Sunday IV of Easter
This Sunday is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and the Christian people welcome it with great joy. After the fear and loss of Christ’s death, after the speechless shock of his resurrection, today we contemplate Jesus in the exercise, so to speak, of his mission as the Risen One.
The resurrection has opened the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, where Jesus has gone to “prepare us a place”. And he has shown us the way, none other than Jesus himself. But the Risen one has not removed himself from the life of the world, for he promised us, “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world”. He has not left to enjoy on our own the immense joys of the resurrection. He continues to walk in our midst and to walk before us, as a Good Shepherd who guides us on the path and in the direction that he himself has marked out.
To contemplate the Risen One as Good Shepherd is a source of joy and serenity for us, because it reminds us that we are not alone in the world, that our life’s course is not handed over to fate or to good luck. There exists someone to follow, One who is always looking out for us. In fact, that there is a Shepherd means that there are sheep, the object of his love and his concern, without exception, especially the weakest, the wandering, the wounded and the lost.
To what does the Risen One call us? To relationship with him, to relationship with a living person, who can give us joy and life and wants to do so. To be a Christian is nothing other than this, to built up and maintain a personal relationship with the Lord and to make others sharers in it, believers who can share a common joy, and to announce to those who do not believe the joy and the hope that is ours.
At times it is from neglecting this fact that difficulties can arise in the spiritual life. Our relationship with Jesus can be treated just like other relationships in life, dealt with in the same way. The relationship with Jesus is a lot simpler than we can sometimes imagine. So, the friendship grows if we not loose sight of the Shepherd, if we keep alive the life of personal prayer, if we listen to his Word – how much Pope Francis insists on this! – if, through the sacraments, we make ourselves ready to receive his grace, if, in the end, we give substance to the Gospel by our concrete behaviour, which speaks of him. In this way we listen to His voice and we can follow him in the way of the Kingdom.
By contrast, we limit him if we think of him only occasionally, if we do not take the time to pray, if the sacraments are to a greater or lesser degree but stale functions, if the Gospel is for us a Utopian ideal and not a rule of life. Then Jesus ceases to be the Good Shepherd who loves and guides us, and becomes like a photo of a loved one, hanging on a wall: now and again, it prompts us to a thought, brings to mind fond memories, but with little impact on life here and now. So that this will not happen to us and so that each one can meet Jesus as a living person and through the witness of the brethren, we come together in a special way to celebrate the Eucharist at Sunday Mass.
The Good Shepherd calls each one to follow him in a different way, according to the charism that each has received as a gift. The response he trustfully illicit from our freedom. On this Sunday, let us pray in a special way for that call that the Lord directs to some, to become priests so as to make him present amongst His People. It was not by chance that, in his homily for the Chrism Mass (17 April 2014), Pope Francis called to mind that “priestly joy” that can never be taken away: “It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed”. For this reason, the priest’s mission is essential, since it is capable of keeping the flame of faith alive in the midst of the people, stoking it up, feeding it so that all can find warmth in its glow.
Let us pray the Lord’s call will find a response that is generous and full of resolve; that there be more and more priests after the heart of Jesus, walking in the midst of their people, seeking out the lost sheep, not as hirelings or dictators but because they know that they bear a great gift and seek to do so with a generous heart, whose capacity is wide beyond measure by the love of God who is to be found living therein.