Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.
1) The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. (Refrain:)
2) He guides me in right paths for his name's sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff that give me courage. (Refrain:)
3) You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Refrain:)
4) Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. (Refrain:)
Beloved: 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.
Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
The Fourth Sunday of Easter every year is commonly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday because the readings always revolve around this very beloved analogy of our Lord. During my research, I stumbled across the following version of Psalm 23 which I thought was very clever for those of us who love our coffee:
- Caffeine is my shepherd; I shall not doze.
It maketh me to wake in green pastures:
it leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses.
It restoreth my buzz:
it leadeth me in the paths of consciousness for its name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal: for thou art with me;
thy cream and thy sugar they comfort me.
Thou preparest a carafe before me in the presence of Juan Valdez;
thou anointest my day with cappuccino and my mug runneth over.
Surely richness and taste shall follow me all the hours of my day;
and I will dwell in the House Of Maxwell forever.
In today's gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: "The one who enters through the gate is shepherd of the sheep...The sheep hear his voice as he calls his own by name and leads them out." He knows us. By name. What is a name? According to Webster's, a name is the distinctive designation of a person or thing. It is the opposite of something which is nameless, anonymous, or indistinguishable from something else which is just like it. It is the ultimate sign of respect. It always drives me crazy when I interact with people who know my name but don't use it. I feel it reduces me to the status of anyone in the nameless crowd, someone we meet on the street. I even have been known to get upset with my children when they don't address me as their father.
Jesus knows us as individuals and calls us by name, by the ultimate sign of respect. And in our ever increasingly electronic age, that's significant. Our lives are driven by numbers: checkbook numbers, driver's license numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers. We have been reduced to numbers, much like the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps who had numbers tattooed on their arms. These prisoners were not human beings with names, just faceless, impersonal numbers. It makes it easier to hate and kill numbers or categories. Those Germans, those Jews, those Arabs, those Catholics, those blacks - no personal names, only lumped-together categories with no personality. All abstractions. Easy to dismiss. Easy to hate. Easy to kill. Consider the following story:
- There was an old Indian sheep farmer whose neighbor's dogs were always killing his sheep. It got so bad that he knew he had to do something. As he saw it, he had three options. One, in true American tradition, he could sue; he could bring a lawsuit and take his neighbor to court. His second option was to build a stronger and higher fence so his neighbor's dogs could not get in. But he took a third option. He gave two lambs to his neighbor's children. In due time the lambs grew into sheep and had other sheep and then the neighbor and his children got to see the sheep not as a impersonal herd, but as something warm and fuzzy, something personal with individual traits and a history and names. They soon penned in their dogs.
Unless you live and eat and sleep with the sheep, almost become one like them, then they will never be unique. They will all look alike. It is the same with us. Unless we get to know others as persons, as individuals, then they are just members of a certain group or class of people. Then they look just like everyone else in the crowd. It is an interesting aspect of prejudice that as soon someone gets to know another person who belongs to a group against whom they are prejudiced, they do not change their perception of the group. They remove that person they like from the group. If you were to ask them about that little trick of the mind, they would probably say something like: "Oh, they're not like the rest of their kind". Curious, isn't it?
The basis of prejudice and racism, rejection and persecution is this: reducing people to categories, making them abstractions, not knowing their names, not calling them by name. This depersonalizes them. In order to overcome prejudice, we must see people as individuals with a name and a history. On September 11th, we all felt the effects of hatred first hand. Those who planned and carried out those actions were motivated by hatred, by anger at our freedoms and our ways of life. They hated "Americans". But strangely, the majority of those who were killed on that tragic day were citizens of other nations.
At this time of year, we sadly remember several anniversaries that we would rather forget.* On April 20, 1999, we were all stunned by the high school shootings in Littleton, Colorado. Here was a group of people who were motivated by hate, who were as far removed from the love of the shepherd as they could be. And they targeted principally jocks and minorities, people who could be easily categorized and depersonalized.
And, unfortunately, things have not changed much over time. On March 21, 2005, Jeff Weise, a student at Red Lake High School in Minnesota, killed his grandfather and his grandfather's companion before going on a similar rampage at the school and killing seven others and then himself. It ranked as the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history after Columbine at the time. And there were eerie similarities between him and the two murderers in Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who themselves had murdered twelve (12) students and a teacher, in that he regularly wore a trenchcoat to school, was fond of swastikas and listened to Marilyn Manson. Unlike the victims at Columbine, however, it appears that Weise's victims were selected randomly. Some factors that could have contributed to his behavior were the facts that his father had himself committed suicide, and his mother, who had been in a severe car accident, suffered from mental illness and was in a nursing home. And, finally, on April 16, 2007, there were the 33 persons who were killed on the campus of Virginia Tech University.
