Fourth Week of Easter

Christ the Good Shepherd of Us All

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

“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 10:2-4

Four things happen in this story:

First, the gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd.
Second, the shepherd calls his own sheep by name.
Third, the sheep hear his voice.
Fourth, the shepherd leads the sheep through the gate.

Who is the “gatekeeper?”  Saint Augustine says that one answer to this is that the gatekeeper is the Holy Spirit.  The role of the Holy Spirit is to open our minds to the truth, to a deeper understanding of Scripture, and therefore, to a deeper understanding of Christ Himself.  Therefore, the Holy Spirit will open your mind and your heart to know and love Christ as your shepherd, if you let Him.

Once this happens, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will speak your name, personally.  Not audibly, but through the gift of faith.  You are not only one of many sheep; rather, you are His dear one whom He knows and loves on an intimate and personal level.  Therefore, this passage calls us to an intimate and personal relationship with Christ the Good Shepherd.

Knowing we are personally and intimately loved by Christ, that we are called by name, invites and encourages us to listen.  Do you listen?  And if you listen, do you hear?  “Hearing” Christ speak to us in this personal and intimate way should motivate us to action.

What action?  To be led.  Normally a shepherd walks behind the sheep and they run on ahead.  But in this story, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, Who calls you by name, leads you “through the gate.”  Jesus Himself is the Gate.  We are called to become one with Him and, through Him, to enter into the bosom of the Father in Heaven.  Through Him we enter into new life itself, life of union with Him Who is our Shepherd.

Reflect, today, upon this fourfold journey to which you are called.  Pray to the Holy Spirit that your mind and heart will be opened to know and love Christ.  Then prayerfully listen for Christ to speak to you.  Hear Him, respond to Him and allow Him to draw you into His open heart of perfect love.

Holy Spirit, please open my ears to the Voice of the Good Shepherd and my mind to all that He speaks.  My precious Lord Jesus, You are my Shepherd, I choose, this day, to follow Your voice when You speak, and to do so with complete trust and abandon.  I love You, my Lord, and I thank you for loving me with such tender and intimate care.  Jesus, my Good Shepherd, I trust in You.

Laying Down Your Life

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

Traditionally, this Fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” This is because the readings for this Sunday from all three liturgical years come from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel in which Jesus teaches clearly and repeatedly about His role of being the Good Shepherd. What does it mean to be a shepherd? More specifically, how is it that Jesus most perfectly acts as the Good Shepherd of us all?

The image of Jesus being a shepherd is an endearing image. Many artists have shown Jesus as a gentle and kind man holding a sheep in His arms or on His shoulders. In part, it is this holy image that we put before our mind’s eye to ponder today. This is an inviting image and one that helps us to turn to our Lord, as a child would turn to a parent in need. But though this gentle and endearing image of Jesus as a shepherd is quite inviting, there are other aspects of His role as Shepherd that should also be considered.

The Gospel quoted above gives us the heart of Jesus’ definition of the most important quality of a good shepherd. He is one who “lays down his life for the sheep.” He is one who is willing to suffer, out of love, for those entrusted to his care. He is one who chooses the life of the sheep over his own life. At the heart of this teaching is sacrifice. A shepherd is sacrificial. And being sacrificial is the truest and most accurate definition of love.

Though Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” Who gave His life for us all, we must also daily strive to imitate His sacrificial love for others. We must be Christ, the Good Shepherd, to others every day. And the way we do this is by looking for ways to lay our lives down for others, putting them first, overcoming every selfish tendency, and serving them with our lives. Love is not only experiencing endearing and heartwarming moments with others; first and foremost, love is about being sacrificial.

Reflect, today, upon these two images of Jesus the Good Shepherd. First, ponder the tender and gentle Lord Who welcomes you and cares for you in a holy, compassionate, and endearing way. But then turn your eyes to the Crucifixion. Our Good Shepherd did, indeed, give His life for us all. His shepherding love led Him to suffer greatly and to lay His life down so that we could be saved. Jesus was not afraid to die for us, because His love was perfect. We are the ones who matter to Him, and He was willing to do anything necessary to love us, including sacrificing His life out of love. Ponder this most holy and pure sacrificial love and strive to more fully offer this same love to all those whom you are called to love.

Jesus our Good Shepherd, I thank You profoundly for loving me to the point of sacrificing Your life on the Cross. You love me not only with the utmost tenderness and compassion but also in a sacrificial and selfless way. As I receive Your divine love, dear Lord, help me to also imitate Your love and to sacrifice my life for others. Jesus, my Good Shepherd, I trust in You.

