Reflections for the 4th Week of Easter **
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008.
They refer to the daily readings for the 4th Week of Easter 2011.
Fourth Sunday of Easter 2011
May 15, John 10: 4-10
Today’s Gospel gives us the beautiful image of Jesus as our Shepherd, a very popular image used for God in Sacred Scripture. Jacob, in the Old Testament, while giving his blessing to his sons, refers to the “God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day.” (Gen. 48: 15) And we all know the beginning of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” In Isaiah 40: 11 we read a passage obviously indicating our Savior: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” There are also many references in the New Testament to Jesus as shepherd: John 10: 11, “I am the good shepherd”; Hebrews 13: 20, “May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will.”
My concordance lists some 62 times where the word shepherd is found in the Scriptures. I remember seeing an early picture of Jesus in one of the catacombs in Rome showing Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders. A Shepherd is a beautiful image for us to have of our Savior and Lord. Quite simply this image points out the care and concern Jesus has for all of us who are his sheep. He rules us, tends to our needs, leads us on the safe and right path. And ultimately he gave his life for us on the cross of Calvary.
Super important are the words at the very end of today’s Gospel: “I came that they [my sheep] may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundant life is that quality life we have spoken of before. As long as we follow our shepherd and even though there may be pain and suffering, illness, death of loved ones and all the other things that make up the sorrows of human life, even with all of this, we will possess that quality life of happiness, serenity, peace and joy.
Lord Jesus, I want you to continue being my shepherd. I want you to continue to guide me, lead me, in the way of happiness, peace, joy and serenity. Help me to avoid going my own way where I cease to be safe. Keep me safe in your arms. Amen.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 16, John 10: 11-18
The image of Jesus as Good Shepherd continues in the Gospel for this fourth Monday in the Easter Season. As I sit here at my desk and ask Jesus for his help in writing these homilies, I looked up at a picture of my brother, Bobby, that I have on my desk. Bobby was mentally handicapped from birth and was later determined by various psychological tests to have the mentality of a four year old. But handicapped or not, he was a beautiful human being and by far the greatest gift that God ever gave to me.
In the picture I am looking at, he is wearing a cross around his neck that he wore every day. And he has a smile on his face that will not quit. I thought, as I looked at this picture, that if there ever was an example of Jesus being Shepherd for someone, Bobby is it. I surrendered him to the care of Jesus years before his death and I could write a book on the wonderful, miraculous things that this Shepherd provided for him. It is unbelievable!
And I guess it is equally unbelievable when we look at the care and love Jesus has given to us all. Indeed, he is the Good Shepherd who leads us into the green pastures of happiness and peace. All we have to do is follow him.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 17, John 10: 22-30
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” So the Jews spoke to Jesus in the Gospel selected for today’s Liturgy. Jesus responded to them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” All we have to do, for cryin’ out loud, to see plainly that Jesus is the Christ; is to open our eyes!! At least, that’s all I have to do.
I mentioned Bobby, my brother, in Monday’s homily. All I have to do is pull up a chair and sit and reflect on all the things Jesus did for him while he lived, and that’s all I need do. I am not in any suspense at all over whether Jesus is the Christ or not. Jesus told me over and over and over again, through what he did for Bobby, that he is God’s Son. And then I think of my own life. I look at the mess I made out of it with my drinking, how I finally discovered my need for Jesus, how I surrendered to him as way, truth and life, and how the gift of sobriety came and how wonderful my life has been ever since. Someone is trying to tell me something, as the saying goes.
Jesus, thank you! You have spoken plainly to all of us in so many ways that you are God’s Son come for our redemption and happiness. All we have to do is take the time to open our eyes.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 18, John 12: 44-50
Christ is the true Light of the world. And it is in this light that we find abundant life. The Gospel for today tells us if we reject Jesus, reject this Light, we will be condemned. Every time I see that word, condemned, I think of hell. What this says to me is that if we reject Christ as our Light and choose our own “light,” we are going to be condemned to hell. Hell is defined in the dictionary as a place or state of punishment after death. I don’t think we have to wait that long for this hell to kick in. I personally believe hell can be right here on earth. This makes the consequences of rejecting Jesus, of crossing him out of our lives, a little nearer and more practical, I think.
