Fourth Week of Easter

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Hearing and Following His Voice

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)—Good Shepherd Sunday

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:1–3

The people of Jesus’ time would have easily understood this story. It was common practice for shepherds to talk to their sheep throughout the day so that the sheep became familiar with the shepherd’s voice as he led them through various pastures for grazing. At night, several shepherds would bring their sheep together within secured gates for safety. In the morning, each shepherd would then call to his sheep and, because they knew their shepherd’s voice, the sheep would follow their own shepherd and not the others.

The first question for each of us to ask ourselves today is this: Do I know the voice of the Shepherd? Have I become so familiar with His voice that I can clearly distinguish His voice from others? Try to imagine the image of several shepherds all calling their sheep at once. This is an image of the competing voices we encounter in our lives. But only one of those voices is the voice of God. Do you know His voice? Or do you become confused with the many other impulses, desires and attractions that vie for your attention?

Jesus continued his teaching by saying that He is not only the Shepherd whose voice is known by the sheep, but He is also the gate. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” What does our Lord mean when He calls Himself the gate?

As the Gate, He is the Word of God, revealed to us through the Scriptures. Fidelity to the Word of God is one of the surest ways to the life of grace. He is the Word of Truth as it is handed down and expounded upon by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. Fidelity to the authentic teaching of the Magisterium, especially when the Holy Father speaks in union with the bishops, will help us navigate the many errors of our age. Jesus is made present to us through the Sacraments, which are the door to His grace and the entryway to the food for our spiritual lives. Furthermore, any time our Lord comes to us, through holy preaching, the witness and teaching of the saints, and the life of prayer within the Church, or in any other way, we enter the gate and are admitted into His verdant pastures.

Jesus is the gate, not only for the sheep but for each of the shepherds who lead the sheep in His name. These are the pastors of the Church who have been entrusted with the mission of Christ to lead God’s people. Today, if a shepherd of the Church fails to preach Jesus Christ, then that shepherd “comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.” Pastors of the Church must humbly listen carefully to these words so that they never fail to shepherd God’s people by leading them through the Gate, Who is Christ Himself. They must all be faithful to the whole Tradition of our Church, handed on throughout the ages, and not deviate from the pure and holy deposit of faith. If they preach their own gospel, or are negligent or misleading in their preaching, then they are not true shepherds. God’s true sheep will not recognize them. But if they are faithful to all that Jesus has taught, then they will lead the sheep through the gate and become shepherds in union with the Heart of the Good Shepherd.

Reflect, today, upon the image of Christ the Good Shepherd, calling to us in a variety of ways. We must learn His true voice through faith and prayer. Once we recognize His voice, we will more easily discover Him ministering to us, inspiring us, and inviting us to the life of grace by encountering Him as the source and way to this new life.

Good Shepherd, You speak to me continuously, revealing to me Your presence and guidance in my life. May I become so familiar with Your sacred Voice that I will always recognize it. Lead me to Yourself, the glorious Gate to the life of grace, and transform me into a faithful and obedient sheep. Jesus, my Good Shepherd, I trust in You.

Instruments of the Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)—Good Shepherd Sunday

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.” John 10:11–13

Today, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a day when we reflect upon the tender image of Jesus as the Shepherd of us all. It is also a day set aside to pray for more shepherds within our Church who will shepherd God’s flock with the Heart of Christ.

Our Gospel passage comes from John 10 which, in part, is a commentary on the previous chapter that includes the long and detailed story of the healing of the blind man. Recall that Jesus healed this man who was blind from birth. He did this healing “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” As a result of this man’s healing, the Pharisees cast the blind man out of the synagogue, not believing that Jesus’ healing was from God. After the man was cast out of the synagogue, Jesus spoke with him again and he professed his deep faith in Jesus, the true Shepherd. The healed blind man said, “I do believe, Lord.” Then he worshiped Jesus. Thus, the greater healing of this man was that he became a member of God’s flock, accepting Jesus as his true Shepherd.

Our Gospel today is Jesus’ commentary upon the actions of the Pharisees in contrast to His own. The Pharisees, as religious leaders, were not shepherds. They were “thieves and robbers” who came to “steal and slaughter and destroy.” Jesus, however, came so that those who listened to His voice “might have life and have it more abundantly.”

