3rd Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s first reading tells us how in the months following
the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus,
the Apostles were arrested for preaching the Gospel.
As I think about this, what strikes me most strongly about the apostles’ attitude,
after their abiding faith, is their amazing courage.
But their courage isn’t expressed in the way we usually think of it
–they didn’t pick up weapons and fight the soldiers,
or try to cleverly argue in the courts.
Instead we find that they went meekly before the Sanhedrin,
just as Christ meekly accepted His sentence
by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.
Like sheep led to the slaughter.
Now, when the situation required it, the apostle’s courage did lead them
to fight to defend themselves—not with swords, but with truth and wisdom.
In fact, in today’s Gospel they do a little of that, saying,
“We must listen to God, not men.”
But also see in the reading the greatest example of their courage as Christians
was becoming what Jesus called them to be:
like little children, or, as meek as lambs or sheep.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells St. Peter to: “Feed” and “tend my sheep.”
It is as sheep that Christ calls us to follow Him.
And so it is that one of the earliest paintings of Christ
is found in the Roman catacombs of the Christian martyrs,
where He is pictured as a Shepherd carrying his little lamb on his shoulders.
To follow Christ is to be like Christ–to share His life.
And so today’s 2nd reading from the book of Revelation tells us of a vision
of those who are already in heaven, saved by “”the Lamb that was slain.”
So we see Christ as THE Lamb, the lamb of sacrifice.
Salvation comes only when Christ becomes a lamb before His heavenly father:
as we read the words of Isaiah on Good Friday:
“Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.”
Hearing the voice of his Father and following it: “not my will, but yours be done.”
So by laying down His life as the Lamb of God,
Christ the Lamb becomes Christ the Shepherd.
As the book of Revelation goes on to say:
“the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them.”
To follow Christ, then, we must be like lambs or sheep,
in part because he is a lamb.
Sometimes we find it difficult to think of ourselves as sheep.
On the one hand, the idea of being gentle little lambs
that Jesus will always take care of is a comforting thought.
But what can disturb us is that sheep, generally speaking, are pretty stupid animals.
They follow their masters voice without question.
Now, Christ does not call us to be stupid:
in the garden of Gethsemane Christ was not being stupid.
Christ made a free intelligent choice,
a wise choice to hand over His will to His Father in love.
And Christ calls us to be like Him:
to intelligently and wisely choose to listen to Him and follow Him,
but to do so with absolute trust at every moment
and in every action of our lives.
But how do we know if we are truly following the voice of Christ the Shepherd?
In the book of Jeremiah God promised:
“I will give you shepherds after my own hearts.”
And Jesus did give us such shepherds,
Christ commissioned St. Peter to be a shepherd with Him, commanding Peter,
“Feed my sheep.”
And elsewhere Christ tells His apostles: “He who hears you, hears me.”
In Latin the word “shepherd” is “Pastor.”
And so from the earliest times
listening to the Shepherds or “Pastors” of the Church
has been the yardstick to measure whether a Christian
is hearing the voice of Christ the Shepherd, and following Him.
But it must be remembered that just as Christ the Shepherd is first the Lamb of God,
in a similar way pastors of the Church must first be lambs of Christ.
To be true shepherds of his flock–to feed his sheep—
a priest must follow only him and listen only to his voice
and in turn be his voice to his sheep.
Just as he did, they must proclaim good news of the love and mercy of God,
the resurrection, and the promise of everlasting life.
But they must also proclaim the hard news,
including the hard sayings about the Cross,
repentance from sin and everlasting death.
And as the Pastors preach,
the sheep must hear the voice of Christ the Shepherd, and follow him.
We must receive his word like lambs:
not like the leaders of the Jews in today’s first reading,
that arrested Peter and the apostles,
or like the Romans who put Peter to death in Rome,
but like the saints in heaven, described in today’s second reading
who sang, “to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”
and then, “fell down and worshiped.”
Now, this can sometimes present a problem:
sometimes different priests, and even bishops,
preach very different things from each other.
What’s happened here is that some pastors refuse to be lambs,
and follow the voice of Christ the Shepherd’s voice.
Instead, they listen to another voice:
perhaps the voice of their own pride or fear,
or perhaps the voice of popular ideas,
or even the voice of the Father of lies.
It’s unfortunate, but very often we have to ask the question,
which pastor do you believe?
To this I can only say:
listen to the pastor who is repeating what Christ and his pastors
have always taught.
So we look to Sacred Scripture
which was inspired by the Holy Spirit
and written down by the human hands of the first pastors of the Church,
and to the Sacred Tradition that has constantly and officially taught
by their successors, especially the chief shepherds of the Church,
the successors of St. Peter, the popes.
But that’s not all we do.
We also, very importantly, listen to God in prayer,
never taking prayer as a new source of God’s revelation,
but asking the Christ the Shepherd to lead us
to an ever deeper understanding of the words He has given us
through Scripture, Tradition, and the preaching of our pastors.
Praying that we may be His sheep, listening to His voice and following Him.
And also in prayer, praying for our pastors, that they may also be His sheep,
before they try to be our shepherds.
From the earliest days of the Church the image of Christ the Shepherd
was precious to those who had to courageously sacrifice their lives
because they believed in Him.
As we approach the altar of sacrifice let us remember that to be our Shepherd,
Jesus first had to be the Lamb of God, “the Lamb who was slain” for us.
And let us remember that to be like Him, to share His life,
we must become lambs also:
laying down our lives, hearing His voice and following Him.