Monday, April 26, 2010

4th Sunday of Easter - homily

Years ago in the parish, a couple came to talk to me about their teenage daughter. She had been a very happy young girl growing up, full of life and joy. She continued this in her freshman year of high school, but then changed drastically in her sophomore year. The parents explained that it was because of a new group of friends she had made. These new friends were girls who tried very much to change her, especially with regards to her sexuality and faith. The parents noticed these changes in the way she dressed, acted, and spoke to them. She became very hostile to them and to the Church, and said she didn’t want to go to Mass anymore. She was simply passing on to them the anti-Catholic rhetoric her friends were giving her. It was vicious.

They wanted to fight back, especially the father. He wanted to be a “soldier for Christ” and fight her on all that she was saying, most particularly about going to Mass. It was a complex and touchy situation, but I advised them to be more like shepherds: be gentle, tender, compassionate, and loving. Basically, to be there for her and shower her with love. This love, which they had always shown her, would win out. She would see that her parents love her and want what is best for her; if her new friends stood in opposition to that, then they didn’t really love her and didn’t want what is best for her. Within a short period of time, the friends showed their true colors and rejected her. They hurt her really badly. She saw through it all that they were just using her and didn’t want what’s best for her. She came running back to her parents and the Church; she was welcomed back fully with love. By her junior year, she was back to being herself: a devout, Catholic, young woman full of life and joy.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday in which we celebrate Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This story indicates the regular situation that each of us is in: we have shepherds all around us. Some are good, some are bad. The good ones, like this girl’s parents, imitate Jesus the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd knows his sheep and leads them to what is best for them. Jesus knows us better than anyone; He knows us better than our parents…He knows us better than ourselves. He truly wants what’s best for us and leads us there. He says in today’s Gospel that he leads us to “eternal life”. He leads us to happiness in this life and in the next. Hopefully, the good shepherds around us – parents, priests, nuns, professors, coaches, friends – imitate Christ the Good Shepherd in leading us to what is best for us.

Bad shepherds do not know us and do not want what is best for us. They have something else going on. We’ve all encountered them in grade school, high school, college, and beyond. Like the friends of the girl, their motivation in leading us is not based in love. Those girls used and manipulated her to get something from her. There are people around us who are doing the same thing right now.

So, if we are thinking about the different shepherds in our lives, how do we distinguish between good shepherds and bad shepherds? One way to tell is to look at a Crucifix. Ask yourself, ‘would this person die for me? Does he or she sacrifice for me? Do they love me?’ Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel that a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. This is the sign of a good shepherd. He or she loves us and will sacrifice for us. The Cross is the sign that Jesus is our Good Shepherd because He gives up His life for us…for our happiness…for our eternal life. He knows us and knows what will be best for us, and does everything to lead us there.

Finally, the amazing reality when we come to the Eucharist is what we hear in the second reading. The Good Shepherd has become the Lamb! He has become the sacrificial lamb who “will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water” (Rev 7:17). He shepherds us to springs of life-giving water and eternal life. He has brought us here to the Eucharist where we receive eternal life. He always brings us to life…to what is best for us. He knows us best and knows what we need. He truly loves us and is our Good Shepherd.

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