Pastoral Sharings: "Fourth Sunday of Easter"

WeeklyMessage Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Posted for April 26, 2015

We call today Good Shepherd Sunday because on all three 
of the Sundays in the cycle of readings in the liturgy we 
have an extract from Chapter Ten of John’s Gospel in 
which Jesus teaches the disciples about himself in his role 
as the Good Shepherd.

In this case we should not think that by using the word ‘good’ Jesus is somehow trying to portray himself as somehow morally better that the disciples, even though by definition he certainly was. No, what he is talking about is the ‘ideal’ shepherd; he is presenting himself as the model from which all other shepherds should draw their inspiration.

Jesus is helping the disciples to prepare for their own role as shepherds; shepherds of the flock that is the Church. He is teaching them about the importance of this role and the tender love that the shepherd ought to have for his flock. He tells the disciples that they have to know the sheep of their flock and give them their protection.

As we read these words we call to mind how in the very last resurrection appearance recorded in John’s Gospel Jesus says to Peter three times: ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.’ This incident marks the rehabilitation of Peter and confirms him as the leader and guardian of the newly born Church.

Traditionally on this Sunday we speak about vocations to the priesthood and also to the religious life and it is entirely appropriate that we do so. The Gospel speaks so clearly about the shepherding role that priests and religious exercise in the Church and so we should draw attention to these important vocations.

As is implied by our use of the word vocation what we are talking about is a call. Its origin is in the Latin word vocatio which means a summons or a call. Immediately we see that not everyone can become a priest or a religious but only those who experience a call from God.

We are then left with the question of how to recognize this call and what to do about it if you decide that it is you who are being called. There is also the question of what everyone else in the Church does to ensure that we have sufficient priests and religious and how to foster vocations.

I can only really speak about my own experience although I know that many other priests and religious have felt something similar.

Somehow from the age of about nine or ten I simply felt inside myself that God wanted me to be a priest. I do not know where the idea came from and I was never asked by anyone to think about being a priest and I certainly didn’t discuss it with anyone. I just knew that this was what God wanted.

In my case I wasn’t particularly happy about this knowledge. I wished that God would choose someone else and I tried to put the idea out of my head. I even prayed quite hard asking God to look elsewhere. But the idea kept coming back. Sometimes these thoughts about being a priest faded into the background but only to rise stronger at a later date.

Obviously one of the reasons I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a vocation is that it meant being celibate and therefore foregoing family life. This is certainly a great challenge and it remains one to this day. However there are many other compensations in this way of life, not least the opportunity to serve other people at the most difficult and delicate times of their life.

Of course as a boy I knew the Salvatorian priests in my home parish and as an altar server I used to help with the masses and do other jobs around the Church such as cutting the grass and so on. I have to say that while the priests were always very friendly none of them ever tried to influence me in any way.

Unexpectedly when it came to leaving school the idea of the priesthood went away and so I got a job in a bank and did this for three years. Towards the end of this time I realized that working in a bank was not for me and so thought about looking for another job.

At that moment the idea of the priesthood came back very strongly. And I decided that I ought to give it a try and find out whether it really was something for me or not. I wanted to decide once and for all if I had a real vocation; and if, hopefully, I found that I did not have a vocation then I could lay the idea aside permanently and with confidence.

I had met one or two people who were more or less happily married but who had mentioned that once they had thought of being a priest but had never followed it up. They seemed to regret that they had never found out if the priesthood was something for them or not.

I was determined not to be like them and so joined the Salvatorians telling my friends that I’d be back home in six months or so when I had come to the conclusion it was not for me. Well here I am thirty-eight years later having lived a very interesting and fulfilling life as a priest and religious.

All I can say to anyone sitting in this Church today is that if you have a vocation you will already know it. You will have an interior conviction that God wants you to fulfill this essential role in the Church. If I were you I would talk to a priest or a religious about it and ask them to guide you and help you with your discernment.

If you don’t do this then you might end up like those people I spoke about who despite living quite good and fulfilling lives in another sphere did actually regret that they did not take up God’s invitation to serve him in the Church. Yes, it will be challenging but it is something you will never regret having done.

