Fourth Sunday of Easter – C

Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Ps 100:1-3, 5; Rev 7:9,14-17; Jn 10:27-30

GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
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“Who is running the Church, you or the Holy Spirit?” Here is an anecdote that perfectly conveys the humble spirit of Pope St. John XXIII as a good shepherd. On the evening when he announced the opening of the Second Vatican Council — the first one since 1870 — he couldn’t sleep. Finally, he called himself to order: “Angelo, why aren’t you sleeping? Who’s running the Church, you or the Holy Spirit? So sleep.” And he did. Prior to his being elected Pope, Angelo Roncalli had served as a clerical diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece; as Papal Nuncio in Paris; and as Patriarch of Venice. All this training helped him deal with social problems in society and in the Church. While still an Archbishop, he noted: “Wherever I go, I pay more attention to what we have in common than to what separates us.” Pope St. John XXIII began his mission by promising to be “a good shepherd.” He brought a real revolution to the Apostolic Palace by getting rid of the three prescribed genuflections in private audiences and by his impromptu conversations with workers and gardeners on the streets of Vatican City. He was the first Pope in history “to pay tribute to the part played by women in public life and to the growing awareness of their human dignity.” Best of all, by convening the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. John XXIII, led by the Holy Spirit, set in motion a spirit of reform that continues to our day. In September of 2000, this son of Italian peasants was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II; he was canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014.

One of the most common images in the Bible is that of the shepherd and his sheep. Even if we have not grown up on a farm, we should have little trouble grasping this imagery, because it is so commonly spoken of in the Bible.

We should remember that God’s chosen people were shepherds. Abraham was a keeper of sheep (Genesis 13:3). As a matter of fact, Abraham was so successful that he and Lot had to split up, because they could not sustain both of their herds in the same grazing areas (Genesis 13:7). Jacob, too, was a shepherd, and this is how he became wealthy while working for Laban, caring for his flocks (Genesis 30:43). When Jacob and his family went to join Joseph in Egypt, they were shepherds, which is part of the reason why the Egyptians avoided intermarrying with the Hebrews (Genesis 46:33-34; 43:32). If Judah married a Canaanite and allowed his sons to do likewise (Genesis 38), it would not have been long until the tribe of Judah (from which the Messiah would come – Genesis 49:8-10) would have ceased to exist as a distinct tribe, due to their intermarriage with the Canaanites. Since the Egyptians loathed shepherds, they would not (with the possible exception of Potiphar’s wife – Genesis 39) have considered intermarrying with the Hebrews.

Today’s First Reading, Acts 13:14, 43-52, describes how Paul and Barnabas opted to listen to the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd and follow him, and how, like their Master, they were rebuffed and rejected when they tried to share the good news of salvation. It also suggests that the sympathy of the early Christians for the Gentiles caused a rupture with Judaism.

The Second Reading, Rev 7: 9, 14-17, from the book of Revelation, depicts Jesus as both the glorified Lamb and the Shepherd. John’s vision encourages his readers with the assurance that every person who has ever followed Christ and led others to him will share everlasting life with him.

The Gospel text, Jn 10: 27 – 30, also offers us both comfort and great challenge. The comforting message is that no one can snatch the sheep out of his Father’s hands. The challenge is that pastors and lay people alike should be good shepherds to those entrusted to their care.

Voice Recognition: I open my cell phone and hear:

Please say a command: Contacts

Please say a name: Carol Did you say? Carl? No, Did you say Paul? No? Did you say Gustav? NOOOOOO

Voice recognition is a great technology. It’s amazing how the sound of one’s voice can be translated to the “ears” of a computer and bingo; you have the information you need. (most of the time. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of speaking to a computer and being totally exasperated in directory assistance and finally a human voice comes on the line. Finally someone who will really understand me!) Voice recognition: Just this week the front page of the Globe carried a story about the advances in this technology so that you can speak into your mobile phone you desire for the nearest Pizza Place and the menu will come up on the screen, to book your hotel, flight, to remind you etc. Wow, just what we need more information at our fingertips.

