TEXT: 4th Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2016
4th Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Throughout today’s readings we find the theme of sheep.
For the most part in Scripture when we hear about sheep,
we’re hearing about us: we’re the “sheep.”
That’s the way it is in today’s readings, again, for the most part.
For example, in the psalm it says:
“we are his people, the flock he tends.”
And in the Gospel Jesus says:
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
And in the 2nd reading today from Revelation, it tells us that Jesus,
who is the one seated on the throne in heaven:
“will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water,”
But notice something strange in that same 2nd reading:
it tells us that Jesus is also a sheep.
As you know, a young sheep is called a “lamb.”
And the reading says:
“They stood before the throne and before the Lamb”
“they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
And then most strangely:
“the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them”
Now, we’re familiar with St. John the Baptist calling Jesus “the Lamb of God,”
and at every Mass we talk about
“the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,”
but how strange that we should speak of Jesus
as the Lamb who is the shepherd of the sheep.
But then again, it’s not that strange if we put it in context.
As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews: Jesus became a human being,
“like us in all things, except sin.”
And in turn, we’re called over and over again, to be like Him.
The sheep are called to be like the Lamb.
St. Paul tells us to “put on Christ” to “clothe ourselves in Christ”
and “be imitators of us and of the Lord,”
“imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
and “be imitators of God.”
Another way of saying this is what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.”
How many times in the Gospels does Jesus ask someone to “follow me”?
In fact, He calls all of us to follow Him.
To hear His voice, and to follow His teaching and example: to be like Jesus.
This is a particular theme in St. John’s writings,
like the book of Revelation and the Gospel we read today.
And in John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus reminds His apostles:
“I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you.”
But consider something else:
Jesus himself shows us how as the Lamb of God, He follows the Father,
as He says elsewhere:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what He sees the Father doing;
for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise.”
But this following is more than imitation: it is a unity.
And so He can say in today’s Gospel: “The Father and I are one.”
And turning to the sheep that follow him,
he prays at the Last Supper:
“that they may all be one;
even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
that they also may be in us.”
But how do we do this—how do we follow Christ and become one with Him?
Very simply: we listen and follow His voice
that tells us four times at the Last Supper:
“love one another as I have loved you”!
And we remember that His love has a content:
the voice of the Good Shepherd has told us, has taught us how to love:
“if you love me you will keep my commandments,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments.”
We follow Him by keeping His commandments
—beginning with the 10 Commandments which He specifically
insisted were necessary to enter heaven,
but also all the other teachings He handed on to His apostles,
as well as the example He gave.
And following him, imitating him, being one with him,
involves something else.
Listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd
requires that we listen to the voice of the apostles and their successors
whom He left to be our shepherds on earth, or pastors:
telling them: “he who hears you hears me.”
Above all this applies to Peter and his successors, the Popes,
whom, we read just last week,
he commanded 3 times to feed and tend His lambs and sheep.
Does this mean we have to obey and believe everything our pastors say?
No, because in the first place, not everything is either intended to be binding:
sometimes bishops and priests, even popes,
share their opinions or best judgments,
and clearly people can disagree with them.
Yesterday was the 89th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Some of you may have read the 3-part book he wrote, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
He wrote this when he was pope,
but in the book he makes it clear that a lot of it is his own opinion,
and we’re free to disagree with him.
One of the things that makes our current Holy Father, Pope Francis,
so popular is his sort of folksy, unguarded way of saying things.
Now, what he says is very interesting and often helpful,
but that unguarded approach causes him to say some things
that are sometimes confusing, or even not completely precisely correct.
But, the thing is, when he says these things, Pope Francis
doesn’t intend every word to be binding on us.
For example, in his recent letter to the Church on family, “Amoris Laetitia,”
he said a lot of things that were sometimes confusing, and unclear.
But he knew he was being unclear, as he himself says in the letter,
and he clearly did not mean to give the final word
on some of the things he was talking about.
And he can’t bind us to believe or follow confusion or ambiguity.
But many times in that same letter, Amoris Laetitia,
Pope Francis also taught very clearly,
especially in defending the ancient teaching of Christ and His Church,
particularly on the indissolubility of marriage,
and the objectively sinful nature of adultery,
especially in divorce and remarriage outside the Church.
And when the Pope, or any bishop or priest,
teaches not what he thinks or wishes,
but what has truly and clearly been handed down
from Christ, to the apostles, to us,
in their voice we must hear the voice of Christ.
And His sheep must hear that voice and follow Jesus.
And follow, notice, like a sheep.
It’s an interesting analogy Jesus uses, because sheep are pretty stupid,
and they follow their master wherever He leads.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t want us to be stupid:
we can and must think and use our reason in following him,
but we must use reason not to reject what Christ has taught,
but to understand what Christ has taught,
and more closely follow what Christ has taught.
In other words, we must be as docile as sheep to the TRUTH
—and Jesus is the truth,
and He protects His Church so that it may teach the truth.
Even as Jesus, the Lamb of God, was docile to the voice of His Father,
when, sweating blood in His agony in the Garden He prayed:
“Father, not my will, but thine be done.”
Which brings us to another way we sheep must follow Christ the Lamb.
St. John reminds us in the reading from Revelation today:
‘they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
We remember that Christ was the Lamb of sacrifice,
pouring out His blood on the Cross.
The one who went “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”
So, in imitating him, we must also offer ourselves as lambs of sacrifice.
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Every day we should imitate Christ
by accepting the suffering that He asks us to endure for him:
to offer all the hard things we do, out of love for Him,
as a sacrifice to His Father.
Whether it’s the smaller things in life, like bearing insults with patience,
or the daily pains of growing old.
Or whether it’s the big things in life,
like the death of a loved one,
or even of giving up a love when it conflicts with our love of God.
Going back to the Pope’s letter last week on family,
I think of the situation very prominent in our society and Church today,
where a husband or wife has fallen in love
with someone who is not their true spouse,
but out of love for God they make the sacrifices necessary
to fulfill their vow before God
to love their true spouse for the rest of their life.
That is a great sacrifice—but no greater than the sacrifice of the Cross.
All these sacrifices, whether very large or very small,
we accept and do out of love for Christ,
following His example, like a lamb led to slaughter.
And then we bring all those here, to Holy Mass,
following Christ up to the altar of the Cross,
and we present ourselves as lambs of sacrifice,
and, Christ, the Lamb of God unites our own personal sacrifices
to His own perfect and eternal sacrifice of the Cross.
And as we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice call out
“this is my body…given up for you”
and “this is ….my blood…poured out for you”
our sacrifices follow His and become one with His in the Eucharist.
But the Eucharist is not just the Sacrifice of the Cross,
the Crucified Body of the Lamb.
As we read today: “the Lamb …is in the center of the throne.”
The Lamb is slain, but He is also risen, and is glorified with His Father in heaven.
And the thing is, we sheep, who hear His voice and follow him
are following Him to heaven and into glory.
As St. Paul says elsewhere:
“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
if we endure, we shall also reign with him.”
And the glory and joy of the resurrection isn’t just for when we die:
we share in it right now, in this world, even if imperfectly.
To be like Christ the Lamb is the life’s work of His sheep.
Let that work begin right here and now,
as we go to the altar and throne of the Lamb who was slain
and join the “great multitude, which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue”
and “stand before God’s throne and worship him …in his temple.”
And from this temple, let us follow Christ out into the world,
living and loving as He does, offering up the sacrifices of every day
and bringing the joy and glory of heaven to a sad and ugly world.
And through our imitation of Christ, through our union with Christ,
may all people hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and follow him.