The Gospel passage quoted above explains why the Pharisees were not true shepherds. It was because they “work for pay” and have “no concern for the sheep.” Think about that statement as it applies to the Pharisees and their treatment of this man who was blind from birth. First of all, the “pay” that these Pharisees worked for was their own self importance—a fleeting and worldly reward. They saw themselves as the true teachers and interpreters of the Law and saw anyone who did not follow them as a threat. The Pharisees clearly perceived Jesus as such a threat to them. For that reason, they took their envy out on this humble and simple blind man. They were not shepherds to him. They did not encourage him, support him, point him to God or act in any way as an instrument of God’s grace. Instead, they condemned this innocent and holy man out of their pride.

Though God shepherds us today through His sacred pastors, we are all called to participate in this shepherding of the Good Shepherd in our own unique way. We are called to lead those within our families, at work, at school, within our neighborhoods, social circles and in every other societal context. But too often we imitate these Pharisees by allowing our own selfishness and desire for self importance to interfere with our ability to put others first and love them with the Shepherd’s heart.

Reflect, today, upon the calling you have received to lay down your life for others in imitation of the Good Shepherd. In order to imitate this love in the Heart of Christ, we must love without seeking love in return. Laying our lives down is an act of sacrificial love that enables us to look only at the needs of those around us. Pride and selfishness must disappear, and the good of the other must become our only goal. Reflect upon how well you do this, and pray that the Good Shepherd will use you to shepherd those in your life who need it the most.

Divine Shepherd, You came to lay down Your life for us all so that we might have life and have it to the fullest. Like the blind man You cured, I profess my belief in You and worship You. Help me to receive and imitate Your love so that I will lay my life down for others, leading them to You, their holy Shepherd. Jesus, my Good Shepherd, I trust in You.

Shepherding Through Virtue

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C)—Good Shepherd Sunday

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” John 10:27–28

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is an endearing image. Many artists have depicted the gentleness of Christ as He leads His sheep or carries a straying lamb on His shoulders. We are given this image today as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.

In our short Gospel passage today, Jesus addressed some of the Jews who were trying to trap Him in His speech. Prior to this passage, they asked Him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” To that, Jesus responded, “I told you and you do not believe.” Jesus answered this way because the people questioning Him were not interested in actually knowing whether He was the Messiah. Instead, they wanted to accuse Him of blasphemy. But Jesus tells them that He already told them Who He was through His works: “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”

Do you see the works of God in your life? If you do, then it is important to understand that Jesus’ works are one of the primary ways that He speaks to you and leads you as your Shepherd. God certainly speaks to us through His Word as it is revealed in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Church. But He also speaks to us through His works. Among the many works of God in your life is the work of grace by which God enables you to grow in virtue. Therefore, it is important to look for the ways that supernatural virtue grows in your life. For example, do you see courage in the face of fear? If so, what is God saying to you through the increase of this virtue? Do you see a supernatural ability to forgive another? If so, what is God telling you through the increase of that virtue? Do you see an increase in the virtue of piety, by which your life of prayer becomes more important to you? If so, what is God saying to you through the increase of this virtue?

The discernment of the will of God enables us to hear His voice and follow Him. And one of the best ways to discern the will of God is to look for the ways that God is touching your life. Where you see virtue increase, the will of God is present and is calling you to grow in that area. Conversely, if there is something in your life that leads you to sin, and, thus, a decrease in virtue, then this is also God’s voice telling you to avoid these things. 

Reflect, today, upon God’s actions that are perceptible in your life. Even though God speaks clearly to us through His revealed Word, He also speaks to us and shepherds us through His discernable touching of our souls. Where you see virtue increase, you will find the will of God. Where you see virtue decrease, you will not find the will of God. Listen to God as He speaks to you this way so that you will hear His voice, follow Him and receive eternal life.

My revealing Lord, You speak to me day and night, calling me to follow You as my Shepherd. May I learn to perceive Your voice as You speak to me in varied ways so that I can more readily follow You wherever You lead. Jesus, my Good Shepherd, I trust in You.

Recognizing the Voice of God

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

“But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” John 10:2–4

Do you recognize the voice of the Shepherd? Does He lead you each and every day, guiding you into His holy will? How attentive are you to what He speaks each day? These are some of the most important questions to ponder.

Recognizing God’s voice is something that many people struggle with. There are often many competing “voices” that speak to us each and every day. From the latest news in the headlines, to the opinions of friends and family, to the temptations all around us within the secular world, to our own self-drawn opinions, these “voices” or “ideas” that fill our minds can be hard to sort through. What is from God? And what is from other sources?