Contrasting Voices

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

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  John 10:27

Jesus offers a clear contrast among shepherds.  This would apply to priests, parents and all of us in our own unique way.  The contrast He offers is between the ones who care deeply for those entrusted to their care, and those who are just going through the motions and are more motivated by selfishness than sacrificial love.

Jesus perfectly manifested sacrificial love as the Divine Shepherd.  He was willing to go all the way for us, His sheep.  He was willing to sacrifice everything.  He did not let suffering, persecution, rejection and the like deter Him from His responsibility of caring for us in a total and complete way.  It should inspire us, console us and encourage us to know how deep His love for us really is.

This love is seen, also, in the unwavering love of a parent, sibling, or dear friend.  When the love one offers us is unwavering, especially in difficult times, this is a great support.  And love offered to another like this forges a deep spiritual bond that is stronger than any hardship we may face.  No matter what “wolf” comes our way, we must know of the unwavering support of the Divine Shepherd.  And when we can see that love made manifest in the unwavering support of others, we are doubly blessed.

But the contrast should not be ignored either.  Jesus gives the example of “a hired man who is not a shepherd” who sees the wolf coming and runs.  It’s important to point out how damaging this man is to the people of God.  When he runs from his responsibility and gives into selfish motivation, he leaves the flock untended and vulnerable to attack.

We should see in this hired man the temptation we all inevitably face in life.  It’s hard to stick with it through the hard times.  It’s hard to be there for those who need us when they need us.  It’s hard to be faithful in all things and to never shy away in the face of the temptation of fear.  

Jesus offers His unwavering love and support to us as our Shepherd, but He also wants us to return this gift to Him by offering this same unwavering commitment to one another.  

Reflect, today, how well you imitate the Good Shepherd.  Where you are lacking, let Him shepherd you so that you may shepherd others.  Run to the Good Shepherd and trust in His perfect love for you.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, I thank You for Your unwavering support of me as my Shepherd.  And I thank You for those who act as Your instruments of this deep love and commitment.  Help me to fulfill my role of shepherding Your people, the people You have placed in my life.  May I never run from the glorious responsibility You have called me to.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Voice of the Shepherd 

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Note: In year A, when this Gospel is read on the previous Sunday, John 10:11-18 is used today.

“…the sheep hear his voice, as he 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. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”  John 10:3–5

What are you most familiar with in life?  What voice or voices echo in your mind most of the time?  There are many influences we receive on a regular basis.  Some are good and some are not so good.  Oftentimes we can talk ourselves into believing that the many “voices” or influences that we encounter on a daily basis do not affect us.  We are pressured by the voice of the media, pop culture, love of money, a desire for recognition and so much more.  These are powerful influences and, whether we want to believe it or not, they do affect us.

The Gospel above gives us insight into this internal struggle in that it contrasts the voice of the Shepherd with the voice of a stranger.  The sheep are easily taught and conditioned.  They learn the voice of their shepherd because it was common practice for shepherds to regularly speak to their sheep.  Once the sheep became used to the shepherd’s voice, they would turn and follow him when he called.

So it is with us.  We will follow the voice of that which we are most familiar with.  Whatever it is that we immerse ourselves in each and every day will grow on us and draw us, even unknowingly, to follow.  

This begs the question, “What are you most familiar with?”  Ideally, we spend sufficient time in God’s Word, learning His language, tone and voice.  Ideally, we dedicate some portion of our day, every day, to silent contemplation of God.  As we do this, we build a habit of hearing Him speak and we become comfortable with and comforted by His voice.  

Once this habit is established in us, it will be much easier to go about our busy day hearing God whenever He chooses to speak.  We will immediately recognize it is Him and we will follow.

Reflect, today, upon that which calls to you the loudest.  Don’t let the many other voices in our world drown out God’s voice.  Instead, prepare yourself for the moments He chooses to speak.  And when He does speak, let that voice grab your attention so that you can follow.

My speaking Lord, help me to know and love Your gentle voice throughout my daily life.  May that voice overwhelm all others that compete for my attention.  I choose You, dear Lord, as my one Shepherd and guide.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Language of Jesus

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

This statement of Jesus may have left His followers confused.  They wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and so they asked Him to tell them plainly if He was the Messiah.  And how did He respond?  He tells them that He already told them and they failed to believe.  This is an interesting situation.

