Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25
John 10: 27-30
This Fourth Sunday of Easter has been given the name Good Shepherd Sunday. In the short Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” If we are followers of Jesus, we hear his voice. All animals, at least the tame ones, seem to have the ability to recognize voices. When I was a young child, our family, like most other families, had a dog. Our dog’s name, I remember, was Blackie. I was amazed then how obedient that dog was when I would tell her to do this or that. And I am quite sure the dog did not understand the words I was speaking to her (or do they?), but she responded to the tone of my voice. If I was being loving toward her, she knew it. If I was angry with her, she knew that too. All by the tone of voice in which I spoke to her.
We have said often and have quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer to “prove” that God wanders through our world and he does speak to us through our family members, friends, strangers, and even through our so-called enemies. I believe this mainly because of the one time in my life when it was rather obvious, when I took the time to think about it, that he was doing the talking and I understood the effect of the tone of voice that came to me.
The occasion was what those in AA refer to as “my last drunk.” It was a Saturday evening. I had been drinking all day long and that evening I tried to say the evening Parish Mass. Enough said – you already get the picture; the whole thing turned into a grand and glorious mess! As I walked to the rear of the church after this fiasco to take off the vestments, a little old lady seated in the last row of pews, right on the aisle, shook her finger at me and said twice, “Shame on you, shame on you.” The way she said those words, her tone of voice, went through me like a knife. He tone wasn’t exactly harsh or condemning, it was authoritative and there was a hint of mercy, but more a clear statement of fact: Shame on you; who you are right now, Fr. Howard, is not OK. If her tone had been accusatory or judgmental, I would probably have told her where to head in no uncertain terms. It was the truth of her words that got my attention. She was right; who I was that night was not OK – and what was I going to do about it?
I listened to what she said and the next day I was in a treatment center for the disease of alcoholism and haven’t had a drop of alcohol since that time. A miracle, and all because I heard the Shepherd’s Voice. There is no doubt in my mind now that the “little old lady” was “I am who am.”
I am still thankful today that I recognized the Voice of the Shepherd.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter, April 26
John 10: 1-10
My Bible Commentary on the New Testament makes it pretty clear just who the “bad shepherds” are in the metaphor of today’s Gospel selection. The Old Testament tends to point out who they are: They are like wolves that tear prey, shedding blood and destroying lives to get unjust gain (Ezekiel 22: 27). Zephaniah 3: 3 calls them roaring lions and wolves. Zechariah 10: 2-3 calls them household idols, diviners. But the New Testament is rather vague as to just who these “bad shepherds” are. They are most probably the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders.
More important to us is the question: who are they now? I am sure all of you will be able to take your pick here. For me these false shepherds would be those who promote war and violence, the greedy and selfish, those who will not forgive others and carry resentments, those who gossip and ruin the reputation of others, those who exploit others and take advantage of the weak. And I could go on and on, as could you. We know who the bad shepherds are. And remember, we have a choice. Let’s choose not to give them any influence over us at all.
Beware of those in sheep’s clothing who on the inside are ravenous wolves.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter, April 27
John 10: 22-30
In yesterday’s homily we talked about the voice of the bad shepherds and who they were in our world today. But what is the other side, what is the tone of the Good Shepherd’s voice, the voice we are to listen to and follow?
Sometime ago we listed the qualities of the suffering Servant as given by the Prophet Isaiah. The very first quality we listed was gentleness. We only see Jesus angry once in the Scriptures that I recall right now and that was when he drove the money-changers out of the Temple. Otherwise, the voice of the Lord, the Good Shepherd, is always gentle and kind. Read the story of the woman caught in adultery to hear his gentle and kind voice. The voice of the suffering Servant was also bold. Jesus, as we remarked, was assertive when he spoke. The “voice of the little old lady” I spoke of last Sunday was assertive. She told it the way it was. Jesus didn’t beat around the bush when he spoke. There were no “maybes” in Jesus’ words – ever. We always know right where we stand with Jesus. There is no deceit in his words – ever. Jesus is not a manipulator or con artist. You can take it or leave it with Jesus.
