did he use the term “priest” for himself or his disciples. On the contrary he vehemently opposed the cultic priestly structures of domination and oppression of his time. Jesus’ horizons were prophetic not priestly.
    According to Exodus 19 Israel as a whole community was considered a priestly people. In the New/Second Testament, the term “priest” Hiereus (Gk) and Sacerdos (Lat) is used for Christ alone (Heb 7:15), and for the Christian community as a whole(1Pet 2:5) by virtue of their Baptism.
    The followers of Jesus, both men and women, lived their discipleship through witness and various ministries like teaching, healing, prophesying and service to the community which later was interpreted as the exercise of their ‘common priesthood.’ In the early Church women shared in decision making and had leadership and liturgical roles in the community (Acts 18: 26, 21:8-9; Rom 16).
    Tracing the history of the ministerial priesthood in the church, we see that it has evolved in the context of the Church’s self understanding in relation to the Roman Empire and the cultic priesthood of ancient Israel. The leaders of the Christian community adopted its titles of leadership, power and respect from the surrounding cultures. Consequently Christian leadership came to be designated using the term “priest.” With the introduction of the Levitical paradigm as a type of Christian office and the consequent revival of the purity laws in relation to priesthood, women came to be totally excluded.
    On examining critically the existing hierarchal structures of the Church based on the ministerial priesthood, we find this to be a significant deviation from what Jesus envisioned for his community of equal discipleship. We feel the need to explore further and find new ways of growing as a prophetic and witnessing community according to the vision of Jesus.
    This vision of Jesus for the Church as an inclusive community of discipleship of equals, which will be instrumental for initiating the Reign of God is like the ‘new wine’ which requires ‘new wineskins.’ Realization of this vision will involve:
    • Uprooting the hierarchical and patriarchal mindset from ourselves and our communities
    • Creating an awareness of Christian discipleship according to the vision of Christ
    • Choosing leaders for Christian communities according the criteria deployed by the early Church, like selecting persons filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3)
    • Celebrating ‘inclusive table fellowship’ in the family which is the domestic church as well as in Small Christian Communities which are the “house churches” of today, where sharing experiences of joys and sorrows can help create bonds of support and solidarity, thereby building family and community

    • Recognizing the varied ministerial services exercised by all the people of God like Coordinators of Small Christian Communities, Ministers of the Eucharist, Ministers of the Word, Ministers of healing/teaching/social outreach/ justice and the like, as equally valued and effective ways of realizing the vision of Jesus
    Through this, we dream of birthing a new vision of being the Church with structures which are collaborative, participatory and inclusive without distinctions of class, caste and gender. This will help the Christian community to become the ‘new wineskin’ that can hold the ‘new wine’ of the Reign of God.”

    Of course some of this birthing is already taking place and is a reality,whether acknowledged officially or not.

  2. Fr. Eddie Mubanga

    the church has now taken a feminine face and to continue to sideline women in the church of today is a great dis service to the thought of Jesus. i think its about time we must do the needful and allow the women in the ministerial priesthood. it was a very insightful conference they had in india.
    plus the sunday homily is great! thanks

  3. Keith B Davis

    Deaf to the voice of Jesus=self centered. I agree completely with that equation, and thus my personal morning prayer: Lord, give me the wisdom, courage, and strength to do THY will. I’ve given serious consideration to adding: in THY way. All too frequently, in my thoughts of the way I would respond to a perceived injustice, I fear that personal gratification dominates. I want to believe I am really not that different than others in those instances. Unfortunately, I’m probably not. We all know, however, that is not enough, it is just the easy way out. What seems to be working for me is each time I imagine a punitive response to a perceived injustice, is to put on the brakes, and ask myself, what is the POSITIVE response, the one which would tactfully drive home the point such that the perpetrator would hopefully be able to positively respond. And, isn’t the ultimate question how did we get to be this way in the first place?


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