The first thing to say about this is that Jesus was not being critical.  He was helping them to understand His language.  He was helping them to understand that the answer to their question was not a matter of Jesus simply telling them, “I am the Messiah!”  Rather, the answer to their question had to come to them from the Father in Heaven, spoken to their hearts as they listened to Jesus and witnessed His miracles.  The answer was to be given to them by the gift of faith that had to be received from within.  This gift of faith would give them the certainty they so desired.

The same is true with us.  Perhaps you’ve wanted God to come down from Heaven at times and tell you “plainly” the answer to this or that question.  But He does not do that.  He does it in His perfect way with His perfect language.  It’s the language of faith and it requires a complete submission of our minds and wills to God to hear and understand.  This is the only way to become converted in the way God wants us to be. 

Reflect, today, on how well you listen to God speak.  You most likely can learn to listen to Him more clearly, discerning His voice of Truth.  As you hear Him, let yourself become completely convinced of all that He says.  And let that deep conviction rule your life.

Lord of all Truth, I so often do not let myself hear You plainly through the gift of faith.  I so often want the easy answer to the difficult questions.  Help me to grow in patience so that I may know You and allow You to become my true Shepherd.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Evangelizing Through Unity

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

Now on a literal level, this is hard to comprehend.  How is it that those who looked at Jesus were looking also at the Father?  How is it that seeing Jesus was seeing the Father in Heaven?  

The answer is quite simple.  The unity that the Father and the Son share is a perfect unity.  They remain distinct Persons but they are also united as one.  They are united in their perfect love and in the perfect communion of their wills.

For that reason, knowing Jesus is also knowing the Father.  But the truth is that the Father’s presence is veiled just as the divinity of the Son is veiled.  Though we do not have the experience of seeing Jesus walk the Earth as the first disciples did, we find the same reality every time we come before the Holy Eucharist.  When we enter a church and genuflect before the tabernacle, it’s important to always be exceptionally cognizant of the fact that we are in the full divine presence of God the Son.  And for that reason, we are also in the full and divine presence of the Father!  Their presence is real and absolute.  It’s just that they are hidden from our five senses.  

But one key thing to ponder here is the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Prayerfully reflecting upon their unity is a very healthy meditation for our prayer life.  Why?  Because we are called to share in Their unity, and we are called to share in unity with one another.

Unity is hard.  It takes a tremendous amount of love.  It means being fully present to the other, seeking to fully understand, accept and know them.  And the Trinity is our model for this.  Be it parents and children, spouses, friends or others, we are called to a deep and abiding unity.  

Think about someone you know well.  And think about someone that person knows well and loves.  To a certain degree, you may feel you know that other person just by knowing the one who knows them.  For example, say you have a very close friend who has a child and your friend shares much with you about their child.  What you’re experiencing is the unity of that parent and child in your relationship with your friend.  

So it is with God.  As we come to know God the Son, we automatically come to know God the Father.  And the good news is that if we know God, and then let another get to know us, the effect is that we will be letting them come to know God through us.  This is one of the wonderful ways to evangelize and bring God to those whom we know and love.  

Reflect, today, upon your relationship with God and how that relationship shines through in all other relationships you have.  Commit yourself more fully to knowing and loving God so that others around you may also benefit from your love of Him.

Lord of perfect unity, help me to come to know and love You and, in that relationship, to come to know and love the Father and the Holy Spirit.  And as I grow in love for You Most Holy Trinity, help me to bring that love into every relationship I have so that I may be an instrument of Your love to others.  Most Holy Trinity, I trust in You.

Slaves of Christ

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.”  John 13:16

If we read between the lines we can hear Jesus telling us two things.  First, that it’s good to see ourselves as slaves and messengers of God, and second, that we are to always give the glory to God.  These are important points to live in the spiritual life.  Let’s look at both.

Normally, the idea of being a “slave” is not all that desirable.  We are not as familiar with slavery in our day and age, but it is real and has caused extreme damage throughout the history of our world in many cultures and at many times.  The worst part about slavery is the cruelty with which the slaves are treated.  They are treated as objects and property which is completely contrary to their human dignity.

But imagine the scenario where a person is a slave to one who loves him perfectly and has as his primary mission to help that “slave” realize his true potential and fulfillment in life.  In this case, the master would “command” the slave to embrace love and happiness and would never violate his human dignity.

This is the way it is with God.  We should never fear the idea of being a slave of God.  Though this language may carry baggage from abuses of human dignity of the past, slavery to God should be our goal.  Why?  Because God is the one we should want as our master.  In fact, we should desire God as our master even more than we desire to be our own master.  God will treat us better than we treat ourselves!  He will dictate to us a perfect life of holiness and happiness and we will be humbly submissive to His divine will.  And what’s more, He will give us the necessary means to achieve all that He dictates to us if we let Him.  Being a “slave of God” is a good thing and should be our goal in life.

