4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 13: 14, 43 – 52; Ps 100; Revelation 7: 9, 14b – 17; John 10; 27 – 30
St. John, in his Gospel, does not report the parables of Jesus as they are in the three other Gospels. Rather, St. John has what is known as the “I AM” statements of Jesus. “I AM the vine, you are the branches…I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” and in a verse preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaimed, “I AM the good shepherd.” (10: 14) We hear His words, the proclamations of His identity but simply hearing is never enough.
What more is needed? To hear, to listen in such a way that we hear what is behind these words – what they denote, what they contain, what they say to our own lives – in other words, the mystery of the Lord Jesus that is heard in one’s heart. In today’s brief Gospel Jesus states clearly what being the Good, the Noble, the Honorable Shepherd means for us. In really listening, directing our attention, and I add, giving our time to His words we hear how personal, how passionate, how strong and resolved He is for you, for me – “I know them…I give them eternal life…no one can take them out of My hand…no one can take them out of My Father’s hand…”
People like Paul and Barnabas knew Jesus’ words, they held them deeply and staked their very lives on them, on Him, their Lord. One cannot come to that unless one comes to appreciate, value, believe those words and is willing to lay down life in the face of disbelief, jealousy, violent abuse, whatever come what may. No women of prominence in Antioch, no leading men who stirred up persecution against them, no one could take either Paul or Barnabas out of Jesus’ or the Father’s hand – of this these men were totally assured. Those persecuting surely made life difficult, painful but no matter what they did or said, could not, did not change the reality of God’s love and for Paul and Barnabas this was their strength, their joy, their reason for spreading God’s word.
In our own lives of faith, whatever our vocation – marriage, single state, vowed religious by our listening to Jesus’ words through prayer we come to this same assurance – an assurance that is a source of peace, of strength that is beyond our own efforts. Paul and Barnabas witness to us this truth – to be held in the Lord’s hand – to know Him as my Lord and my God is true life, the only life.
Today, Good Shepherd Sunday is designated as a day to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. To say that vocations have been on the decline for some years is not news. All sorts of studies have been done and however good, studies do not produce vocations. God does! And I cannot believe that God has stopped calling, inviting men and women to serve Him and His people as priests, brothers and sisters.
In speaking to seminarians or young men thinking about a religious vocation, I’ve asked the question: “How do your parents, your family feel about this?” Sometimes, the answer is “They encourage me – they are happy for me.” But more often than not the response is negative. “Why would you want to do that? – Why do you want to waste your life? – That’s like joining a cult, a secret society, where you lose your freedom, your identity etc., etc.”
The meaning of religious life comes down to one word – GOD! No other meaning is necessary. For a person of faith who lives belief in God – who walks the talk – no life is a waste, no life is thrown away. For someone who does not believe in God or whose faith is very superficial then God, whoever that is, is not worth anyone’s life. Trying to convince such a person is totally useless or close to it.
A very personal note to end this homily – 56 years ago today I celebrated my first Solemn Mass as a newly-ordained priest and if someone were to ask me “Would you do it again?” My answer is yes – no hesitation – no regrets – no if only – and if I were to ask my brother monks sitting here, “Would you do it again?” – I know the answer and so do you!!!
Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and be ready, willing and able to encourage some young man, woman to follow Christ and serve His people, the ones He holds in His hand with divine steadfastness and infinite mercy.