4th Sunday of Easter C

My sheep…I know them”

In his book “Everyday Life of the Mayas,” Ralph Whitlock tells us of the delicate respect that these Central American Indians had for animals in pre-Christian days. “Every animal in the forest,” he writes, “had a soul, which was protected by the gods of the earth. A man could kill an animal if he needed to, but before or immediately afterwards he had to offer an apology.”

When Christ spoke of the almost “family” relationship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep, he was speaking in terms that his Palestinian listeners, largely shepherds, well understood. Even today in the Middle East, there is close, almost familial, rapport between a shepherd and each of his flock. The sheep know his voice and follow him like children. He in turn knows them as individuals and treats them as a loving father. He will protect them at all costs against anybody who will try to “snatch them out of his hand” (Today’s gospel). If one of them should stray, he leaves the rest in a safe place and goes off through brush and briar in search of the wanderer. Even when he finds the maverick sheep, he will not scold it (it is already sufficiently frightened and humbled); but simply put it over his shoulders and bring it back joyfully to the sheepfold.

St. Maximus the Confessor, an abbot of the seventh century, pointed out the close parallel between the forgiving shepherd and the forgiving Christ. Of Jesus he said, “When He found wandering in the mountains and hills the one sheep that had strayed from God’s flock of a hundred, he brought it back into the fold, but He did not exhaust it by driving it. Instead He placed it on His shoulders and so compassionately, He restored it safely to the flock”.

In this “Holy Year of Redemption”, Jesus, our good shepherd, calls on us, the sheep of his fold, to return to Him, whether we have wandered far or near. He asks us to confess our sins and change our hearts. We need not fear to say, “I am sorry”. He who calls will treat us gently. He not only loves us; He respects us.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q421: The Gospel today (John 10:27-30) says that the “flock” of Jesus hears his voice and follows him. So how can a Christian “stray” if they try to follow Jesus?

This is one of the shortest gospel readings in our three-year cycle. Nevertheless, it is full of very encouraging words for us, such as “I give them eternal life” and “they shall never perish.” Sadly, it is also possible to “stray” from the fullness of truth that the Magisterium (official teaching office of the Church) provides for the faithful.

I think everyone in the world has agreed with the position of some politician or religious leader who said something that “sounded reasonable.” That agreement usually comes without any “digging” to compare that position with the official teaching of the Magisterium. It is important to realize that many have been led astray from faith itself – not because of theological arguments, but because of simple greed (1 Tim 6:10)! If it is easy to lead people away from the truth just for money, then think how easy it is to lead Catholics astray from the truth by appealing to their other desires – for the things they “want to hear” – such as the false teachings that contraception, abortion, and disagreement with the Church are okay.

One can call oneself a Christian; but one is NOT following Christ if they deviate from the teachings of the Magisterium in the area of faith and morals. This is when they stray – they have yielded to what the “want” to hear, rather than hearing what the Magisterium teaches as the moral truth.

We only have to look at the divisions within Christianity today, and see how people fall prey to the “pick and choose” theology – select only what you want to believe, and reject everything else. This is the basic root of Protestantism. It takes humility for us to accept the teaching of Jesus and his chosen successors, the apostles and bishops of the Catholic Church.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! You are “either for him or against him” – are you really sure which side you are on (CCC #590)? St. Paul teaches that some people have “a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words” (1 Tim 6:4). It is the teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium, which preserves the revealed deposit of faith (CCC #2035).

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Q577: Are there any modern parallels to the opposition that St. Paul encountered?

The activity reflected in our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (13:43–52) is quite interesting and enlightening. The popularity of one faction is plummeting because of a perceived lack of fullness of truth, while the attraction of the other side is rapidly on the rise. Jealousy ensues among the incumbent old guard, and a predictable opposition to the newcomers begins. The now-unpopular side starts demonizing the new messengers, and incites those with power to start a campaign of harassment and distortion of the facts. Now, think about it: doesn’t that sound just like a modern American political setting?

Our Holy Father warns us that a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating people in the real truth is the massive presence of relativism in our society and culture – an obstinate position that believes nothing is definitive, and that you can use your own desires, whatever they might be, as your only guide in life. St. Paul and Barnabas were trying to educate the folks in Antioch about the real truth, and they ran into the obstinate beliefs of the incumbent old guard. In this case, the opposition and harassment from the old guard followed because of rigid fundamentalism, rather than relativism, but with precisely the same results.

The lesson seems to be clear, based on the actual experience of St. Paul and all subsequent missionaries and bishops. When you begin to spread the Good News, planting the seeds of truth in the hearts of those who need to hear the gospel message, you can count on hostility and perhaps severe persecution. Jealousy (i.e., misguided zeal) because of the proclamation of truth can many times provoke violent antagonism. Discipleship can become difficult, but the rewards are the spread of truth and the gifts of joy and peace from the Holy Spirit.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our conscience must be informed and our moral judgment enlightened. If we humble ourselves, we can be assisted in this lifelong task by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church (CCC #1783-85).

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My Sheep Hear My Voice

Paul and Barnabas experienced both success and failure at antioch. Many Jews accepted their message, but the synagogue officials rejected them. The apostles turned to the pagans who responded with faith in great numbers. This puzzled the early Church; this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, was it? We find another strange reversal of expectations in the Book of Revelation. Of all domestic animals sheep seem to be most in need of human guidance and protection; they need a shepherd to survive. Yet here we have a lamb, the weakest and most helpless of sheep, becoming the shepherd! It does not seem likely to install confidence in the future of that flock. But Jesus tells us that he, the Lamb who was slain, is the shepherd. and his sheep, those who hear his voice, like those who listened to Paul and Barnabas, will not perish. This shepherd will feed and water them and wipe every tear from their eye.

Lord, open my ears to hear the voice of the Shepherd ; strengthen my will to follow him. Guide my steps to join him in your eternal presence.

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