Recognizing the voice of God is indeed possible. First of all, there are many general truths that God has already spoken to us. For example, everything contained in the Holy Scriptures is the voice of God. His Word is alive. And when we read the Scriptures, we become more and more familiar with God’s voice.

God also speaks to us through gentle inspirations that result in His peace. For example, when considering a certain decision you may need to make, if you present that decision to our Lord prayerfully and then remain open to whatever He wants of you, oftentimes His answer comes in the form of a deep and certain peace of heart.

Learning to recognize the voice of God in your daily life is accomplished by building an interior habit of listening, recognizing, responding, listening some more, recognizing and responding, etc. The more you hear the voice of God, the more you will recognize His voice in the most subtle of ways, and the more you come to hear the subtleties of His voice, the more you will be able to follow. In the end, this is only accomplished by an ongoing habit of deep and sustaining prayer. Without that, it will be very difficult to recognize the voice of the Shepherd when you need Him the most.

Reflect, today, upon how attentive you are to God in prayer. What does your daily prayer look like? Do you spend time each day listening to the gentle and beautiful voice of our Lord? Do you seek to form a habit by which His voice becomes clearer and clearer? If not, if you do struggle in recognizing His voice, then make the decision to establish a deeper habit of daily prayer so that it is the voice of our loving Lord Who leads you every day.

Jesus, my Good Shepherd, You speak to me each and every day. You are constantly revealing to me Your most holy will for my life. Help me to always recognize Your gentle voice so that I can be led by You through the challenges of life. May my life of prayer become so deep and sustaining that Your voice always echoes within my heart and soul. Jesus, I trust in You.

Learning the Language of God

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe.”  John 10:24–25

Why is it that these people did not know that Jesus was the Christ? They wanted Jesus to speak “plainly” to them, but Jesus surprises them by saying that He already answered their question but they “do not believe.” This Gospel passage continues the beautiful teaching about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. It’s interesting that these people want Jesus to speak plainly about whether or not He is the Christ, but instead, Jesus speaks plainly about the fact that they do not believe in Him because they are not listening. They have missed what He has said and are left in confusion.

One thing this tells us is that God speaks to us in His own way, not necessarily in the way we would like Him to speak. He speaks a mystical, profound, gentle and hidden language. He reveals His deepest mysteries only to those who have come to learn His language. But to those who do not understand God’s language, confusion sets in.

If you ever find yourself confused in life, or confused about the plan God has for you, then perhaps it’s time to examine how carefully you listen to the way God speaks. We could beg God, day and night, to “speak plainly” to us, but He will only speak in the way He has always spoken. And what is that language? On the deepest level, it’s the language of infused prayer.

Prayer, of course, is different than only saying prayers. Prayer is ultimately a relationship of love with God. It’s a communication on the deepest level. Prayer is an act of God within our soul by which God invites us to believe in Him, to follow Him, and to love Him. This invitation is continually offered to us, but too often we fail to hear it because we fail to truly pray.

Much of John’s Gospel, including Chapter Ten from which we are reading today, speaks in a mystical way. It’s not possible to simply read it like a novel and comprehend all that Jesus says with one read. Jesus’ teaching must be heard in your soul, prayerfully, pondered, and heard. This approach will open the ears of your heart to the certitude of the voice of God.

Reflect, today, upon the mysterious ways in which God communicates to you. If you do not understand how He speaks, then that is a good starting point. Spend time with this Gospel, prayerfully pondering it. Meditate upon Jesus’ words, listening for His voice. Learn His language through silent prayer and allow His holy words to draw you to Himself.

My mysterious and hidden Lord, You speak to me day and night and continually reveal Your love to me. Help me to learn to listen to You so that I may grow deep in faith and may truly become Your follower in every way. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Oneness of God

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.” John 12:44–45

Note that Jesus’ words in the above quoted passage start by stating that “Jesus cried out…” This intentional addition by the Gospel writer adds emphasis to this statement. Jesus didn’t just “say” these words, He “cried out.” For that reason, we should be extra attentive to these words and allow them to speak to us all the more.

This Gospel passage takes place during the week prior to Jesus’ Passion. He entered Jerusalem triumphantly and, then, throughout the week, spoke to various groups of people while the Pharisees plotted against Him. The emotions were tense, and Jesus spoke with greater and greater vigor and clarity. He spoke about His pending death, the unbelief of many, and His oneness with the Father in Heaven. At one point during the week, as Jesus was speaking of His oneness with the Father, the voice of the Father spoke audibly for all to hear. Jesus had just said, “Father, glorify your name.” And then the Father spoke, saying, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” Some thought it was thunder and others thought it was an angel. But it was the Father in Heaven.

