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.
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 are 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, shared 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.
The Ordinary Path to the Extraordinary
Optional Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker, May 1
Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Matthew 13:54–55
On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis announced the beginning of the universal celebration of the “Year of Saint Joseph,” which will conclude on December 8, 2021. He introduced this year with an Apostolic Letter entitled “With a Father’s Heart.” In the introduction to that letter, the Holy Father said, “Each of us can discover in Joseph—the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence—an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
The Gospel above, taken from the readings for this memorial, point to the fact that Jesus was “the carpenter’s son.” Joseph was a worker. He worked with his hands as a carpenter so as to provide for the daily needs of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Son of God. He provided them with a home, with food, and with the other daily necessities of life. Joseph also protected them both by following the various messages of the angel of God who spoke to him in his dreams. Joseph fulfilled his duties in life in a quiet and hidden way, serving in his role as father, spouse and worker.
Though Joseph is universally recognized and honored today within our Church and even as a prominent historical world figure, during his lifetime he would have been a man who was largely unnoticed. He would have been seen as an ordinary man doing his ordinary duty. But in many ways, that is what makes Saint Joseph an ideal man to imitate and a source of inspiration. Very few people are called to serve others in the spotlight. Very few people are publicly praised for their day-to-day duties. Parents, especially, are often greatly unappreciated. For that reason, the life of Saint Joseph, this humble and hidden life lived out in Nazareth, provides most people with inspiration for their own daily lives.
If your life is somewhat monotonous, hidden, unappreciated by the masses, tedious, and even boring at times, then look to Saint Joseph for inspiration. Today’s memorial especially honors Joseph as a man who worked. And his work was quite ordinary. But holiness is especially found in the ordinary parts of our daily lives. Choosing to serve, day in and day out, with little or no earthly accolades, is a service of love, an imitation of the life of Saint Joseph, and a source of your own holiness in life. Do not underestimate the importance of serving in these and other ordinary and hidden ways.
Reflect, today, upon the ordinary and “unremarkable” daily life of Saint Joseph. If you find that your life is similar to what he would have experienced as a worker, a spouse and a father, then rejoice in that fact. Rejoice in the fact that you are also called to a life of extraordinary holiness through the ordinary duties of daily life. Do them well. Do them with love. And do them in inspiration of Saint Joseph and his spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary who would have shared in this ordinary day-to-day life. Know that what you do each and every day, when it is done out of love and service of others, is the surest path to holiness of life for you.
My Jesus, Son of the carpenter, I thank You for the gift and inspiration of Your earthly father, Saint Joseph. I thank You for his ordinary life lived with great love and responsibility. Help me to imitate his life by fulfilling my daily duties of work and service well. May I recognize in the life of Saint Joseph, an ideal model for my own holiness of life. Saint Joseph the Worker, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.