03 May 2020

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Easter - 3 May 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
The 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Lord Jesus calls himself “the gate for the sheep” through which the sheep “will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). It is easy enough to understand what he means by the sheep: he means those who hear his voice, who know his voice, and who follow his voice; he means those who are his disciples, those who strive to learn from him and to imitate him (cf. John 10:14, 3). To recognize Christ Jesus to be the gate for us requires us first to take to his words to heart, to allow them to pierce our hearts, so as to be led to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

It is likewise simple enough to understand what he means by calling himself the gate: he is the door, the entrance, the way (cf. John 14:6). He makes no mention of any other gate, of any other door, of any other way. He alone is the way to his pasture, but what is this pasture which he opens up to his sheep?

To understand something of his pasture, we can turn to the twenty-third Psalm, one of the most beloved passages of the Sacred Scriptures. In this ancient hymn, King David - himself a shepherd - sang, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:3). Reflecting on his own time spent with his father’s flocks, during which David sought to lead the sheep to peaceful pastures, he realized that the Lord did the same for him. The young king of Israel understood that “he who has God as his shepherd is always granted this abundance, the image of all good gifts.”[1]

The Fathers of the Church saw in this image of the pasture the image of the Church herself. This is why Saint Ignatius of Antioch could say that Christ “is the door of the Father through which Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets, the apostles and the church all enter. All these enter into the unity of God.”[2] The Fathers therefore saw a connection with Christ the gate for the sheep with the waters of Baptism, which is why Saint Augustine said, “he nurtured me beside the water of baptism, where those who have lost their soundness and strength are made new.”[3]

When Jesus says that the sheep enter through him, he says the sheep enter into the Church, the Body of Christ, through him. We do this through our participation in his Sacraments, principally through Baptism. But what does he mean when he speaks of those going out through him who find pasture? He surely does not mean that we can abandon the Church – which he established – through him.

When he considered these words of the Savior, Saint Augustine said:

I might say, indeed, that we enter when we engage in some inward exercise of thought; and go out, when we take to some active work without: and since, as the apostle says, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, to enter by Christ is to give ourselves to thought in accordance with that faith; but to go out by Christ is, in accordance also with that same faith, to take to outside works, that is to say, in the presence of others (cf. Ephesians 3:17).[4]

These outside works, of course, are the works of the disciples of Jesus; they are the works of evangelization by which we help others to hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, to repent, and to enter into the Church through him.

We can only go out in this way if we conform our lives to Christ, if we ourselves become doors. We cannot forget that

In the tabernacle, the altar is, so to speak, always alive, always remains Eucharist, always the entrance and ascent of Jesus Christ. Through him the church is always Church and never a lifeless house in which nothing is happening at the moment. He is there always. Over the centuries, it was always the great and beautiful thing about our churches that they stood open, that the door was really a door. It can stand open only if we ourselves stand open and our life constantly leads to him, when we, too, in our everyday routine have time for the mystery of living closeness.[5]

Once we have entered through Christ into his quiet pastures of overflowing serenity, how can we not desire to help others also find his pasture? How can we leave them outside the gate, stumbling about in the wild, outside of his abundant and merciful love?

For this reason, on this fifty-seventh World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Holy Father Pope Francis urges all of the faithful “to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world.”[6] As anxiety sets hold of some of us and as others of us are growing restless, these are words we should all take to heart.

We cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by weariness, but must instead remember the counsel of Saint Peter: “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” (I Peter 2:20). Rather than allowing ourselves to become despondent and agitated, we should always strive to see the “goodness and kindness” of the Lord and so to enter into his pasture (Psalm 23:6). With Saint Augustine, let us say to Jesus, “I shall not be afraid of evil happenings, because you live in my heart through faith; you are with me now, to ensure that when this shadow of death has passed away, I may be with you.”[7] Amen.

[1] Romano Guardini, The Wisdom of the Psalms, Stella Lange, trans. (Chicago: Henry Regner Company, 1968), 94
[2] Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 9. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. IVa: John 1-10 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2006), 343.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 22 (23), 2. In Saint Augustine: Expositions of the Psalms, Vol I, John E. Rotelle, ed., Maria Boulding, trans. (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 2000), 244.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 45.15.
[5] Joseph Ratzinger, Signs of New Life: Homilies on the Church’s Sacraments, Michael J. Miller, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2020), 24.
[6] Pope Francis, Message for the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 22 (23), 4. In Saint Augustine: Expositions of the Psalms, 244.

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