Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gospel Reflection

April 21, 2013
Sunday – Year of Faith – Easter Season
Fourth Sunday of Easter
by Rev. Fr. Jim Ferry (San Carlos Pastoral Formation Complex EDSA, Guadalupe, Makati)
Mass at Sto. Nino de Paz Chapel, Greenbelt, Makati

Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats. Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.

On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said. Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region. The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5

R. (3c) We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
R. Alleluia.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
R. Alleluia.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
R. Alleluia.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 Rev 7:9, 14b-17

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

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.

“For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Gospel Jn 10:27-30

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, the words of the Church asks us to pray for young men to become priests, and men and women to become religious - religious sisters and religious brothers. It is God the Father who is the true Shepherd, letting us know how much He loves us through the teachings of the Gospel and the life of Jesus. And it is wonderful to know that Jesus and the Father are one. 

His sheep can hear His voice. But unless someone goes and tells them, they do not become conscious of the Good Shepherd. We are the inheritors of the missionaries who came to us centuries ago. Here at Greenbelt Chapel, we have many missionary priests who hear confessions and say the mass. Many of our diocesan priests, and many of our religious men come from Catholic families - families who, at one moment, had to make a sacrifice, to allow their young son - the young men of their families - to respond to the call of Jesus. 

It was not easy to do that. In many instances, they are the oldest son. They are the only son. And yet, they allow the son to listen to the call "Come follow me as priests." And as a consequence of that, we here, at Greenbelt Chapel, are blessed, many many times on Sundays, twice on Saturday evening, and then during the week. All of these, you and I may take for granted. But God help us, if we do. Because these young men go out and proclaim who is the Good Shepherd, who is this Christ who is risen from the dead, who is this Christ that calls us to be one, who destroys all division. And even now, in the person of our newly elected Pope Francis, he is saying to the candidates of the priesthood, and the priests and the bishops and the cardinals who are already priests, "Give yourself to the people. Live out what you celebrate in liberty, in your concern for the poor, in your willingness to go beyond the chapel, go beyond the structured church, go beyond the convento, and go up and down the places where God's holy people are." In other words, they are to be a shepherd among God's people. 

When we celebrate the mass, it is never my mass as a priest. It is our celebration. And none of us can say that because I am a priest, because I am a eucharistic minister, because I am part of the choir, all that I do is centered around this chapel. That is not the limit. We must exercise our mission as baptized Catholics. We must be in mission to others. It is not only for me to say the Liturgy of the Word, and then come to the Liturgy of the Eucharist and then say my work as a priest is done. We, the baptized, and myself, as a member of the priesthood of Christ - each and everyone of us must bring the Good News of Jesus to others.  

We can't presume that we will always have a priest. That presumption is wrong. In many places in our own country, to those of you who come from the province, know this. Sometimes, people see the priest maybe once or twice a year. Why? There are so few. My brother Catholics, my sister Catholics - open up your heart, first of all, in prayer. Pray that God will open the hearts of young men to respond to the call of Jesus.

But one does not become a priest for security, for position, or for some kind of earthly way of relating to people who puts us on pedestal. There should be no pedestals in priesthood. There should be no separation of God's Kingdom. What we celebrate in the celebration of Eucharist, we are called to live it out in our daily lives. 

And if there are any young men who are here, listening and celebrating the Eucharist together with us, don't be afraid to listen to the call of the Good Shepherd. Don't be afraid to be away from your families. Don't be afraid to leave your position in the industry. Don't be afraid to leave your own homeland. I can say this in my own experience. No matter what we offer to God, He returns it to us in a hundredfold way. The wonderful people that we are called to catechize, the wonderful people that we are called to reconcile in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the wonderful families into which a new child has been born and we can be the instrument of Jesus' baptizing them, and bringing them into the body of believers, the Church. And the greatest gift of all is to be able to come and do what I am doing now with you - to celebrate the Eucharist. 

When I look back in my 57 years as a priest, I can say that I have also become homesick. But God fills up whatever sacrifices we make in a way that we never imagine. But it is not a life of softness. It is not a life of temporariness. It is the total giving of self to bring the news of the Good Shepherd to others. And what a vocation that is. 

It does not happen overnight. It comes from good, Catholic families, where fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers live out their Catholic lives in love, forgiveness and charity. They are not afraid to go out and be with others who, perhaps, are poorer than they are, more in need as they are in need. The young man sees this and it nourishes him and strengthens him, and then the young man himself opens his heart in prayer.

The Church needs shepherds. Shepherds who are willing to sacrifice. Shepherds who are willing to leave their wonderful parents, their wonderful families, and maybe for some, even their wonderful country, to bring Jesus others. This is what this Sunday is all about. Pray for vocations. Encourage vocations within the family. And if these young men hear the call of Jesus, I say to you. Do not be afraid. Follow Jesus as Shepherd. Follow Jesus as priest. But remember this. You will be engaged in carrying a cross. To be a priest, to be a follower of Jesus, must include the cross. And it is in this identity that we take on the work of the Good Shepherd - Christ who is risen from the dead. 

Let us pray. Pray, yes, for the priests. Pray, yes, for the bishops. Pray for our Holy Father. In a very short time, he has given to each and every one of us an example of emptying ourselves. Just recently, he told every priest on Holy Thursday night, when he celebrated mass in the jail for young people, "We must go out of our conventos. We must go out of the areas where we feel comfortable...Bring the news of Jesus to others. 

This vocation is to be lived out by our Catholic families - the source of good, dedicated, and sacrificing persons. They will follow Jesus if you, our Catholic families, give them the example. Give them the support of your prayers. Encourage them, if, indeed, this is the call of Jesus. 

God, who is present in each one of us, open our hearts in gratitude for the gift of faith, the gift that is given to so many young Filipino men and women. 

May you, yourselves, encourage the very same vocation - to follow Jesus as a priest.