Among these fifty days of Easter, today is Good Shepherd Sunday. But where are the children in white, moving toward the altar for First Holy Communion? Where were the teenagers, solemn and awed, for Confirmation last week? Coronavirus has shut down our public worship. The children and young people will come, but we will have an extended time to think about the deeper meaning of these sacraments.
We look right away to Peter. He preached on that first Pentecost; three thousand were converted and baptized. What had happened? He was a changed man.
He had denied Jesus in the garden, less than two months earlier. Now, the fire of faith leaped from him to set aflame person who has shrugged or applauded at Jesus’ death.
Peter experienced guilt, shame, a sorrow that cut to his heart, with a pain to mark him for life, a life that must have seemed over. But it was a true sorrow, not self-pity.
The love of Jesus for the Father, included his love for his disciples, and it was stronger than death. On the shore of the lake Jesus said to Peter “Do you love me? Then feed my lambs, my sheep.” And, Peter became chief shepherd.
Now Jesus is the Gate of the sheep pen, through which Peter and many other shepherds take his sheep out and bring them in. Jesus reveals to them the deepest meaning and purpose of human life. Like a family home, the door shuts to protect against intruders, and it opens to give freedom to go out, to live, to grow.
Jesus appoints persons shepherds to lead people to him, so that he can take them in his fold, then send them out to live and flourish. Priests and bishops are shepherds. Mothers and fathers are shepherds, other family members too. Teachers, catechists, those wonderful caring people who are found everywhere, who show the lost compassion, and give the weary rest, and help the wrongdoers correct their ways, all these are shepherds. They lead his people to him to have eternal life. They include many of you. Some of you shepherd by helping in parent sacramental preparation,
Our parish communities are sheep-folds when Jesus is the door that opens to admit all who come to him. Dozens, even hundreds of children, teens and parents come to our parishes each year to prepare for Easter sacraments. Yet, we know that others will not come. And, of those who do come, some will not return. Our age is a secular time. God and religion seem less important. Yet underneath this conscious attitude are peoples’ desires, yearnings, questions about the purpose of life.
I ask God to lead all us shepherds in Peter’s path. He could only become a loving shepherd after he fell and experienced Jesus’ unconditional love for him. He learned to trust Jesus in the face of every fear. I ask Jesus to be with us in our fears of dying to self, so that we can say from the heart “Lord, you know I love you.” And he will say to us “Feed my Lambs”. And we will feed them with the witness of our words and lives.