As to the role of everyone else, there are two aspects to be stressed. Firstly we all have to pray for vocations asking God to call many more priests and religious to serve him in the Church. We should also pray for those who are discerning God’s call that they make the right decision. We need to pray too for those priests and religious who are struggling with their vocation and who may be undergoing personal difficulties because they certainly need help and support. So prayer is important.

Secondly we have to create a climate in which vocations can flourish. We need to bring our children regularly to mass and to talk with them about all aspects of the faith in a family setting. It is vitally important that we treat our Churchgoing as a normal part of our family life, talking about it in the same way as we would talk about anything else.

If we do find that one of our children may be considering a vocation then we certainly ought to give them encouragement and speak positively about the great things that a priest or a religious can achieve. It may be an unconventional career choice but it certainly is a fulfilling one.

Jesus says: ‘I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.’ What wonderfully reassuring words these are. But think how fulfilling it could be to be a shepherd like Jesus and to play a role shepherding the people of the Church he founded.

Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
April 26, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B—April 26, 2015
Today, Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Good Shepherd,” an identification that reaches back all the way to Moses and forward all the way to every bishop’s staff. How?

Gospel (Read Jn 10:11-18)

In St. John’s Gospel, after a long description of Jesus’ healing of a man born blind (with all the disputation it caused among Jewish leaders) in the preceding chapter, Jesus begins speaking of Himself as “the Good Shepherd.” Any Jew listening to this kind of talk would immediately be immersed in the vast Old Testament context of God’s relationship with shepherds. Recall that when He first appeared to Moses at the burning bush, Moses was shepherding a flock (see Ex 3:1). It was Moses’ shepherd staff that God used as the focal point for many of the miraculous works He did in Egypt to convince Pharaoh to free His people.

Fourth Easter: The Voice of the Shepherd
This Sunday I want to tell you two of my favorite stories, stories I have shared with you in the past. 

The first is about a pop quiz that was given to a new class of nursing students in the first year of their training. Most of the students did well on the quiz until they came to the last question, which they all left blank.  That question was, “What is the name of the woman you see every morning who cleans our section of the school?”    The students thought that the question was a joke.  But when they got their papers back, every one of them was marked off for the question.  They protested.  The professor said, “Her name is June. In your careers you will meet many people.  All of them are significant.  They deserve your attention and care, even if all you can do is smile and say “hello.” The students never forgot the lesson, or June’s name.

Dreaming of the Lamb
“Dad, I had another dream about God last night,” said the nine-year-old son who had an intense dream about the Eucharist a few months earlier.

“Oh? Tell me about it,” his Dad asked with a heightened curiosity.

“Well, I woke up to the sound of destruction in our neighborhood.  Trees were falling and everything was being destroyed; it was dark and gloomy, total chaos!”

“Wow, tell me more. What happened, was it like a severe storm or tornado?”

Mary’s Simple and Amazing Guide to Discipleship
God approached a young woman, and she said, “Yes.”

Next, what she didn’t say was even more noteworthy. She didn’t say, “I will do this.”

Instead, she said, “Let it be done unto me.”

And then she thanked God for allowing her to be the one with whom He would give flesh to the most remarkable intrusion of divinity into human time:  Jesus Christ.

Deepen Your Personal Relationship with Jesus
The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret.

— Sacrosanctum Concilium, no.12

The Lord calls us all to have a personal relationship with Him. This personal relationship is based on knowledge — God know­ing us and we knowing God. God already knows us; His knowl­edge is perfect. Despite our best attempts to ignore Him, God has always known us. But we weren’t born with this knowledge of God.

The Law of Human Nature Still Exists
Is there anything so wicked as a man trying to silence his conscience?  It is a willful act that happens in stages: Bit by bit, incident by incident, rationalization by rationalization, the voice of a man’s conscience can be stifled—that still small voice within him eventually becomes fainter, until his heart turns to stone and covers the voice within.

But even within a stone-heart, his conscience knocks and pounds against the inner granite wall, making muffled cries of protest.

The Greatness of Little Things: A Reflection on a Quote From St. Augustine
I have found that one of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine  is not all that well known. Here it is in Latin, followed by my own translation:

Quod minimum, minimum est,
Sed in minimo fidelem esse,
magnum est.

