1 John 3:1-2
The Fourth Sunday of Easter on the Church’s calendar is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because this is the Gospel we hear on this day, the Good News that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep, even to the point of laying down His life for them. Jesus uses the analogy of a shepherd guarding and protecting his sheep, as opposed to the hired farm hand who will be far more likely to run away from the wolf, or any other predator. Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd who won’t run away to save himself, but would rather lay his life down for the sake of his flock.
As he does all through the Gospels, Jesus sets yet another example for those of us in Ministry. He shows us here that he doesn’t leave the flock alone and unprotected, and then if we are going to imitate Christ, as all believers are called to do, we aren’t supposed to leave the flock unprotected. Jesus says something else interesting in the Gospel today as well. He speaks of other sheep who will hear his voice. The Church has consistently taught that this passage of Scripture is one of those instances where Jesus is trying to tell his Jewish disciples that the Church, the new Israel that he is establishing, is going to be filled with Gentiles as well as Hebrew Christians. People of all Nations will be able to be a part of it if they choose. That isn’t a message that a Jew of the first century would have been accustomed to hearing.
Jesus’s message and example here of being the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the flock has often been interpreted throughout history as an example particularly for those in Ministry, especially ordained Ministry. After all, those of us who are ordained are charged at some level or other with the care of the flock. If we’re going to imitate Christ we can’t run away when the wolves come, and if we are ever living in a time when the wolves are within the Gate of the Sheepfold, this is certainly such a time.
The message of Christ in the Gospel today goes beyond a message merely for those in ordained Ministry, however. It isn’t just a message for priests, deacons, or bishops, it’s also a message for anyone in the Church charged with the spiritual care of anyone else. In some way, the spiritual care of our neighbor is the responsibility of each and every one of us, that is why there is such a thing as Spiritual Works of Mercy. All of us are called to be witnesses to Christ no matter what our state in life is, and in that sense we are called to help Christ in the care of His flock.
Those who are parents or grandparents have a special and a particular ministry in helping Jesus care for his flock because our children and grandchildren look to us. We are the primary educators and examples of the Holy Catholic faith to young people. If they don’t see a faith that is lived, practiced, held to, and believed to the best of our ability, we can’t expect them to remain in the Church. In this age when information is so widely available and social communication allows access to information and to people from all over the world, it’s very easy to get caught up in bemoaning the state of the Church and discussing all of the problems with the church and what we think would fix them. I have learned that no matter what perspective you come from, it seems that everyone has an opinion about what will fix the Church. I would humbly submit that before the Church can be fixed, we all need to look in the mirror and ask the Lord in humility and sincerity what we need to do to be fixed, and to be better examples and witnesses to Jesus Christ for the sake of the Salvation of Souls.
While we are discussing being examples of the Catholic faith to others, it may be that the most important line that Jesus said in the entire Gospel today was that there will be “One flock and One Shepherd.” Jesus did not say that there will be 30,000 flocks and 30,000 Shepherds. Before Jesus was handed over to death, He prayed that His followers would be One (John 17:21). This was not meant merely as some spiritual aspiration, it was Jesus’s prayer that the Church he founded remain unified. I mean no disrespect to the spirituality of our separated brothers and sisters (remember, I’m a convert, that spirituality helped make me who I am), when I share with you that I have seen and heard many Catholics say that it does not matter that fallen-away Catholics are going to another ecclesial community on Sunday, because “it’s all the same.” Even worse, I have actually heard parents say that it’s alright that their children aren’t attending Mass anymore and bringing their families with them, “at least they’re going to church somewhere.” It is not the same, and it is not all right to be without the Sacraments of Jesus Christ.
It is absolutely true that we cannot force our family members to embrace the truth of the faith, in the end that is something that must be done of someone’s own free will. There is also some truth in the idea that it is better for our family members to hear about Jesus somewhere on Sunday, as opposed to never being exposed to Him at all. But we cannot pretend that what we do here is the same as what goes on in the many ecclesial communities around us, or that our family members and friends are worshipping God in spirit and in Truth in the way that we are here today. The faith and practice of non-Catholic ecclesial communities is different than our own faith and practice, and especially in our part of the world, it can be radically different. To attempt to say that this is the same as the Holy Catholic faith or that these differences do not matter at all in the plan of Salvation is a kind of universalism. That’s a heresy, and no, the Second Vatican Council didn’t “do away with it.” If there were no real difference between non-Catholic ecclesial communities and the Catholic faith, what reason would we have to provide the means for non-Catholics to be received into the Church to begin with?
Jesus wanted One flock, and One Shepherd. What can we do to help further that reality? We can all be an unabashed and unashamed witness of the Catholic faith. Don’t be afraid to be seen saying grace in public or making the sign of the Cross. Don’t have any shame about family members or friends who might not be Catholic or who have left the practice of the faith see us praying the Rosary, or the Angelus, or the Memorare, or any traditional Catholic prayers. In fact, don’t be afraid to invite them to join you and if they don’t know the prayers, volunteer to teach them. Perhaps you have family or friends who have never been exposed to the truths of the Catholic faith in the way that you have. Invite them to Mass. Inviting someone to Mass on a special occasion, such as the parish picnic, can work wonders. Do you know someone who is curious about the Catholic faith, or at least the faith that you display? Invite them to join us here at Holy Trinity for RCIA. We should all pray and work so that those we love will be gathered into that One flock and One Shepherd with us.