The Good Shepherd

05-12-2019From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful, life-giving women who have brought us into this world. Not only have you given us birth, you have given us yourselves in countless ways. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” Are not these the words of every mother who guides her child or children through their younger years? Yours is the voice of love, gentleness, humility, and patience. You carry us in your heart from the moment of conception and throughout your whole life. What a powerful example you are of how we are created in God’s image and live it out with joy and wonder. Thank you!!!!

Last Sunday I baptized seven babies. How good it is to see the joy and wonder of the parents as they give us their child’s name at the opening of the ceremony. Right after that I ask them if they wish to have their child baptized. Following their positive response I tell them: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” In the homily I tell them if they want to see what kind of a Catholic their child will be, all they have to do is look in the mirror. Especially in the early years, you who are parents are the center and core of their lives. They know in the very depths of their being how much you love them. What you say and do become the things they say and do. Who and what is important to you become important to them. So the question to be addressed is, “How important is Jesus to you?” That will be exactly how important Jesus will be to them.

Today is called Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus is the epitome of a good shepherd. There is nothing He did not do and will not do to nourish, guide, and love us. He is the Good Shepherd who has given even His life for us. He is the Good Shepherd who continues to give Himself to us in the Sacraments and is attentive to our prayers whenever we open our minds and hearts to Him. As He says in today’s Gospel, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” How attentive are we to the voice of Jesus? Are we as attentive to Him as we are as young children to our mothers? Are we as attentive to Him as He is to us? First and foremost, as we saw in Last Sunday’s Gospel, the voice and presence of Jesus is the voice and presence of unconditional love. He appears to His disciples after He has Risen and is making breakfast for them as they are out fishing and are coming near the shore. “When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.” (John 21:9-13) Jesus met them where they were. He did not send an angel to tell them to meet Him somewhere else. He came to them.

Sometimes we get sidetracked or willfully turn away from praying and coming to Mass. When that happens over time our hearts become hardened in our resolve to not address His desire to be part of our lives. When that happens we do not have true inner peace. We know there is something that is missing. But the more we recognize that all is a blessing, beginning with the gift of life, the more we become filled with the wonder and awe that leads to life-giving gratitude. The absence of wonder, awe, and gratitude all too easily leads to a false sense of entitlement and a desire to get our way no matter what. When Jesus is not in the center and core of our hearts we cannot hear His voice or recognize His goodness to us and His love for us.

When we hear the voice of Jesus, we find the peace and purpose in life that this thought from a letter by Henri Nouwen captures: “Keep you eyes fixed on Jesus and ask Him more directly to give you joy, peace, and a pure heart. Purity of heart means a heart where God is the center of your attention. Take a simple sentence like ‘The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.’ and repeat that quietly during the day until the truth of it enters into the center of your being. You will always continue to have feelings of depression, anger, and restlessness, but when God dwells in the center of the storm, the storm is less frightening and you can live with trust that in the midst of all of the darkness you will be led to a place of joy and peace.”

Good Shepherd Sunday is also a day to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The more we live our faith, especially in our families, the easier it will be for a young man or woman to hear God’s voice asking them to become a priest or religious. I went to public school in my hometown of Greenport. In my junior year of high school I went to Mass every day during Lent. When Lent was over I just kept going to Mass each morning before school. One day the parish priest asked me what I was going to do and I said, “Maybe become a priest.” He helped me to set things up and the eight year journey to priesthood began. Near the end of my seventh year in the seminary I was not sure if I should be priest. That summer I worked on a ship and had time out in the middle of the ocean to think and pray. God’s voice assured me I was being called. It is now 48 years of priesthood later. Every day I begin my prayers by saying to God, “Thank you for the gift of life, the gift of faith, and the gift of priesthood.” The joys are countless, beginning with the privilege of celebrating Mass each day and living and ministering with the people of God who are so good and such a blessing.