Our Good Shepherd

04-30-2023From the Pastor's DeskMonsignor Ellsworth R. Walden

In order to keep our wits about us and to find strength and courage to live truly good lives is not always easy. There are good days and challenging days. The good days are a joy while the challenging days can bring much fear, anger, worry, and sadness. Last Sunday we listened to the Gospel from Luke 24:13-25 where two of Jesus’ disciples were leaving Jerusalem three days after Jesus had died. Obviously they were filled with disappointment, worry, and sadness. They were wrapped up in their personal confusion and seeking peace. But they were going in the wrong direction. The Crucified Jesus was no longer their shepherd and guide. But He was! The Risen Jesus approached and walked with them and finally revealed Himself to them. At that point they turned around and went back to Jerusalem no longer as the place of defeat and death of their Savior, but the place where He rose from the dead and showed His power over sin and evil, the power we so sorely need in our world and in our personal lives.

We are all familiar with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In the Gospel for today’s Mass (John 10:1-10) Jesus speaks about sheep recognizing the voice of their shepherd and following him. Jesus then uses another image as He calls Himself the gate to the sheepfold. Not only is He the Good Shepherd, He is the gate to the sheepfold. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus makes it very clear that the sheep recognize and respond to the voice of the shepherd.

Prayer is far more that saying words of memorized or spontaneous prayers. Prayer is a dialogue with God who listens and responds. In the prayer that Jesus Himself taught His disciples, the Our Father, He first puts us on a level with Him as He tells us His Father is Our Father also. Like Jesus in His prayer in the Garden the night before He died our quest and hope is to be able to pray what He prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). We embrace that thought as we pray the Our Father and say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So often in our prayers of petition we are seeking the help of God in sadness, pain, suffering, injustice, and confusion. “God help me! I need your help!” These are very personal, valid words. But the key is to seek not what we want but what we have already prayed for: “Thy will be done.

 The will of God led Jesus to embrace the cross for us. But the real will of God was not that He would suffer such a horrible, unjust death, but that no matter what response He was getting from others, He remain faithful to loving no matter what. Jesus did not come to conquer or keep us in line, but to open our minds and hearts to the life giving power of His love and mercy. There is life and hope after death. There is life and hope in the midst of our joys, struggles, and suffering. That is why it is so important to pray everyday with attentiveness and sincerity. Jesus is the daily bread we pray for, especially in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He forgives our trespasses in the Sacrament of Penance so that we might be bearers of His life giving, healing mercy with one another. Ultimately we all innately hunger that God’s will be done. Where else is there such love, mercy, and communion with the source of life and love. Only in our God are our souls at rest as Psalm 62 proclaims: “My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall never fall.” 

I offer the second reading from Mass today for your prayerful reflection - 1 Peter 2:20-25.

If you are patient when you suffer
for doing what is good,
this is a grace before God.
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example that you
should follow in his footsteps.
He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When he was insulted, he returned no insult;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
instead, he handed himself over
to the one who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd
and guardian of your souls.