Jesus, I think I kind of know when it is you, the Good Shepherd, who is speaking to me. Thank you for these times.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter, April 28
John 12: 44-50
“I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.”
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the Light of the World. Jesus did not come to lead his flock into confusion and doubt. There is a clarity in Jesus’ words. Jesus is a realist. He speaks of what is real, the way it is. There is no delusion in his words. He does not speak of what should be, could be, the way he would like it to be, the way it might be. That is delusion and sometimes we really get hung up in it. If anyone is encouraging that line of thought, they are “bad shepherds.” Jesus tells us the way it is, the way it will be, if we are his followers. We know right where we stand and our consciences have been well informed by his way, truth and abundant life.
Jesus, thank you for your uprightness and truth. Thank you for always being above board with your people.
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter, April 29
John 13: 16-20
In our Gospel for today’s Liturgy, Jesus shows his willingness to wash his disciples’ feet. This job usually fell to the people themselves or to a menial slave. Yet, Jesus the Servant humbles himself to wash the feet of his disciples. Here, in the Gospel, the Shepherd tends to the needs of the sheep. The Scripture tells us we should be willing to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. This doesn’t mean we do this so much in the literal sense; showers usually take care of this job today. But it does indicate that our Good Shepherd is going to serve us and that we are to give humble and loving service to our neighbors. We put this into practice with little acts of sacrifice for others: holding a door open, saying “good morning,” smiling when we meet another, offering to do some small tasks for them. It’s the little things that make the difference, not the big things.
Lord, help me to cherish my relationships, my friendships, and to keep my contribution to them simple, yet meaningful.
Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter, April 30
John 14: 1-6
In today’s Gospel Jesus shares a very important truth with us and one that has made a great difference in my life: He is the way, the truth and the life.
“The Way” was the original name of the movement that came from what we now call “Christian.” Not a bad name when you come right down to it. Jesus is the truth and knowing him and his ways sets us free. As we have seen above, there is no doubt, no confusion, no contradictions in Jesus’ words that will cause us problems. And finally, Jesus is life, abundant life. The life of Jesus, as we saw last week, is the eternal life we read about often in the Gospels. We can have this right now by making the values, the way of Jesus, our own. We, as followers of Jesus, are to imitate him, walk in his footsteps.
All this week we have been examining in one way or another the qualities of the Good Shepherd we began in last Sunday’s Gospel. It all adds up to the fact that our Good Shepherd is a real gem. Our part in all of this is to be good and responsive sheep who follow his gentle voice to where he wishes us to go.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 1
Mt. 13: 54-58.
“Is he not the carpenter’s son?”
Today, the Church calendar, on this first day of the month of May, celebrates the optional memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. This is a Christian expression of May Day and was instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1955. I was in Rome as a student in 1955 and remember this day. There was a huge parade down the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and we watched it from the upper floor of the so-called Wedding Cake, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in the middle of Rome.
I believe it is good for us to observe this feast this year. Due to the recession, there are so many people out of work. People are losing their homes, their retirement and sometimes their families because of this lack of a means of survival. We should be aware of this and even though we are powerless to do very much, we can certainly pray for a resolution to the situation. The solution to powerlessness is always prayer. Our God has the power to put things back to the way they are accustomed to be. Today more than ever, many realize the dignity of working and having a job, and the negative consequences that occur when jobs are scarce. Let us all bend God’s ear today with prayers for jobs to satisfy our workers who are without them. Let us pray:
God our Father,
Creator and Ruler of the Universe,
In every age you call us
To develop and use our gifts for the good of others.
With St. Joseph as our example and guide,
Help us to do the work you have asked
And come to the rewards you have promised.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Opening Prayer at Mass today).