What is a little thing,  is (just) a little thing.
But to be faithful in a little thing
is a great thing.

(from St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35)

Does Scripture Teach Us to Pray for the Departed, and to Pray to the Saints?In regards to prayer and the Saints, Catholics do two things to which Protestants tend to object:

1.Praying to the Saints: Asking the Saints to pray for us, etc.
2.Praying for the Saints: Praying for the dead, commending their souls to God.

Yesterday, I talked about some of the common Protestant arguments against praying to the Saints: particularly about how these objections tend to be rooted in faulty views of the afterlife. But I didn’t address what’s perhaps the most common objection to both types of prayers, which is some variation of “But where do we see that in the Bible?” We saw yesterday that Scripture doesn’t condemn these prayers, but neither does it commend them … right?

Do you have a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ? Well do you?
Are you saved? Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you born again? It is possible for these questions to have deep and profound theological meanings.

Are you saved can mean are you liberated from idolatry? Have you overcome the tendency to seek ultimate happiness in created things? Is money your God? Is power your god? Is pleasure your god? Is honor your god? Or is God your God? The problem with idols is that they cannot truly satisfy our deepest desires. If Christianity is true, then we were created for shared and unshakeable happiness with our Creator.

What Ever Happened to the Spiritual Works of Mercy?
During daily Mass we are currently reading through chapter six of John’s Gospel. There is of course a glorious focus on the Lord’s true presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

However, there is also another important teaching given at a critical moment in chapter six that is important for us to lay hold of today. It is a call to recover a greater awareness of the importance of the spiritual works of mercy.

Why does my faith walk seem so lonely to me at times?
Dear Sister,

Sometimes the living of my Catholic faith is a lonely walk for me. Why is that?  Am I doing anything wrong?  Sometimes I think, “Am I the only one feeling this way?” I’ve never had theology classes and would appreciate anything you could send my way to help me understand why I feel so alone sometimes in my faith-journey.

Dear Friend,

A lovely plant sits on a desk near our office’s east window. The deep green leaves instinctively reach for the sun. Its roots dig deeply for life-giving water. It cannot think, yet it has some inner compass which reaches for that which gives it life—sun and water.

Contemplating The Mystery of Mercy
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis recently released, Misericordiae Vultus, his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In this document, he lays out his plans for this upcoming celebration of our Lord’s incredible love and mercy towards His people.  In addition, he encourages us to begin preparing ourselves now for this event through prayer and contemplation.  Mercy, he writes, is “the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us” (MV 2). Furthermore, mercy opens us up to hope.

False Concepts of God and Truth
Once Jesus asked who people said He was and there was a wide diversity of opinions: Elijah, one of the prophets from of old, even John the Baptist who had returned from the grave.  Finally, the Prince of the Apostles, and he who would become the 1st Pope—St. Peter nailed it: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

A Reflection on the Desire to Feel Superior
On a rainy afternoon not too long ago, I took the kids to grab a bite to eat at the large food warehouse near our house.  We were all a bit stir crazy from being cooped up, so the seven of us braved the hellish weather with nary a yellow slicker or umbrella.

(In our family, slickers, rain boots, and umbrellas are for wimps.  Just kidding, slickers, rain boots and umbrellas are for those people who can find them.)

Arrogance, Ignorance and the Unforgivable Sin
Don’t mistake arrogance for pride.

Sure, arrogance is nauseating, and when it’s not nauseating it’s amusing.

When a person struts around with his nose in the air, assumes a know-it-all attitude and bosses everyone around, first you get annoyed –”Who does this guy think he is??”

What Does the Church Say About Predestination?\
In the history of Christianity, few terms have stirred as much controversy and confusion as this one.

Predestination is a bit of a thorny thicket for theologians, perhaps territory some think best avoided for greener pastures. But it is nonetheless worth venturing into that thicket for the beautiful gem of truth to be found within it.

Randy Travis: “I Have Gained a Greater Understanding of God’s Grace” Since Stroke
It’s always interesting to me that atheists always use suffering as evidence that there’s no God. But what’s more interesting to me is that quite often it’s those doing the actual suffering are the ones that feel God’s presence and love in their lives.

