This is the fourth week of Easter. The fourth Sunday of Easter is commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and is also known as The World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Church reminds us to pray and to encourage vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life. The readings today use the image of God as a Shepherd and His flock to describe the unique relationship of God with His Chosen people and of Christ with His Church.
The first reading is taken from Peter’s sermon, given on the day of Pentecost. Peter tells the leaders that it is they who crucified the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ: “You crucified your God and Messiah, but He has risen from death and offers you forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Hence, he asked them to receive the forgiveness of their sins by becoming baptized in the name of Jesus and by acknowledging the risen Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The early Christians faced many hardships on account of faith. In the second reading, Peter encourages the suffering Christians to follow in the footsteps of their Good Shepherd, Jesus, the “suffering servant.” This allowed the early Christians to realize the truth that Jesus’ suffering and death enabled them to become more fully the children of God and be healed of their sins.
In the Gospel, Jesus relates two brief parables; the first, as our unique gateway to eternal salvation (the “sheep gate”) and the second, as a selfless, caring “shepherd” who provides his protection and life itself. The first part of today’s Gospel contrasts Jesus, the true Shepherd, with fake shepherds who work for money. Jesus gives us warning against false shepherds and false teachers in the Church. Jesus’ love and concern for each of us must be accepted with trust and serenity because he alone is our Shepherd, and no one else deserves our undivided commitment. As a true Shepherd, he leads his sheep, giving them the food and protection only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can provide, and he protects us and leads us to true happiness.
The second part of the parable describes the shepherds who brought their sheep down from the hills in the evening to protect them at night from the wolves and mountain lions. At night, the shepherds would gather their sheep and lead them into large pens or sheepfolds. The shepherd would sleep in the doorway of the pen to protect the sheep. This not only prevented the sheep from wandering out of the pen at night, it also prevented any wild animals from entering the pen to harm the sheep. If any predators came, the shepherd would fight it off to protect his sheep. Thus, literally and symbolically, the shepherd himself was the doorway to his sheep, just as Jesus is our gateway to Eternal Life.
Shepherding is a challenging task and to a large extent, all who are entrusted with the care of others are shepherds. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time, talents and blessings for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. In this sense, we all, especially parents, must be careful of our duties toward our children, setting a good example for them and providing them with sound religious instruction. Above all, parents should pray for their children and infuse them with solid Christian values and moral principles. We all need to be good role models to others like the holy men and women whom we admire and appreciate. Saint Theresa of Calcutta is a perfect example of a good shepherd. The day after her death, a prominent newspaper in India published an article captioned: “Mother Theresa lived like her Master, the Good Shepherd, and she died like her Master, the Good Shepherd.”
As we celebrate “The World Day of Prayer for Vocations” and pray for vocations to priestly and religious life, I request that you pray for the seminarians from our diocese. I especially ask you to pray for three of our parishioners: Michael Moore, who is in the permanent diaconate program and who, God willing, will be ordained as deacon by June 2019; Rachel Smith who is studying to be a religious sister for the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. She is a postulant and will enter into the novitiate in July, which is one step closer to religious life; and Chris Braden, who is with the Miles Christi Religious Order, and is completing his first year of seminary study. As we pray for them, let us remember our responsibility of fostering vocations, good and holy men and women to guide God’s people, His sheep. This weekend our level two confirmation children are attending retreat at Whispering Winds in preparation to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation on Saturday, June 3. Let us pray for and support them that they may continue to grow in faith and deepen their relationship with God who loves us and cares for us like a shepherd. -Fr. Devdas