This context is useful when reflecting upon today’s Gospel. Jesus passionately wants us to know that if we have faith in Him, then we also have faith in the Father, because the Father and He are one. Of course, this teaching on the oneness of God is nothing new to us today—we should all be very familiar with the teaching on the Most Holy Trinity. But in many ways, this teaching on the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit must be seen as new and pondered anew every day.

Imagine Jesus speaking to you, personally, and with great vigor, about His unity with the Father. Consider carefully how deeply He desires that you understand this divine mystery of Their oneness. Allow yourself to sense how much Jesus wants you to understand Who He is in relation to His Father.

Prayerfully understanding the Trinity teaches us much, not only about Who God is but about who we are. We are called to share in the oneness of God by becoming united with Them through love. The early Church Fathers often spoke of our calling to be “divinized,” that is, to share in the divine life of God. And though this is a mystery beyond complete comprehension, it’s a mystery that Jesus deeply desires us to prayerfully ponder.

Reflect, today, upon the passion in the heart of Jesus to reveal to you Who He is in relation to the Father. Be open to a deeper understanding of this divine truth. And as you open yourself to this revelation, allow God to also reveal to you His desire to draw you into Their holy life of unity. This is your calling. This is the reason Jesus came to earth. He came to draw us into the very life of God. Believe it with much passion and conviction.

My passionate Lord, You spoke long ago about Your oneness with the Father in Heaven. You speak again, today, to me, about this glorious truth. Draw me in, dear Lord, not only to the great mystery of Your oneness with the Father but also to the mystery of Your calling to me to share in Your life. I accept this invitation and pray that I become more fully one with You, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Most Holy Trinity, I trust in You.

Are You Blessed?

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” John 13:16–17

During this, the Fourth Week of Easter, we return to the Last Supper and will spend a few weeks considering the discourse Jesus gave that Holy Thursday evening to His disciples. The question to ask yourself today is this: “Are you blessed?” Jesus says that you are blessed if you “understand” and “do” what He teaches His disciples. So what did He teach them?

Jesus offers this prophetic action by which He took on the role of a slave by washing the disciples’ feet. His action was much louder than words, as the saying goes. The disciples were humbled by this act, and Peter, at first, refused it. There is little doubt that this humble act of service, by which Jesus lowered Himself before His disciples, made a strong impression upon them.

The worldly view of greatness is much different than the one Jesus taught. Worldly greatness is a process of elevating yourself in the eyes of others, striving to let them know just how good you are. Worldly greatness is often driven by a fear of what others may think of you, and a desire to be honored by all. But Jesus wants to be clear that we will only be great if we serve. We must humble ourselves before others, holding them and their goodness up, honoring them and showing them the deepest love and respect. By washing their feet, Jesus completely abandoned the worldly view of greatness and called His disciples to do the same.

Humility is difficult to understand at times. This is why Jesus said, “If you understand this…” He realized that the disciples, as well as all of us, will struggle with understanding the importance of humbling ourselves before others and serving them. But if you do understand humility, you will be “blessed” when you live it. You will not be blessed in the eyes of the world, but you will be truly blessed in the eyes of God.

Humility is especially accomplished when we purify our desire for honor and prestige, when we overcome all fear of being mistreated, and when, in place of this desire and fear, we desire abundant blessings upon others, even before ourselves. This love and humility is the only way to this mysterious and profound depth of love.

Reflect, today, upon this humble act of the Son of God, the Savior of the World, lowering Himself before His disciples, serving them as if He were a slave. Try to imagine yourself doing this for others. Think about various ways that you can more readily go out of your way to put others and their needs before your own. Seek to eliminate every selfish desire you struggle with and identify any fear that keeps you from humility. Understand this gift of humility and live it. Only then will you be truly blessed.

My humble Lord, You set for us the perfect example of love when You chose to serve Your disciples with great humility. Help me to understand this beautiful virtue and to live it. Free me from all selfishness and fear so that I may love others as You have loved us all. Jesus, I trust in You.

Overcoming a Troubled Heart

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” John 14:1

In John’s Gospel, Chapters 14–17 present us with what is referred to as Jesus’ “Last Supper Discourses,” or His “Final Discourses.” These are a series of sermons given by our Lord to the disciples the night He was arrested. These discourses are deep and filled with symbolic imagery. He speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the vine and the branches, the world’s hatred, and these discourses conclude with Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. These discourses begin with today’s Gospel in which Jesus addresses the coming fear, or troubled hearts, that He knows His disciples will experience.

