25th April, 2021

Statue of Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a lamb on his shoulders and holding a crook

 Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

As every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter the Gospel shows us the image of a shepherd. But I think this picture may seem a bit distant to us people living in the 21st century, unless some of us have a flock of sheep in our backyard. Maybe then it would be more understandable, but otherwise we don’t have much experience in this subject. Even if we travel a lot across England and we see many pastures and sheep, the image of the shepherd is not close to us.

Pope emeritus Benedict in one of his encyclicals spoke of two images of Christ that we can find in early Christianity especially on the walls of the ancient catacombs: Christ the philosopher and Christ the Good Shepherd. Although these two pictures of Jesus may seem completely different to us, they mean similar things. The image of Christ as a philosopher was the image of Christ holding the book of the Gospel and few other things that are needed for traveling. Perhaps, when we think of philosophy, we think of it in a very abstract way only as a difficult and boring academic discipline. But in those days, a philosopher was someone who taught the way or the art of life, who helped people answer the most difficult and existential questions such as for example: What is the meaning of life or death? What does it mean to be human? And at some stage in this document the Pope pointed out that Christ also appears to us as a philosopher. He is the one who shows us the deepest meaning of life as the one who helps us answer the most important questions. Also, Saint John Paul II very often referred to this image when he said: Only when we discover Christ, only when we discover his humanity and his divinity, we can fully understand ourselves. The more we get to know Him, the better we understand ourselves. Many of us struggle to find the meaning of everything that is happening around us at this time. And this particular time of the pandemic is probably the time when we ask ourselves many questions mostly such as: What is the purpose of my life, my job, my career, my studies, everything that is happening around me?

The second image of Jesus that is present in early Christianity is the image of Christ as a shepherd. For many people, the shepherd was mainly an image of peace or simplicity of life without worries, without thinking about any problems. Probably each of us knows very well Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want… We know and heard this particular Psalm many times, not only at funerals, but I am sure we have read it on many other occasions. Also, in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, the prophet speaks of a God who will look after, who will shepherd his own people, Israel. And finally, Jesus himself proclaims that this prophecy about a good shepherd is being fulfilled in his own life, that he is the promised and long-awaited shepherd.

Let us look today at Jesus as a philosopher who shows us the deepest meaning of life, and also as a shepherd who leads us to real peace. These two beautiful images of Jesus are full of hope that we still need so much these days when we gradually come out of the pandemic and we will have to face so many challenges and sort out so many things in the country and in the world again. We’ll need that hope that Jesus walks with us through our lives, through our joyful moments and successful moments, but also through our struggles, sadness, depression and our loneliness. He walks with us and – as Pope Benedict emphasized – he even knows the path that leads through the valley of death because he himself has already walked through this valley of death when he died on the cross for us all. Jesus knows the valley of death, he knows all the moments when we are in danger, when we are depressed, overwhelmed and overburdened with life. Jesus also says to us that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice, they recognize him. Do you know the Good Shepherd? Do you know Jesus? Do you know his voice and do you recognize him? Perhaps this time is given to us as an opportunity to get to know his voice, to get to know him personally through the scriptures, prayer and entrusting our lives to him. There is no better time than today, than now.

And one more thought, we are all called to be shepherds for others, to accompany them and to lead them to the fulness of life with God himself. Some of us have this mission in a very special way. Today we celebrate the world day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood. Being a priest first means establishing this intimate relationship with the Good Shepherd. As the Pope said – basically, the priesthood is a friendship with Jesus, a deep, intimate friendship with Him. Maybe God calls you, maybe he calls your children, maybe he calls your son or grandson to be a priest. Maybe he calls you personally to be a shepherd for others. Have courage to answer him. As John Paul II said, – Don’t be afraid to accept Jesus because only He as the divine shepherd and philosopher knows your deepest desires. And remember that we all have been called to be shepherds in our lives. Being a shepherd, this is our universal calling. The Church teaches us that we have two basic and universal callings: the call to holiness and the call to mission. Being holy as God is holy and then we are sent by Him to whatever He asks us to be – to be a priest, to be a religious, to be fathers, mothers, to be missionaries, teachers, catechists. So, let’s start answering this call generously by getting to know Jesus as the good shepherd and philosopher who shows us the way of life and who not only promises but also leads us to a peaceful and happy life. Amen.

Fr Gregory