As we grow in our ability to let God take control of our life, we must also regularly enter into an attitude of thanks and praise of God for all that He does in us.  We must point all the glory to Him for letting us share in His mission and for being sent by Him to fulfill His will.  He is greater in every way, but He also wants us to share in that greatness and glory.  So, the good news is that when we glorify and thank God for all He does in us and for all the dictates of His law and His commands, we will be elevated by God to participate in and share in His glory!  This is one fruit of the Christian life that blesses us beyond what we could ever come up with ourselves.  

Reflect, today, upon letting yourself become a complete slave of God and His will today.  That commitment will start you down a path of tremendous delight.

My Lord and Master, I submit myself to Your every command.  May Your will be done in me and only Your will.  I choose You as my Master in all things and trust in Your perfect love for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Our Father’s House

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  John 14:2–3

From time to time it’s important that we focus in on the glorious reality of Heaven!  Heaven is real and, God willing, one day we will all be united there with our Triune God.  If we properly understood Heaven, we’d long for it with a deep and burning love and we’d look forward to it with a powerful desire, being filled with peace and joy every time we think of it.

Unfortunately, however, the thought of leaving this Earth and meeting our Maker is a frightening thought for some.  Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown, the realization that we will leave our loved ones behind, or possibly even a fear that Heaven will not be our final resting place.  

As Christians, it’s essential that we work at fostering a great love of Heaven by gaining a proper understanding of not only Heaven itself, but also the purpose of our lives on Earth.  Heaven helps order our lives and helps us stay on the path that leads to this eternal beatitude.

In the passage above, we are given a very consoling image of Heaven.  It’s the image of the “Father’s house.”  This image is a good one to reflect upon because it reveals that Heaven is our home.  Home is a safe place.  It’s a place where we can be ourselves, relax, be with loved ones, and feel as if we belong.  We are God’s sons and daughters and He has decided that we belong there with Him.  

Reflecting on this image of Heaven should also console those who have lost a loved one.  The experience of saying goodbye, for now, is very difficult.  And it should be difficult.  The difficulty of losing a loved one reveals that there is true love in that relationship.  And that is good.  But God does want the feelings of loss to also be mingled with joy as we ponder the reality of our loved one being with the Father in His home for eternity.  They are happier there than we will ever be able to imagine, and we will one day be called to share in that joy.

Reflect, today, upon this image of Heaven: our Father’s House.  Sit with that image and let God speak to you.  As you do, let your heart be drawn to Heaven so that this desire will help to direct your actions here and now.

Lord of Heaven and Earth, I do long to be with You eternally in Heaven.  I long to be comforted, consoled and filled with joy in Your home.  Help me to always keep this as my goal in life and to grow, daily in a desire for this final resting place.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Speaking With Confidence

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

“The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”  John 14:10

These words from Jesus, once again, reveal the intimate unity He has with His Father.  He and the Father are one and what He says also comes from the Father.  John’s Gospel is filled with this language as a way of highlighting their perfect unity.

Though there is much we could say about the unity of the Father and the Son, it’s important to remind ourselves that these words spoken by Jesus should also ideally be words we speak.  How wonderful it is to be able to say that WE also do not speak on our own but that the Father speaks through us.  This should be our constant goal.

If we speak words to others on our own, relying upon our own wisdom and insights, then we must also humbly admit that our words will not be that powerful.  This is hard to admit but is true.  We can easily fall into the trap of thinking our opinions are right and that others need to listen to us.

If, on the other hand, we are able to speak words that have the backing of the Father, words that are spoken from His heart, then we will begin to see that those words make a true difference in the lives of others.  Words matter and we should always be very careful as to what we say and how we say it.

Allowing the Father to speak in and through us suddenly gives our words new conviction and power.  They become words that God speaks to others and words that enable God to make a difference in their lives.

Reflect, today, upon your daily speech.  If you struggle with not knowing what to say, or how to say it at times, then a good prayer to pray is for the grace to speak only that which the Father gives you to speak; nothing more and nothing less.  Pray that prayer and be confident that God has a lot to say through you.

Father in Heaven, give me Your words to speak.  Help me to always turn to You in my heart in confidence so that You are the source of all truth and goodness.  May that truth and goodness come forth from me each and every day.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Fifth Week of Easter

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