May 12, 2019
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
When I first sat down to write the homily for this weekend I had a very simple straight-forward theme. Then I was asked to address something you’ll find on the back of today’s bulletin. But earlier this week something no one expected happened and so I stand here with my third iteration of this homily and I honestly feel – woefully inadequate.
At least today is Mother’s Day. So from everyone here who was ever a child – Thank you ladies for saying yes to a very difficult job – motherhood – in whatever guise it may be; biological, adoptive, step and even the lady on the street who treats everyone like her own.
I have recently been blessed to become acquainted with a wonderful lady, a religious, Sr. Gina Iadanza. We were emailing back and forth and one of the things we discussed was transitioning and how the church is always in transition. A thought she shared comes from Ecclesiastes chapter 3: “To everything there is a season. And a time for every purpose under heaven.”
And that’s what jumped out to me in the Gospel and 2nd readings today. Jesus transitions between two roles – the Giver and the Given – The Shepherd and the Lamb.
In the Gospel: Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” This is Jesus in his role of the giver. He is the Shepherd who protects us from the dangers of a world that isn’t kind to those who choose to hear his voice and follow him.
So when he then says: “No one can take them out of my hand.” What he’s saying isn’t literally take them from his hand but that once we begin to truly follow him (to truly hear his voice) then no one can lead us away from his role of protector – the Good Shepherd.
Our long time youth minister here, Matt Regitz shared a story with me from Fr Dwight Longenecker. It goes:
I read not long ago about a guy who was visiting a village in Yorkshire in England. He was sitting outside the pub with a pint of ale and two shepherds came down from the hills with their flocks of sheep. At the end of the village the street split into two and as he watched the shepherds went two different ways. (Imagine if you will these two flocks coming down from the hills and converging on this small narrow road through the middle of this village. Mingling together in complete chaos) but when their shepherds went down the different roads to home they called the sheep softly and like magic the two flocks separated and went their separate ways.
Each sheep with their own shepherd. Each answering unerringly to the voice of their master.
Then in the Revelations scripture we see Jesus transitioned to his role as the given. He became the sacrifice to expiate all our sins. It reads, “Then one of the elders said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The lamb that was sacrificed for us.
It is because he was such a good shepherd that he lay down his life for us. That’s what a shepherd did in those days. They would protect their sheep. They would fight off wolves, bears and lions that came after their flock – even if it meant a great sacrifice of their own.
Today Father will stand here at this altar in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – in the role of Jesus at the Last Supper.
What we can’t allow ourselves to do is confuse the man in the “role of” with Jesus himself. If we put our faith in the man – what happens when he transitions to his next role?
Jesus is the true Shepherd – not any particular pastor or priest.
If we put our faith in the man and then he is removed, what do we do? What happens if they are taken away from us for any myriad of reasons?
We continue to do the mission that Christ – the Good Shepherd – has called us to do.
We continue to do the mission that Christ has called us to do.
We have been blessed for the last 19+ years to have had continuity with our pastor here at Prince of Peace who has stood countless times in this sanctuary in persona Christi. He has brought stability over those years as we have seen this Community of Prince of Peace transition into the amazing Community we see here today.
Twice he has profoundly affected my life; once accepting me during my formation to the Diaconate and another time in October of 2010 when I had a heart attack. After the diagnosis was confirmed Fr John Keller came to my hospital room and anointed me. When the doctors did a procedure to see how much damage was done they found – none.
But my faith can’t be predicated on the man God used to heal me – no matter how much I may love him. Each pastor knows when he accepts the role of pastor it is by nature transitional – he will eventually leave and the only constant is Jesus himself.
As we celebrate this Mother’s Day weekend, I wonder how it would look if not for a young Jewish woman saying “Yes” to God. Agreeing to be the mother of God incarnate; to nurture him as he transitioned from child to the one who would eventually be offered as the Lamb – through his sacrifice on the Cross.
She transitioned from a scared teenage girl to the mother of Jesus and then to the mother of us all in Faith. She’s watching over us today as we celebrate each mother on this Mother’s Day – praying for us and interceding with the Father as all mothers are advocates for their children.
Cardinal DiNardo recognizes how difficult this time is for our Community and asked me to let the Community know he keeps us in continued prayer. He cares for us and is working on making sure we have the best possible Shepherd.
In conclusion we are asked to begin to pray for the pastor, whomever he may be, as he begins to role here at Prince of Peace. We need to pray for this staff. We need to pray for the Cardinal as he navigates these very turbulent times. We need to pray especially for Fr John as he transitions to his next role.
I want to close sharing more of Sr. Gina’s wisdom; she writes:
Christ remains the Shepherd of our hearts through all our personal struggles as well as in the life of POP. Our task is to stay centered in Christ together as the Shepherd who guides us, who listens to our anxieties and concerns and holds us close.
At this time, it appears Christ is calling each and every parishioner at POP to participate in shepherding God’s flock ….and to use the gifts we have been given in loving service of one another …for the love of God has laid down his life for us. Grateful for all that Fr John has been for us, we move forward as a faith community, trusting in Christ Our Shepherd to lead us through into the light….grateful, loving and forgiving and continuing to walk together in the footsteps of The Shepherd of our lives.
My prayer for us, as we continue to transition as a Community, is that when we come to the end of the village and arrive at that fork in the road, is that we know our Shepherd’s voice – and we follow him.