24th / 25th April 2021

posted 26 Apr 2021, 01:29 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday), Yr B – 24 & 25/4/21

“I am the good shepherd.” Today’s Gospel is something of a blueprint for what a priest should be, as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s a high calling, and those that are called are not perfect – as it’s sometimes said, God doesn’t choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen. So it’s to be expected that some men who experience a sense of calling also think that they are completely unsuited to the task. But the Lord knows what He’s doing – it’s just for the candidate to engage with the discernment and formation process. Let’s have a look, then, at this blueprint of what a shepherd should be. You’ll see that at some point, all priests fail to fully live up to it.

Of course the first thing to note is that Christ is speaking here about Himself. In a sense, there is only one priest in the Church, and that is Christ. All other “priests” merely share in Christ’s priesthood – they are not independent agents, and if the Church is the Body of Christ, they are not independent of the Church, either. You cannot separate Christ and His Church.

“[The] good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.” A priest is called to be the father of the family, and that involves making sacrifices, just like any father who cares for his children. It’s easy to say; it’s easy to talk about high ideals and what should happen. It’s another thing when you are completely worn out and another demand is made on you - you just wanted to sit down and rest, but now someone has turned up at the door, or you’ve just realised that you’ve forgotten you should be somewhere in ten minutes’ time, or the phone goes for the hospital. There can also be certain things that we hold “sacred” in life, as it were. The principle of being allowed to have an undisturbed night’s rest, and not being woken up part-way through. The sense that I have worked so hard recently that I have earned this time to watch TV, and that no-one should disturb me. I can remember in my first parish, where there was another curate as well as the parish priest, that the other curate said to me that with the hospital pager, if you get woken up in the middle of the night then, well, it’s what you’ve signed up to, so you just get on with it. But then I can also remember one night hearing a load of clattering in the house, followed by a door slamming shut and the other curate’s car disappearing. I thought that we’ve either just been burgled and someone’s stolen his car, or he’s just been called to the hospital. The following morning I asked him to be a bit quieter when others are sleeping.

“The hired man … abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming.” The hired man has little sense of responsibility for the flock. To him, being a shepherd is just a job, nothing more. It’s not worth the bother of being

attacked. Is being a priest just a job, or is it a career, or is it a vocation? If you treat it as just a job, you end up with the priest who is the comfortable bachelor. “If Stoke are playing, then woe betide anyone who phones or turns up at the door!” Being a priest is not a 9-5 job, where you down tools at the end of the day and don’t turn up again until the following morning. It involves dedication, commitment, and also acceptance that you will be attacked from time to time – not necessarily physically, but perhaps in other ways, with people disagreeing with you and criticising you. One priest said to me once how he used to have to grit his teeth when he went to visit a certain housebound couple in his parish, because there was always something that they would attack him for. But let’s look at what happened to St Peter, when Christ was tried before the Sanhedrin. They declared Christ guilty of blasphemy, and spat at Him and struck Him with their fists. Peter saw this and then someone said “You too were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth” (Mark 14:67). He acted out of self-preservation, denied all knowledge and tried to escape. He denied the Lord, yet the Lord made a good shepherd out of him later on. Once you are ordained a priest, you are not instantaneously perfect. Formation is a life-long task. Fr James Mallon, in his book Divine Renovation says how he began seminary knowing his imperfections, but he also knew he had so many years of seminary to iron them out. But then, just before ordination, he had a slight panic when he realised that he wasn’t perfect yet. But it’s true for all of us. We don’t achieve perfection by the time we hit eighteen, or twenty-five, or forty, or even eighty. It’s an ongoing process with the Lord, whatever our vocation.

I just now want to quickly give a bit of balance to things, because sometimes people seem to give the impression that being a priest is just about suffering. It isn’t. There are other compensations. On the purely worldly level, you never have to worry about being homeless, unemployed or going hungry. But there is also the great sense of fulfilment, of doing something truly worthwhile, of bringing the Lord to so many people, and there’s also the love that you receive from them in return and the fact that you wouldn’t be happier in life doing anything else. Being a priest is a vocation, a calling from the Lord, not a job. It’s something you do out of love for the Lord, not just simply as a duty, and that’s why you are willing to undergo the difficulties and suffering, and let’s face it – plenty of other people have their sufferings too. You can’t escape the cross.

All those Christ calls to the priesthood are called to follow His example: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep”. And that laying down of one’s life results in God’s glory. Today, being World Day of Prayer for Vocations, please pray for all vocations, but particularly for priests and those who are called to the priesthood, that they may respond eagerly to the call of the Good Shepherd, to be shepherds like Him.