by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is popularly known as Good Shepherd Sunday.
The Gospel is always from Chapter 10 of St. John in which Our Lord describes himself as the good shepherd.
In describing the relationship of the good shepherd with his flock, Our Lord highlights some of the most important characteristics of our relationship with him.
First of all, Jesus tells us that the good shepherd knows his sheep by name (Jn 10: 3). I am told that, actually, the best shepherds not only know the name of their sheep, but they know the name of their sheep’s parents and grandparents. Shepherds know the entire genealogy of their sheep.
Jesus makes clear his desire to have a personal relationship with each of us. He does not love us as just a part of 7.5 billion people on planet Earth or the more than one billion Catholics worldwide or the 200,000 Catholics in northeast Kansas. Jesus loves each of us uniquely, knowing us better than we know ourselves. Our Lord desires a deep personal friendship with each of us.
Jesus also says that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice (Jn 10: 3, 4 and 16). With close family members and friends, we recognize their voice. If your spouse or child or close friend calls you on the phone, they do not have to introduce themselves. You know their voice. You know the unique way in which they pronounce your name.
How do we recognize Our Lord’s voice in our lives? To hear the Lord’s voice speaking to us, we must seek silence. We live in such a noisy world. In this so-called Information Age, we are constantly being bombarded by messages.
To be able to hear Our Lord’s voice, we need to unplug and be quiet. It is then that we can begin to hear Our Lord speak to us as we pray over the Scriptures, as we ponder the events and encounters of our day, as we discover the messages Jesus inspires in our heart and mind.
If you are attempting to build a relationship with someone who never stops speaking, you will quickly lose interest in the friendship. Authentic friendships involve mutual sharing. Blessed John Newman describes a disciple’s relationship with Jesus as heart speaking to heart.
It is important in our daily prayer that we share with Our Lord all that is going on in our lives — the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
However, our prayer cannot consist of our just handing God a list of the things we want him to do for us. We need to share from our hearts, but also to learn to listen for God’s voice as he speaks to our heart.
Jesus says: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 11). Jesus did precisely this for us on Calvary. Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans says: “Only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find the courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5: 7-8).
Jesus reveals the depth of his love for us in that he did not die for us because of our perfection, but he loved us even in our weakness.
Bishops and priests are called to strive to be shepherds after the example of Jesus Christ. We are called to give our lives each day for those entrusted to our pastoral care — to die to ourselves in order to lay down our own wants and desires in service of our parishioners.
Blessed Stanley Rother — the Oklahoma priest who was beatified this year as the first U.S.-born martyr — remarked when he was encouraged to leave his parish in Guatemala because his life was in danger: What good is the shepherd who flees when there is danger for his flock?
While most priests are not actually called to physically die for their people, we are called to spend our lives — to give our lives away — for the spiritual welfare of our parishioners.
Finally, Jesus states: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10: 10b). Jesus came so that his disciples might experience life to its fullness, so that their joy might be complete.
Our Catholic faith is such a gift. We know not only that there is a God who created us and the entire cosmos, but that this God desires for us to have abundant life in this world and eternal life with him in his kingdom.
At each celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus gives his life for us and to us again. Jesus desires to commune with us — to share his life fully with us and to share completely in our life with all its complications and messiness.
Each time we receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, with awareness of the one who comes to dwell within us, we have the opportunity to experience a profound encounter with the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings!
I encourage you this week as part of your prayer to read prayerfully Chapter 10 of St. John’s Gospel. It is a great summary of the essential message of the entire Gospel. I also ask your prayers for me and all the priests of the Archdiocese that we may truly seek to be shepherds after the model of the good shepherd — Jesus Christ!