FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER (GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY), May 12, 2019:
As a teenager, I was not terribly strong in my faith. In fact, I had only the merest spark of faith. A well-named Doubting Thomas, I simply did not yet know the Lord in any real or personal sense. But, then in my early 20s, I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Mass and specifically to the Eucharist. And when I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences of God’s true presence there. The Mass began to speak to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed and knew in my heart that this was Jesus; and that He was real. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom.
“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus today tells us something so essential about who He is and about our relationship with Him. Jesus shows us in this simple image that He does not want to interact with us in a hierarchical way – top down; but He wants to interact with us in a relational way, in an intimate way. As Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel, “Yet not one of you has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” God loves us specifically, personally, individually, intimately. Jesus reminds us that what He wants more than anything is to know us, and that we intimately know Him.
When Jesus uses this image of the Shepherd, it is an image the people of His time would understand well. In Jesus’ time, there were basically two kinds of shepherds. First, there was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just a job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them in a dangerous situation. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same sheep all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.
Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is where our personal stories intersect with the Good Shepherd, and with what we gather for here today – this Eucharist. It is here in this and every Eucharist that we encounter our Good Shepherd who wants to show us who we are called to be in God’s sight.
But we need to listen to what God is saying to us. “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” Of course God knows us intimately, but we must take the time to get to know God just as intimately. “My sheep know me.” God can only reveal His plan for our lives if our eyes are open, our hearts are tuned, and we are seeking that answer, that direction. Our challenge is to create environments that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that we can follow where He leads.
The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something, and the answer to what that is lies right before our eyes in the Eucharist. St. Claire of Assisi would say that the Eucharist is a kind of mirror for us. The more we gaze into that mirror, the more we will see what God is asking of us reflected back. Her prayer before the Eucharist was always, “Gaze upon Christ, consider Christ, contemplate Christ, imitate Christ.” It is a reminder that we may begin today on the surface merely gazing, but the more deeply we look into Jesus, the more we will eventually reflect Him to the world.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. In this Mass we discover that identity. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about Jesus, but also something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He calls us to be. In fact, we are never more clearly ourselves than we are right here; gathered around the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist. If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do; if you want to know your truest destiny – meet Jesus here and he will reveal it to you.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.”
May the Lord give you peace.