Divorce and Remarriage? I Have No Opinion
Some time ago I was meeting with a Catholic woman who had been divorced and re-married.

I welcomed her to our church and was having a new parishioner meeting with her when the subject of her marital situation came up.

“I hope you’re going to be welcoming over this.” she said rather defensively.

“Of course!” I smiled. “You and your family are very welcome.”.

To Help the Widows and the Fatherless…
You may have heard about the Rogans, a traditional Catholic family who lost their Dad as he was driving them to the hospital so Mom could give birth to baby number eight.

An oncoming car hit a deer which was thrown into the path of the family van.

Mike was killed.

How Tolkien Can Save Your Soul
The Lord of the Rings meditates on death, and the One who conquers death.

Last weekend at New York’s Lincoln Center, I got some idea of what the Last Judgment will be like. You know, the Day that each of us is looking forward to, when all the sins of all the world will be exposed, including our own.

There were angelic choirs, infernal screams, brash trumpets, kettle drums — and amidst all the murk and evil, some powerful glimpses of Christ. Mercy, pity and forgiveness crept in among the terrors and dismantled them. They fell like a tall, dark tower.

Three Ways to Teach Children About the Eucharist
I was sixteen years old when the concept of the Transubstantiation became clearer to me.  Until that time, I attended Mass with my parents half-heartedly and out of obligation.  It wasn’t until I left my Catholic elementary school only to enter the cesspool of public high school, riddled with all varieties of unbelievers and even some colorful Satanists, that I began to question what I believed and why in terms of religion.

Enjoying My Peaceful Place
I have many ways to begin prayer, with numerous different motivations. Lately, God has been providing a certain motivation without my consciously asking for it. Ultimately, it’s almost always about finding peace.

Before I get to that, let me share some of the ways I like to pray.

We Are Sent Forth: All Are Apostles
There are many words that are more than mere words. The words of the Holy Mass are such, being fraught with a power and purpose that flies far beyond immediate meaning. Some command miracles, such as the words of consecration. Others command missions, such as the celebrant’s dismissal when the Mass is ended. The end of every Mass is intended as a beginning. The word, “Mass,” is derived from “dismissal,” which is rooted in the idea of many people being sent forth upon different ways on a common mission. The priest’s dismissal, therefore, is not merely a statement inviting the congregation to take their leave, but rather a restatement of Christ’s commandment to His apostles: those who were sent forth.

What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like?
St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:19)

A Couch Is NOT a Promise
Not too long ago, my best friend moved in with her boyfriend.

It’s a big deal: this is her third long-term, serious relationship, but the first one she felt confident enough in to say, “Hey, I like you so much, I’m going to live with you.”

I have very mixed feelings about this whole thing.

First of all, I am Catholic. I am on fire for God and the Church and the idea of living with some man before marriage gives me the heebie-jeebies. (My best friend, by the way, is not Catholic—she’s not even Christian—she vacillates between agnosticism and atheism but, I am convinced, contains a healthy dose of pagan virtue.)

Ten Things Every Catholic Should Know About Marriage
There is so much confusion about love and marriage in our society.

There is so much confusion about love and marriage in our church.

So here are ten things every Catholic should know about marriage.

A New Light on a Tragic Tale in American History
A friend once lent me a book that I wish everyone else could read. Unfortunately it is not readily available. In fact, it has been out of print for almost 120 years. It is the memoir of Monsignor Augustin Ravoux, who served as a priest in Minnesota before the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis even existed. It is an inspiring and thrilling account of the trials and triumphs of a remarkable priest, who was born in France in 1815, and found himself assigned to Mendota in 1842. His “little flock” was spread along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. They spoke English, French, Sioux and Chippewa. He worked with Fr. Galtier who had built the first chapel in St. Paul in 1841. He welcomed the first bishop of St. Paul, Joseph Cretin, in 1851, and upon Bishop Cretin’s death in 1857, he was the administrator for the diocese until the next bishop was appointed, and he assisted in the building of Minnesota’s first Cathedral.

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