Let’s begin by considering this first line spoken by Jesus above: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” This is a command. It’s a gentle command but a command nonetheless. Jesus knew that His disciples would soon see Him arrested, falsely accused, mocked, beaten and killed. He knew they would be overwhelmed by what they would soon experience, so He took this opportunity to gently and lovingly rebuke the fear that they would soon face.

Fear can come from many different sources. Some fear is helpful to us, such as the fear present in a dangerous situation. In this case, that fear can heighten our awareness of the danger so that we proceed with caution. But the fear that Jesus was speaking of here was of a different kind. It was a fear that could lead to irrational decisions, confusion, and even despair. This was the kind of fear that our Lord wanted to gently rebuke.

What is it that causes you to fear at times? Many people struggle with anxiety, worry, and fear for many different reasons. If this is something you struggle with, it’s important to allow Jesus’ words to resonate within your mind and heart. The best way to overcome fear is to rebuke it at its source. Hear Jesus say to you, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Then listen to His second command: “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Faith in God is the cure for fear. When we have faith, we are under the control of the voice of God. It is God’s truth that directs us rather than the difficulty we are facing. Fear can lead to irrational thinking, and irrational thinking can lead us deeper and deeper into confusion. Faith pierces through the irrationality we are tempted with, and the truths that faith presents to us bring clarity and strength.

Reflect, today, upon whatever it is that causes you the most anxiety, worry and fear in your life. Allow Jesus to speak to you, to call you to faith and to rebuke those troubles gently but firmly. When you have faith in God, you can endure all things. Jesus endured the Cross. The disciples eventually endured their crosses. God wants to strengthen you, too. Let Him speak to you so that you will overcome whatever is most troublesome to your heart.

My loving Shepherd, You know all things. You know my heart and the difficulties I face in life. Give me the courage I need, dear Lord, to face every temptation to fear with confidence and trust in You. Bring clarity to my mind and peace to my troubled heart. Jesus, I trust in You.

Doing the Greatest Work on Earth

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” John 14:12–14

How is it that we are called to do greater works than the works that Jesus Himself did? Of course, it’s true. This is our calling. We know that, because this is what our Lord promised us. This truth should fill us with gratitude for being used so powerfully by God.

Among the “greater” works of which Jesus speaks is, first and foremost, the sharing of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. As Jesus walked the earth, His mission was primarily to the people of Israel. But when He ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church, He also empowered all who would receive the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Thus, the conversion of hearts is the greatest work that we can cooperate with.

Do you want to do great things? Most children dream of doing so because this desire is written upon our human nature. We want to make a difference. We want to be great. But too often we become confused about true greatness. We attempt to fulfill that innate desire through acts of worldly and passing greatness. We seek recognition, wealth, and other passing rewards that stem from selfish ambitions. None of these ultimately fulfill us, even if we were to achieve them to the greatest extent. For example, imagine if you won the Nobel Peace Prize, or became the leader of a nation, or became the wealthiest person alive. Would the attainment of one of these goals fulfill you? Only if it were the will of God. If not, it would be an empty and meaningless act.

Begin by looking within. Do you see the desire within you to do great things? Hopefully you do. From there, remind yourself that the greatest thing you can do, so as to fulfill the desire within you, is to do that which is the will of God for your life. Jesus says, “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” Asking in Jesus’ name means asking for the fulfillment of His will. It means asking that God use you to bring His saving grace to others any way He chooses. If you ask our Lord for this grace, He will grant it.

This form of prayer requires humility and a complete detachment from our own will. It requires that we ask the Father only for that which the Son asks the Father for us. But the reward of such a humble prayer is that God will bestow His grace and mercy on others through us. This is His perfect will.

Reflect, today, upon this high calling. Do so by looking at the desire within your own soul for greatness and then unite that desire with God’s will as the only thing that can fulfill you. Pray for this gift every day with humility and detachment and you will become an instrument of acts that give eternal glory to God. In Heaven, this will be your eternal joy.

Providential Lord, Your will is perfect and glorious. Please help me to humble myself before You, every day, so that I will understand Your will for my life and choose it always. May I be an instrument of Your saving grace to all whom You wish to touch through me. Jesus, I trust in You.

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