With all the good that comes with technology and voice recognition there is nothing quite like the human voice that not only recognizes the uniqueness of our individual voice but also can give us more than “information”. The voice that can hear our pain, our laughter, our longing, our need, our fear, our joy. I am the good shepherd, My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they know me. I really haven’t dealt with sheep much, at least the wooly kind but I hear that despite how “intellectually challenged” they are, they recognize the shepherd’s voice. There is an intimate bond, a connection that is made from the voice of the shepherd to the sheep who follow.. That is what we hear in the scriptures today.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows us. We recognize his voice. But never having heard the voice of Jesus, the way you are hearing mine, what might that mean. In truth a person’s voice is not just the sound that is produced by air waves over the larynx. A person’s voice is so much more. A person’s voice is what expresses their sense of self, of being, of vision. And maybe that is why we who have never heard the actual voice of Jesus, recognize his voice. My sheep know my voice. I know them and they follow me. Hopefully! It may be one thing to know the voice of Jesus in the Scriptures, especially in this Easter season when he says “Do not be afraid. I am with you.”, “Peace be with you.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” These are comforting, consoling words like the ones we hear at the end of the reading from Apocalypse. And it’s another thing to know the voice of Jesus when he challenges us to be more like him. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” How much of Jesus’ voice do we ignore or avoid? And even more challenging, do we hear the voice of Jesus speaking through our brothers and sisters in Christ. How is our voice recognition if the voice of Jesus is coming from someone who is hard to listen to, someone who may be challenging us, or not saying what we would like to hear.

Do we believe that the voice of Jesus speaks to us through our community; through the assembly of believers we call “Church”, through those who are called to be shepherds? My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. Yesterday was a very pastoral day for me personally. A funeral, a reconciliation, a wedding, an anointing of a person crying out for help and healing, another Eucharist with young people. The question for me is when and where did I hear the voice of Jesus speaking through the people whom I was with? How did I let the voice of Jesus speak through me? It’s a question that all of us need to ask ourselves. How do you discern the voice of Jesus in your brothers and sisters in Christ, and others? And how do others hear the voice of Jesus speaking through you. Not a voice that just speaks words but the voice that is the whole person.

Call to serve the world: A Peep into the Religious life

Religious life in its myriad of forms and charisms begins and ends, with Jesus Christ; the Alpha and the Omega, strengthened, and maintained in the power of the Holy Spirit, since all religious life is grounded within the existence of the Church, protected under the caring mantle of Our Blessed Mother.

What is religious life? To put it very simply, it is the living out of one’s calling within a particular community according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Each community has this at its heart, its life and form will grow out of a specific response to the world around them, inspired by Christ and governed by the three great vows.

What are the origins of religious life? It all began with Christ choosing his twelve disciples. At Pentecost when the Church was conceived underneath the Cross, communities of men and women arose. These people became to be known as the Asetes, from where we obtain the word ascetic. Men and respectively widows and virgins, would gather together to pray, and to live out the commandments of Jesus giving everything up for the kingdom of God: to live the evangelical counsels to their utmost. Already by the third century, the consecration of virgins was carried out under the auspices of the bishop.

Monasticism became the first codified form, and thus is the oldest example of religious life in the Church. By the fourth century, we see the ascent of the prototype of the early form of monasticism.

St. Anthony of the Desert. He gained much popularity, and in time people gathered with him at certain times to pray, and to sing the Psalms. St. Anthony though was a hermit. It was not until the time of St. Pachomius that a true sense of communal life, prayer, and work took hold. He created the first religious order, becoming the head of the group of communities living under the rule of life, which he devised. His sister, eager to live the same type of life, was able to have a community built for women.

