Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday: because the Gospel for the fourth week of Easter is always taken from a passage of the Gospels where Our Lord explains that He is the Good Shepherd and that we are the sheep of His flock.  The image of a Shepherd is a very suitable image for Our Lord in many ways.  A shepherd is always with his flock; a shepherd defends his flock and guides his flock.  The shepherd cares for the sheep and seeks out the lost.  Our Lord came among us as a man to do many of the things that a shepherd does: He came to seek the lost, He came to heal the sick (both physically and spiritually), He came to rescue us from the power of sin and death and He came to show us the way to the Father.  Furthermore, He said that He would never abandon us, but that He would be with us always, just like a shepherd is always with the sheep.

The shepherd is also a good analogy from another angle: from the view of the sheep.  Sheep follow the shepherd, they need the shepherd to protect them and guide them for they are defenseless animals, and sheep tend to be rather foolish.  We are the sheep of Our Lord’s flock.  We are called to follow Him wherever He leads us; we are completely dependent upon Our Good Shepherd’s divine assistance: for apart from Him, we can do nothing.  We need Jesus to feed us with Himself I the Eucharist, to guide us and protect us from day to day.  We ought to call on His help whenever we are in need.  Another similarity to sheep is that we also tend to be rather foolish at times.  We know that prayer brings us peace and joy and we know that sin makes us miserable, yet how often do we find ourselves forgetting to seek God’s help and falling into sin?  We know sin doesn’t make us happy and yet we keep straying from the path that we know will lead us closer to God.  Thankfully, Our Lord never abandons us to our own devices, but patiently seeks us out each and every time we wander off.  We have a free will which is capable of choosing God or turning away from God in sin, but as often as we stray, Our Lord calls us back and He never wearies of welcoming us back into the fold whenever we turn away from sin again and renew our commitment to follow Him.

In another Gospel passage, Our Lord tells us that His sheep hear and know His voice and that is how His sheep know to follow Him.  How do we hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd today?  We hear our Shepherd’s voice in all the little inspirations that come to us throughout the day.  Whenever we hear the whisperings of our conscience we can know that Our Good Shepherd is calling us.  That is true of the times that my conscience tells me that I ought to not do something as well as when my conscience tells me that I ought to do something.  Sometimes we have a sense that we should help someone that we see needs help, or that we should visit someone we know is lonely, or call and talk to someone we haven’t spoken to for a long time.  We ought to listen to those little inspirations.  The Catechism tells us that in our conscience we can hear the voice of God.

Another way that we hear the voice of Our Good Shepherd is through the Sacred Scriptures and through the Teachings of the Catholic Church.  Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to teach in His name: He said to the Apostles: “He who hears you, hears Me.”  Jesus promised that the Church would be led into all Truth through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It was the Church that assembled the New Testament of the Bible and proclaimed that those Books were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.  We know that the Church cannot teach error in the areas of faith or morals, so if we ever find that we disagree with the Church about some matter, we can be certain that it is we and not the Church that is wrong.  Jesus Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.  If we disagree with the Church, we need to pray and also study to learn why the Church teaches what She teaches.

Our conscience is a sure guide to what we ought to do or not do, but our conscience must be properly formed.  We have an obligation to form our consciences: in other words, we must always seek the Truth: and Scripture tells us that the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth in the world.  (1 Tim 3:15)  By forming our consciences in accord with what the Church teaches, we will find true freedom and peace of heart.

Our Good Shepherd has not abandoned us.  He guides us and He remains always with us.  He remains with us and feeds us with Himself in the Holy Eucharist; He guides us through our consciences and in a particular way through the Church.  Let us thank God for these many gifts that He has given to us: Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for coming to seek out the lost; we thank You for laying down Your life to save us and for remaining with us always in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  We are grateful Lord, that You continue to guide us through the ministry of the Church.  We pray, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, for the shepherds of the Church.  May they guide the Church faithfully and receive the reward of their labors.  Raise up more shepherds for Your flock, Lord: give the men that You are calling to the priesthood the courage to answer the call and the perseverance to follow where you lead.  Help each one of us here to hear Your voice and to follow You ever more faithfully.  Amen.