In attempting to deal with situations like these, we ask many difficult questions. Why were some killed and others weren't? Why couldn't God have prevented it? Or perhaps just the one word question: Why?? There are no answers, easy or otherwise. But there are two things which we need to remember. First of all, God didn't create evil. We did. With the sin of Adam, evil entered into the world. But what God did was enter into the evil in the person of his only begotten Son and transform that evil into good through his death and resurrection. I happened to catch the very end of the movie the Apostle this week. It stars Robert Duvall as a preacher who has been charged with murder and who is now preaching as a free man for the last time before he is arrested by sheriffs waiting for him outside of the church. He picks up a small boy and asks the congregation who among them would send their son into a situation where his hands would be nailed to a cross. I don't know why but that question just hit me differently than ever before. We would never allow such a thing to happen to our own child. And yet that is just what God did.
The second thing we should remember at times like this is we mustn't let the deaths of all these people be in vain. We must work and strive to the best of our ability to make sure that these tragedies never happen again. And it all starts with us. In our own families. Parents must love their children and treat them with respect. They need to call them by name. Children must love their parents and treat them with the respect to which they are entitled. They too must call them by their names. In our communities, we must learn to live in peace with those who are different from us. The current situation in the Middle East would be history if only this could happen there. We must strive to understand what "makes others tick". We must walk that proverbial mile in their shoes. As one of the students in Littleton noted at the time, the whole situation would never have happened if the two young murderers had not been picked on and ostracized by the other students in the school. Schools should implement diversity training classes as never before, and we parents should do all we can to make sure we do not pass on prejudicial attitudes to our children. And with respect to terrorists, we must constantly pray that God will change their hearts because nothing we do can ever achieve that end.
These are the lessons that I believe we can learn from these horrific events. The Jesus of our gospel knows his sheep and calls them by name. No abstractions for him. No generic groupings will do. We matter to him personally. All people matter to him personally. The Good Shepherd who calls us by name is a wonderful revelation of the God who lets it rain on the just and unjust, who sends sunshine on the good and evil. The Good Shepherd is the God of Jews and Gentiles; the God of rejects, lepers, and thieves; the God of you, me, and them; the God who knows all of us by name. He is the God of all humanity and we need to treat one another accordingly.
I wanted to close with the words from the song called You Are Mine which I think speak so beautifully to these necessities of life:
- I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice, be still and know I am here.
Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me, I will bring you home; I love you and you are mine. (1)
1. You Are Mine. Words and music by David Haas. G.I.A. Publications, Inc., 7404 S. Mason Avenue, Chicago, Ill. 60638. (To hear this song, or to purchase this recording or the music, please click on the link above.)
*Perhaps you had not thought about it (I know I hadn’t) but April has been an horrific month for atrocities such as these. They include:
- the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968;
- the end of the Waco siege and the death of 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect on April 19, 1993;
- the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed one hundred sixty-eight children and adults also on April 19th in 1995;
- the Columbine High School shooting resulting in deaths of 15 persons on April 20, 1999, a shooting that has been echoed in 31 schools since, most recently in Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown, CT.
- the shooting death of 32 students at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007; and,
- the murder of 13 persons at the American Civic Association Immigration Center in Binghamton, NY on April 3, 2009.
(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com )
Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd who knows us and calls us each by name. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you are the Guardian of Our Souls who protects us from the evil one. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the Lamb of God, who ransomed us from death so that we might have eternal life. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: The Good Shepherd cares for us and will protect us from the evil one. Therefore, we can be confident that he will hear us and bring our needs to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the image of the Good Shepherd will inspire the shepherds of the church to care for their flocks, we pray to the Lord.
That the people of all nations will seek peace instead of war, we pray to the Lord.
That all men and women who are wounded in body or spirit may experience the Shepherd's healing touch, we pray to the Lord.
That more men and women will hear the call of the Good Shepherd and follow him in ministry through the priesthood, diaconate and religious life, we pray to the Lord.
That all of us who are enduring this Coronavirus pandemic will trust in God's providential care and not give in to despair, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those whom we have welcomed into the Church at Easter will be a sign of Christ's continued presence among us, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, we have heard your Son's voice and seek to follow his ways through the grace of your Spirit. Hear our prayers this day and gather in your loving arms all those who have strayed from the paths that are right. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.