Late in the fifth century we have the paramount example of western monasticism. St. Benedict of Nursia, wrote up a Rule of Life, which is the basis of monastic life in the west to the present day. Religious life of monasticism became to greatly flourish. Later in the twelfth century, a major monastic reform was under taken at Citeaux, in France. Hence was born the Cistercian monks. In the thirteenth century, we see the beginnings of the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. The Poor Claires is a women’s community founded after the Franciscan example. In time, hundreds of orders of men and women, each with a specific charism, would band together to live out a life according to the evangelical counsels of Christ. Other examples of different forms of communal life include hospital orders, devoted to taking care of those in physical need (i.e. Order of St. John of God), and Institutes, such as the Society of Jesus.

What are the vows/evangelical counsels, which are undertaken in religious life? Let us very briefly examine them.

Poverty

Jesus said to those to wished to follow him, “Sell everything you have, and come follow me.” Taking the vow of poverty means detaching yourself from material goods. Personal possession is surrendered and the person learns to depend for his daily bread through the head of community to which they are joined. This mirrors Jesus in his total dependency on the Father for his daily needs. We cannot serve both God and man. This does not mean that all possessions are evil. It is how they are used, and how we are disposed to them that matter. How many people are slaves to their vehicles, or homes, computers, and assorted toys for the large and small alike? Poverty frees us to create and foster a spirit of dependence on the goods and graces that our Heavenly father, through the Church and respective community gives to us. We are freed to carry out more important tasks, such as prayer and charity.

Chastity

Within religious life, the vow of chastity means that one gives up marriage and the fruits it bears, for the kingdom of Heaven. A person can be fruitful, and produce good works, and deeds in a manner different than in holy matrimony. Mind, body, and spirit are directed away from the pleasures, and fecundity of the material, to be open to that which is spiritual.

Obedience

Those bound to religious vows willingly submit to the authority of their local ordinary, such as the head of an order, their local superior, abbot or abbess. We emulate the obedience of Christ to his Father. For Christ was obedient unto death, death upon a cross. So too those who have chosen this way of life, cheerfully undertake their crosses under the guidance and direction of those lawfully appointed over them.

A PRIEST – Opinions …..

If he is young, he lacks experience;

If he is gray, he is too old;

If he comes before time; he has no work

If he comes on time; he is negligent

If he comes late; he is irresponsible

If he reads his homily, he has ready made sermons and is dry;

If he is extemporaneous, he is not clear and prepared.

If he spends too much time in study, he neglects his people;

If he visits, he is a gallivanting.

If he is attentive to the poor, he is playing to the grandstand;

If to the wealthy, he is trying to be an aristocrat

If he suggests improvement for the church, he is a dictator;

If he makes no suggestions, he is a figurehead.

If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the Bible;

If not enough, he is not clear

If he condemns wrong, he is cranky;

If he does not, he is a compromiser.

If he preaches an hour, he is windy;

If less, he is lazy.

If he preaches the truth, he is offensive;

If not, he is a hypocrite.

If he fails to please everybody, he has no convictions.

If he preaches tithing, he is a money grabber;

If he does not, he is failing to develop his people.

If he receives a large salary, he is a mercenary;

If he receives a small salary, it proves he is not worth much.

If he preaches all the time, the people get tired of hearing the man;

If he invites guest preachers, he is shirking his responsibility. Yes! They say the priest has an easy time.

If he does not change; he is scared.

If he changes, he is radical.

If he dresses well, he is trying to be a hero.

If he dresses simple, he is shabby.

A priest is a human being like everyone; he is not born of an angel. He, too, is a bundle of imperfection Moreover, don’t forget that the devil is at work in the world. He has accomplices everywhere. So be sure that he is trying to “KILL” the priest morally or physically by all the means at his disposal. Why? Because the priest is the man of Calvary, but at the end of the day he tries to be what he is A GOOD SHEPHERD AFTER THE HEART OF JESUS – A PRIEST – SERVANT OF GOD.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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