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Dear Parish Flock,

The last time church was open for Sunday Mass is now 7 weeks ago… feels like forever. It is a great challenge to shepherd the flock entrusted to me while keeping the minimum social distancing, and the church doors locked. Pastors, sheep, shepherds, flocks - hardly any of that can be done while keeping the necessary distance.

Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday .” Each Fourth Sunday of Easter we hear from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel. As you may recall, Sundays follow a three-year cycle. We hear proclaimed the Gospel of John chapter 10. First verses 1-10, then 11-18, and finally 27-30, in years A, B and C, respectively. So every year on this Sunday, we meditate on these themes. This week in family, John chapter 10 would be worthy of our attention and meditation.

Here, Jesus declares: “I am the gate for the sheep,” then “I am the good shepherd,” and “I give [my sheep] eternal life… no one can take them out of my hand.” Very powerful images and promises. Jesus compares true shepherding to the work of hirelings, robbers and thieves - those who are ultimately self-interested and who do not truly know the sheep, nor are known by them. A willingness to sacrifice for the flock pervades the chapter. The shepherd formed after the heart of the Lord is not concerned with self. His interest, dedication and devotion are ever outward towards the flock in tenderness and love.

Throughout the Old Testament, the image of God as a good shepherd reoccurs. Here are two instances from Isaiah and Ezekiel, two great prophets.

Isaiah 40:10-11 “10 Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. 11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.”

The image of a kind shepherd, on his knees gathering up the lambs into his arms, hearkens us to that powerful moment of Jesus with the children: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Mt 19:14). The Scriptures fold one on another to give us a rich and multifaceted picture of who God is.

In Ezekiel, the LORD is dissatisfied with the shepherds (aka leaders) in Israel. He declares fiercely, “14 In good pastures I will pasture them; on the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down on good grazing ground; in rich pastures they will be pastured on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest—oracle of the Lord GOD. 16 The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal; but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd them in judgment.” (Ez 34:14-16).

The LORD God is taking back powers or responsibilities he had delegated to other leaders. In times like these, I remind myself that the LORD God is pasturing his people, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. I merely participate in his mission and ministry. I am an extension of his hands and heart. And during these times, I entrust my flock into his loving protection and care. Since we are unable to have that personal contact to which we have been accustomed, we trust the Holy Spirit is at work among his people.

This Sunday’s Gospel is all about the protection of the sheep: “I am the gate for the sheep.” Shepherds roamed in open fields throughout the day and then found common camps in the night to protect their flocks. This might be a closed ravine or an encircled wall of rocks. The shepherds guarded the entrance and thus became “the gate” for the sheep. In the morning, each shepherd would call out his sheep by voice, and with the guidance of the shepherds, the flocks would reform and head out to foraging grounds.

When Jesus says, “I am the gate!” He is saying both that he will protect the flock and also that he will lead the flock, since they recognize his voice. We recognize Jesus above all by spending time with him, time in prayer, meditation on the scriptures and adoration. Since we are deprived of the Sacraments during these days, now more than ever it is up to us in family to get to know the shepherd.

In the last words of the Gospel today, for Year A of Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus makes a beautiful revelation: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” The abundant life. Some translations render this verse: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.” The fullness of life, the abundant life may remind us of another beautiful promise of Jesus, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk 6:38.) Abundance flows from abundance.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we recognize how good God has been with us. We admit these are trying times. But we also have confidence that God’s grace for the abundant life is available… that good grazing ground is available, for those who seek it out. The Lord Jesus is leading and guiding us. We have only to hear and heed his voice.

With my blessing
+ Fr. Joel R. Wilson

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