4th Sunday of Easter; “Good Shepherd Sunday”
Live-Streamed (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
May 3, 2020
The Good Shepherd
This is one of those Sundays where the theme of the Scriptures is hard to miss. Our Scripture readings all point in one direction – to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
In the Gospel, Jesus identifies himself as the loving shepherd of his people, and also as the gate through which they enter into a place of safety. Jesus knows us, loves us, speaks to us, and leads us toward our heavenly destiny. For our part, we must hear Jesus’ voice in faith, put our trust in him, and follow him in love.
Our second reading from the First Letter of Peter reminds us that it was no easy matter for Jesus, our Shepherd, to lead us to safety. Though he was sinless, Jesus took upon himself our sins. Though he was innocent, he suffered greatly, without complaint or protest. But by the wounds of our great and glorious Shepherd we have been healed. With St. Peter we can acclaim Jesus as “the shepherd and guardian of our souls”.
Indeed, that is precisely what we did in today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd,” we sang, “there is nothing I shall want.” We gave thanks for a Shepherd who anoints us with the Holy Spirit; who feeds us with the Eucharist; who leads us through the dark valleys of life, including and especially the dark valley of this lingering pandemic. There is no need for me to describe continuously what we’re going through. All I want to do is to point out that we do not travel this road alone. We are led through this and through every trial by Jesus, our Shepherd. In his mercy, he allows us to share in his sufferings, so that, being purified in body, mind, and heart, we might also share, with all the saints, in the everlasting glory of the Trinity.
The Shepherd and the Shepherds
But that’s not all! In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the shepherds whom Jesus appointed hard at work. We meet the Apostles, led by Peter, fearlessly proclaiming the Name of Jesus. So persuasive was their witness to the crucified and risen Lord that those who heard them speak asked, “What are we to do?” That day, those first shepherds of the Church led many to be baptized, putting them on a journey that would bring them to everlasting life and joy.
Ever since then the Good Shepherd has been raising up shepherds for his Church. In these days of acute suffering and undreamt of challenges, you have experienced in new and unexpected ways the love and care of your shepherds, your pastors, parish priests, and chaplains. You have seen them learning on the job how to do live-streamed Masses; you’ve listened to their spiritual messages; perhaps received a caring phone call; or maybe you or your loved ones were visited in a hospital by a chaplain. If your family needed food or just a bit of encouragement and reassurance, you have found in your shepherds, your priests, that welcome voice. Truly, in the care of our priests, we have experienced the care of the Good Shepherd. With you, I want to express my deepest respect and heartfelt gratitude for the priests who serve in parishes and other ministries of this Archdiocese.
The Shepherd Will Give Us Shepherds
And Jesus, you know, is still raising up shepherds for our local church. Currently we are blessed with 51 seminarians who are preparing to serve as priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore— the highest number of seminarians in 36 years. Some of our men entered seminary after high school while others have entered after college or after a career. Some have turned down scholarships, medical school, six figure salaries – to enter into a time of discernment and formation in the seminary.
When I meet and speak with our seminarians, I often ask what inspired them to respond to God’s call to priesthood. Often, they tell me, they were inspired by their own parish priests. They speak of the joy and dedication they have witnessed in their priests, who, like the Apostles, proclaim the Gospel and bear witness to Jesus, who baptize and anoint their people with the Holy Spirit, who feed them with the Eucharist, who heal the wounds of sin, and who help lead them through the challenges that life throws at us.
Like other schools, our two seminaries in the Archdiocese have closed down and are offering classes and formation through an on-line format. The seminarians, for their part, are living in rectories throughout the Archdiocese where they are able to pray, to reflect, to study, and to support the ministries of the parishes where they are living. This also gives them the opportunity to be further mentored by our good pastors, to experience an extended internship, if you will. This should give us confidence in future generations of priests since now they are being formed by the example of such outstanding parish priests.
Certainly, I want to credit our priests for inspiring priestly vocations; but I also want to give all of you, my brothers and sisters, the credit you deserve. The young more readily find the courage to answer God’s call when there is support at home and in the parish from God’s People – from you – who see the need for good and loving shepherds as we move into the future. For you see, it is not up to us to “manufacture” vocations. Rather, as Pope Francis has pointed out, “Taking the right course is not something we do on our own, nor does it depend solely on the road we choose to travel. [It] is more than a decision we make as isolated individuals; above all else [the Pope says] it is a response to a call from on high”. By your prayers, your interest, and support, you help the young take the next step.
And so now, a word to any and all of you who are considering a priestly vocation: Be assured the Lord is calling many young men to a priestly vocation. If you feel called, please consider taking that next step now, but know that you do not have to do it alone. There are many who are ready to support you and who will be praying for you. Be sure to spend time in prayer yourself so as to encounter Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Bring the questions of your heart to your pastor; set up a time to ‘zoom’ with him. Or reach out to the Vocation Office where Fr. Steven Roth is eager to help you.
And may Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our spiritual Mother, pray with us and for us as we seek to follow the Good Shepherd unreservedly. God bless you and keep you!