“Alleluia, alleluia! I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my own sheep and my own know me. Alleluia!” (Gospel Acclamation for this Sunday). This Sunday, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd that will lead the flocks of Israel as was previously prophesied in Ezekiel 34:11-14. At last, God Himself has become man so that He can lead us, the sheep of His flock, back to Himself.
“Anyone who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture,” says Jesus in our Gospel. Jesus ensures us of finding heaven, our true pasture, if we follow Him. This echoes what He will later say in the Gospel of John: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (14:6); hence, He is the “gate,” as He also says in our Gospel (also translated as “door”).
But what does it mean to follow Jesus? He’s no longer in human body form on earth for us to physically follow and if we follow Him in the Eucharist, we won’t go very far since most of the year He is stationary in the tabernacle. To “follow,” in this sense, means to be like Jesus. To take on ourselves His entire life. St Peter illuminates this idea in our Epistle Reading this Sunday (Second Reading): “The merit, in the sight of God, is in bearing punishment patiently when you are punished after doing your duty. This, in fact, is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and left an example for you to follow the way he took” (emphasis added). In short, we will suffer unjustly many times for being a Christian, but just like Christ, we must bear it patiently for the glory of the Father.
As St Theresa of Calcutta was famed for saying so often, there is no joy without suffering. To follow Jesus is to suffer a lot. But it is a suffering that by God’s grace we can always handle (God’s grace will never take you where God’s grace cannot keep you). It is a suffering that brings forth the fruits of joy and love. Have a quick look at 1 Corinthians 10:13 too; it’s a good one to be aware of in times of difficulty.
In this way, in following Christ Jesus by identifying oneself with Him, we live up to our calling as “sons in the Son,” our calling to be “Christ Himself” (ipse Christus). We need to live the life of Jesus, suffering when we don’t deserve it, being ready to help all people (most especially and most readily those whom God has entrusted to our care), in being completely concerned with what our Father has asked us to do (cf. Luke 2:49), in preaching the Kingdom of God with deeds and words. We need to be willing to step on our own wills so that we can totally be united to the Son in saying, “My Father,… not as I will, but as you will,” (Matthew 26:39) and moments later again, “My Father,…your will be done,” (Matthew 26:42). May this reversal of the disobedience of Adam and Eve always be our prayer in Christ Jesus: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm is one favoured and enjoyed by many — Psalm 23. However, in the light of what we now know, its meaning is illuminated. “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want,” (emphasis added). See how the renunciation of our own wills is not a punishment, but a consequence of an intense love of the Father. If we love Him with our entire lives, what we want matters no more. Only what He wants is what concerns us. Therefore, “there is nothing I shall want,” (emphasis added).
“Fresh and green are the pastures where He gives me repose. Near restful waters He leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.” This “drooping spirit” tells us that this path is sometimes difficult and it’s not always a downhill stroll, but rather an uphill battle. But the Lord is always there to redeem our fallen nature, especially in the Sacrament of Confession.
“If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff.” The Collect (the Priest’s prayer before the Liturgy of the Word begins) for this Sunday’s Mass, illuminates what this passage means. It says, “…so that the humble flock may reach where the brave shepherd has gone before.” This shows us that the “valley of darkness” mentioned in our Psalm is death. If I should die, I would fear no evil, You are there! Death has been destroyed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55) and so now, death leads to life. Therefore, the Church prays in the Collect that we might get there! This line in the Psalm takes on a whole new meaning now.
This all sounds well and good, but we might respond in the same way that those who were listening to St Peter’s first ever sermon in our First Reading did, “What must we do, brothers [speaking to the Apostles]?”
“‘You must repent,’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”
Through Baptism, we have entered into Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 6:3) and the Holy Spirit washes away our original sin (and any other sins too). In Confirmation, we receive the Holy Spirit in His fullness and our Baptismal initiation into the Body of Christ is complete (in biblical times, these two Sacraments were given together and so that’s why St Peter mentions them together).
Now we seek to follow Jesus in the way we have seen here: By acting in the same ways He did. And we are strengthened, our drooping spirits are revived so to speak, this Sunday, and every day for those who want it, with the food that is given us for the journey: The Holy Eucharist; the very Body and Blood of Jesus. It is our covenant meal that strengthens our union with Jesus and the Blessed Trinity (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1391).
See you next week on Seeking the Word!
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