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Living For Others

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Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

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One of my favorite movies is The Delta Force.  American tourists are hijacked by Arab terrorists who hold the hostages in Beirut.  Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris lead an elite team of U.S. Special Forces that rescue the endangered travelers. 

At the beginning of the tragedy, the two Arab terrorists aboard the jetliner begin to separate the few Jewish tourists from the rest of the hostages.  One of the most moving moments of the film is when Fr. William O’Malley, a priest from Chicago played by George Kennedy, gets up from his seat and walks into the First Class compartment where the Jews are being held. 

Kennedy courageously walks into the compartment where he is disdainfully met by the leading terrorist.

The terrorist asks what his name is and Kennedy responds that his name is William O’Malley.  Perplexed by the situation, the terrorist asks what the priest wants. He responds that since he is a Catholic priest and a follower of Jesus Christ, that he too is Jewish.  “If you take one, you have to take us all,” answers the priest who willingly accompanies the Jewish hostages. 

“I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). 

The main part of the Holy Land was a large central plateau about 35 miles long.  The ground was for the most part rough and rocky.  It was impossible for sheep just to stay in one area for grazing.  Large areas for grazing simply did not exist.  Every flock had to have a shepherd who led his flock every day to places where the sheep could eat. 

The life of a shepherd was very difficult.  A flock of sheep never grazed without his presence and therefore, the shepherd was on duty every day of the week.  Since the sheep always had to travel in order to find grass to eat, they were never left alone.  Sheep could get lost, or they could be attacked by wolves or stolen by robbers. 

Sheep were seldom used for regular food by the people of the Holy Land; rather sheep were cultivated for the use of their wool.  Thus, the shepherd was with his sheep for a very long time.  He gave each one of them a name, and they all knew his voice.  In fact, it is said that each shepherd had a peculiar way of speaking to the sheep that allowed them to know that he was their shepherd.

During the warm weather, it was common for the sheep to spend the night away from the village farm.  The shepherd watched over them throughout the night.  In these circumstances, the sheep stayed in open areas surrounded by a low rock wall. 

The sheep entered and left through an open space which had no door or gate of any kind.  During the night, the shepherd would sleep stretched out within the empty space so that no sheep could get out except by crossing over his body.  At the same time, a wolf or a robber could not get in, except by crossing over his body as well.  Here we can see a prime example of how the shepherd would give his life for his sheep. 

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  The Easter Season is a continual celebration of the one central mystery of Christianity; that Jesus gave his life for us by dying on the Cross.  He saved us from our sins.  “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts of the Apostles, 4: 12). 

Applied to our practical lives, the message is clear.  Whatever our state in life may be, we are all called to shepherd the sheep that have been entrusted to our care. 

Shepherding a diocese, a parish, or a family is very demanding.  Dedication, commitment, sacrifice and vigilance are needed every day.  Just like Jesus the Good Shepherd, shepherds are called to love unconditionally.

“By the oblation of his Body, he brought the sacrifice of the old to fulfillment in the reality of the Cross and, by commending himself to you for our salvation, showed himself the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice” (Roman Missal, Preface V of Easter).

Despite the many challenges of modern life, diocesan families, parish families and families living in neighborhoods are vibrant, healthy, happy and strong when these families are led by people who are true shepherds, shepherds who lovingly tend their sheep. 

If we are going to be true disciples of the Good Shepherd, we must forget ourselves completely and be totally dedicated.  Jesus calls us to love one another unconditionally with self-less love.  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10: 10).

As a Christian people, we are to imitate Jesus by living our lives just as he did. 

“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.  Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, 10).

My dear friends, the celebration of the Easter season continually reminds us that Jesus is truly alive.  He is truly with us.  Because he is truly with us, we can always be filled with peace and joy no matter what challenges we are dealing with. 

“Grant, we pray, O Lord, that we may always find delight in these paschal mysteries, so that the renewal constantly at work within us may be the cause of our unending joy” (Prayer Over The Offerings, Fourth Sunday of Easter).

The famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) in his Divine Comedy, placed the people who allowed themselves to be controlled by sadness in the lowest depths of hell.  One would consider proud or lustful people to be in their place, but Dante’s insight certainly gives us food for thought. 

Sadness is more destructive to the soul than pride or lust or any of the seven deadly sins because it causes someone to simply check out of life. 

When we struggle with our sins, at least we can keep on fighting to overcome that sin.  We can still be filled with hope and joy as we struggle. 

However, the person who is consumed by sadness cannot escape the darkness of despair and gloom. 

Easter is not a time to have an on-going pity party. 

People controlled by sadness are only giving in to their egotism and self-indulgence.  Yes, it is true that there will be many moments of sorrow in our lives.

However, Christian joy must pierce through the darkness and illuminate our entire emotional life. 

Remember, for us Christians, every day is Easter Sunday.

We are continually challenged by so many difficulties.  This is why we must keep our eyes fixed on the promise.  “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” 

We are a people of faith.

We are a people of the Resurrection.

We are an Easter people.

We must not be consumed by the craziness of a world falling apart around us.  We must allow the realities of our faith to fill us with profound joy and hope.

Meditate on the Second Coming, the glorified body and eternal life in heaven.  The Scriptures promise us a new heaven and a new earth.  We will be there with a glorified body!  How can we be filled with sadness?

However, the certainty of these eschatological realities cannot excuse us from our Christian duty to make this world a better place for everyone.  Go out into the world and radiate joy and peace. 

Like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, live your life for others with self-less love.

“I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” 

The Lord is truly alive. He is with us.  There is never any excuse to be consumed by sadness.  Let your life be filled with joy and peace.  Radiate joy and peace to world so much in need of true happiness and self-less love.