I know when Christ was not a part of my life, when I was trying to do it all alone, I was not really happy. Maybe I thought I was, but I was kidding myself. Deep inside, something was missing. Life finally got so miserable that I asked for help and in asking for help discovered the need I had for this Light of the world. Now things are just fine, thank you. The restlessness, the worry, the misery, the unhappiness is gone now. Where the Light shines, these things can be avoided.
Jesus, help me to keep you shining in my life. Help me to remember and reflect on these words of Isaiah 42: 16: “I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them and make their crooked ways straight. These things I do for them and I will not forsake them.”
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 19, John 13:16-20
After reading the Gospel selection for this Thursday in Easter Season, if asked to state its theme in one word, that word would be equality. All people are equal in the sense that all have human dignity and are to be treated with love and respect.
But I do not think it is true that we are all equal in our gifts and talents and abilities. In fact, we are all different, unique, not alike. And as we have said many times before, this is what makes the world go around. What I can’t do, or do not have the gifts and talents to do, I find someone else who can do what I can’t; I ask their help and hopefully they give it to me. And it is the same in regard to them when I can do something they can’t do. Helping others is what it’s all about and makes everyone happy if they cooperate in this plan established by God. When my car won’t start, I usually do not have a clue as to why it will not start. I am not a mechanic. I do not have that gift or talent. So I take the car to someone who can fix it, who makes their living and supports their family by fixing cars. When I do that, everyone is happy.
Some people, however, think they are independent, that they can do it all alone. The truth is that we are all very dependent one on the other. People who think they are independent and can do it all alone are usually unhappy and frustrated. Where do you find yourself in all this?
Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 20, John 14: 1-6
Thomas said to Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” I would like to change those words of Thomas just a bit for my own sake: “Master, Jesus, I don’t know where I am going; how can I know the way?” I think these words probably fit everyone at sometime in their life, especially before we surrender to Jesus, turn things over to him.
I see this in St. Francis’ life in a story I have referred to many times in these homilies. It is the story of Francis on his way to Spoleto to once again try to achieve his knighthood in a battle that was going on there. Francis wanted this very badly but I don’t think it interested the Lord at all. Francis was with his friend, Gautier de Brienne, and when they got as far as Apulia Francis became sick and had to stop. Gautier went on ahead confident that Francis would catch up later. Then, as Francis rested, the Lord spoke to him and asked him which was better, to follow the Master or the servant. When Francis replied that it was better to follow the Master, Jesus then asked him why he was following the servant. Then Francis, realizing that it was the Lord speaking to him, asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” These were words of surrender: What do you want me to do? Jesus then told Francis to return to Assisi and he would tell him what he wanted him to do. Francis was lost in life. He didn’t know where he was going, so how could he know the way. But he listened to Jesus who told him what to do.
All of us, I believe, can fit ourselves into this story of Francis. Alone we do not know where we are going, and consequently we do not know the way. But if we ask Jesus, if we acknowledge that he is the way, the truth and the life, he will tell us what to do, where we are to go and how to get there. If you haven’t tried this yet, please do so for your own sake. Believe me, it works!
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 21, John 14: 7-14
If we are around children at all, either as a parent or perhaps as a teacher, or a religious in a parish, you have almost certainly had one of the children ask you: What is God like? And that question usually causes us to hem and haw a bit before we give some pat answer like: God is all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, present everywhere, and so forth.
Jesus gives us the answer in today’s Gospel: “If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” Now we do know Jesus from the Gospels revealing him to us. Jesus is compassionate, humble, caring, loving, generous, forgiving, the way, the truth, the life, gentle, kind, serving, accepting, unselfish. So, if Jesus is this way, this is what God is like, for starters. I think we should also keep in mind here, and maybe it is the best answer of all, the words of St. John in I John 4: 16: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” That is what God is like. How blessed we are to have such a God.