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GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
The Good Shepherd
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
A children's church minister was talking to his audience about the 23rd Psalm. He told the children about sheep, that they weren't smart and needed lots of guidance, and that a shepherd's job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering off and doing dumb things that would get them hurt or killed.
He pointed to the little children in the room and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance.
Then the minister put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, "If you are the sheep then who is the shepherd?" He was pretty obviously indicating himself.
A silence of a few seconds followed. Then a young visitor said, "Jesus: Jesus is the shepherd."
The young minister, obviously caught by surprise, said to the young visitor, "Well then, who am I?"
The visitor frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, "I guess you must be a sheep dog."
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good shepherd Sunday,” we, too, celebrate “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” We should therefore include, as an intention for all the Masses, our prayers that God will touch more individuals to be called to work in His vineyard. In fact, of over a hundred and fifty-five priests we have in our diocese, almost half of the percentage is on their senior years, which is very emphatic that the diocese is becoming old in terms of its ministers. This is a reality that we need to devote our prayers to.
Allow me to highlight significant points about the Gospel this Sunday:
First, Jesus came as the Good shepherd and he is by far the ONLY Good shepherd. Jesus is the only Good Shepherd and his flock does not become anybody’s property. No one can take the place of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, not even bishops, priests, and other members of the hierarchy of the Church. The clergy and the religious are not substitutes of Christ for no one can take His place, even in our work. We are, however, called to be symbols of Christ. There is a world of difference between being a substitute and being a symbol. A substitute is there because someone is absent. Jesus is always present and because he is always present, we do not need people to take his place. We only need people who will make him more tangible in our lives.
When I was a seminarian, it amazes me to see Bishops and priests concelebrating in a solemn Mass. What amazes me is not just them being together as they manifest a sense of collegiality, but what amazes me is the fact that they mark a strong impact in my life as they truly symbolize the presence of God whom they represent. St. Theresa of Avila was asked whom she would bow down when faced with a priest and an angel and she confidently remarked, “I would bow down to a priest, of course, because they carry in their hands the very body and blood of Christ.” In other words, they symbolize the only Good Shepherd, who is Christ.
Second, Jesus as Good Shepherd is sent on a mission. In the later chapter of this Sunday’s Gospel, the Good Shepherd is being compared to a very interesting image of the “gate” that “whoever enters through His gate will be saved.” This was how Jesus became the Shepherd. He was sent on a special mission to be the pathway towards the Father. And by doing so, he showed that he was willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Shepherding in the Gospel of John is not by ruling. Rather, the shepherd is expected to lead the sheep out to the pastures so they can eat. To be shepherd means to know the sheep personally, to know them by name, while the sheep gets to know the shepherd by voice.
The task of shepherding indeed is not so easy. To this day, I am celebrating my second year as an ordained priest. As a young priest, I have several hopes and dreams which are at times too good to be true. Yes, there were glorious moments but at the end of the day, I realized that what I have done is too little as compared to the only Good Shepherd. There is more to learn and there is a lot more to do. But more than these hopes and dreams are of course, the support, of the community. That is why, it is always important that as sheep, you must love your “shepherd,” your “priest” no matter who he is. What connects the shepherd to his sheep is TRUST, the recognition of each other’s voice and the listening aspect of one’s heart to hear the shepherd. Again, love your priests as the principal “Shepherd” loves his sheep.
Lastly, to be shepherd is to lay down one’s life for one’s sheep. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Therefore, to be shepherd is to lead, to empower, to love, and to die. We verify this in Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd and Jesus expects the Shepherds of today to lead his flock and to do as He did.
The picture of the Good Shepherd above was copied from a wall painting in one the catacombs in Rome. The catacombs where the first Christians would hide out from Romans who wanted to feed them to the lions. This image of the Good Shepherd reminded them that Jesus would take care of them no matter what happens to them. The Good Shepherd would always have in His mind the well-being of the sheep. As Christ’s sheep, however, do we also think about the well-being of our shepherd? Of our priests, who represent the principal shepherd?
When a candidate is being ordained, he is not just ordained for himself but rather for the Church. As the community witnesses the ordination, their presence serves as an affirmation that the candidate is truly worthy to receive the sacred order of the priesthood.
Yes, the priest could be a sheep dog as the visitor in the story remarked, but more than the sheep dog, the priest is the “Other Shepherd,” or “Alter Sacerdos” or “Alter Christus.” Let us pray for our priests, and more than ever, let us pray for more vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.
God bless us all!