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Breaking Open the Word

4th Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2023

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Today is April 30th, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The morning prayer today in the Magnificat reads as follows – “We, your people, the flock of your pasture will give you thanks for ever and ever; we will tell your praise from age to age, alleluia!” The First Reading from the Acts of Apostles describes how the Lord forms His flock. The flock of the Lord is formed through a proclamation, through conversion, and through baptism. We see Peter, the same Peter who had denied Christ three times, who abandoned Christ in his hour and hid for fear of the Jews, boldly proclaiming Christ. Peter’s words are hard, they are biting and they are directed to the same people from whom he had recently hid – “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The first reading goes on to say that it “cut to the heart” of those who heard it. However, this truth spoken by Peter, immediately converts the hearts of many. Peter and the other Apostles are asked, “What are we to do, my brothers.” Peter’s response is to repent and be baptized. We see in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, “Those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand persons were added that day.”

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Gospel Explained

In today’s Gospel from John, we see the image of Jesus as the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold. In Jesus’ times, the sheep were usually kept out in the field then gathered into a sheepfold at night. It was the shepherd who opened the gate to the sheepfold. The shepherd was literally the door through which the sheep passed into the shelter. The sheepfold provided peace and security for the sheep. It was guarded by the shepherd throughout the night to protect the sheep from predators seeking their destruction under the cover of the darkness.  In the morning, the sheep were driven out by the shepherd, but the sheep were led by that shepherd and were protected throughout the day. Theirs was a relationship of trust – the shepherd called out to his sheep, and upon recognizing his voice, the sheep followed him.

Christ leaves nothing open to interpretation - the Gospel from St. John is clear. Jesus, himself says, “Amen, amen I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.” He says it again, to provide clarity, “I am the gate”. That gate to Christ’s sheepfold leads to peace and security in this lifetime, but to something even greater. Christ, himself, declares, “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture”.

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Today's Theme

Unlike the situation in Jesus’ time, the image of a shepherd is not one that, I believe, we can easily relate to in the world where we live. That makes today’s message more difficult to relate to in our times and our lives.

One aspect of being a good shepherd involves knowing one’s own flock. This is crucial because

it helps keep the sheep safe from harm. By listening to their shepherd, the sheep are able to stay away from danger. But the image of shepherd and sheep goes deeper than that. The sheep are in relationship with the shepherd.

Today’s world is often so busy that it is difficult to take the time needed to invest in real relationships, including our relationship with the Lord. Of course, God know us - He carefully knit us in our mother’s womb. However, He thirsts for more than simply knowing us. The Lord wants a deeper, more personal relationship with us. Through prayer, Scripture, liturgy, and the sacraments our God is available to us. How available are we to Him?

How well do we know our shepherd’s voice? It is difficult in a world that is busy and loud; in a world where it is easy to have sensory overload. There is a saying, “Make time for the quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud.”

As a result of this, many times we are the voice of the shepherd for those we encounter on a daily basis. Jesus is modeling real relationships with his sheep. He is in relationship with God and also with his followers, and he serves as our example for authentic, real relationships. We are being called to model the same authentic, real relationships today. How often are we able to stop and listen deeply when we ask, “How are you?” How often are we willing to talk with the person who is different from us, who might be considered an outsider? We have Jesus’ example of showing love through real relationships as our model, and it is up to us as the church to live out that example in our world.

Let us endeavor to be good sheepdogs for our shepherd each day.

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Theme in our Life Today

On Easter Sunday, we renewed our baptismal vows. We prepared for that moment of renewal during a forty-day journey through Lent; a liturgical season of penance, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. What has happened since then? How is our life different today, then when we began that journey on Ash Wednesday? Many of us may have gone back to the life as we knew it; the Lenten promises we made to give up something or do something may have fallen by the wayside; the commitment to daily prayer or Scripture, attending Mass and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, or visiting the Adoration Chapel may be in the “Lenten rearview mirror”. The daily demands of everyday life may have already come, like a thief, to rob us of our Easter joy.

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Prepare for Sunday

How would you describe your relationship with the good shepherd? If there were one thing that you could do to improve that relationship what would that be? How can you put that one thing into action?

Do you find quiet time for prayer or reflection? Why or why not?

Do you see yourself as a shepherd for people you encounter in daily life? In what ways can you be a sheepdog for Christ?

What Lenten promises have become habits this Easter season and which have fallen by the wayside? What do you feel called to do in response?

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